Sigh…..Today’s been a hard day. I think it’s because I knew what I wanted to blog about and I’ve been putting it off all day. I decided to change my topic about a dozen times, only to be drawn back to it when I’d sit down at the computer. I know I’ll have to do this at some point so I might as well bite the bullet and do, so here goes.
I have racked my brain many times and I keep coming up with the same conclusion. And that conclusion is this — I can’t remember my mom ever being happy. She did things with my sisters and me that I know should have been enjoyable to her, but each time I put myself back into that situation, I just can’t remember her enjoying it or acting like she was happy. Surely, she was. If not, why would she have done these things? If she was happy, why can’t I remember it? I remember her being unhappy, so why can’t I remember her being happy? I would love to figure that out. I remember her always walking around on eggshells, afraid that there was going to be a fight with dad. I remember her as being a hard worker, always working at the store she and dad opened when we moved to Georgia from Ohio. I remember her drinking. I remember her hiding liquor bottles all over the house. I remember the awful fights with dad. I remember when she slit her wrists. I remember the look of fear on her face when dad and I would fight. I remember how she’d bring the doctor into my bedroom to see about me after my fights with dad. I remember her last breath as I sat next to her. I remember all of these things. I just don’t remember her ever being happy. And that thought has always haunted me.
Mom had a troubled past. She was always guarded about how much she would share with us about her past. Her parents were from Norway and Mom was born on a ship coming to America. They settled in New York. When Mom was about two or three, grandmother gave birth to another daughter. Mom’s father died of influenza and Grandmother was left with two very young children. A decision was made that she could not take care of two children and Mom was put up for adoption. If I remember things correctly, the family that adopted Mom were acquaintances of Grandma’s and were also from Norway. After the adoption, Mom and her new family moved back to Norway and lived there for a number of years before moving back to New York. During this time, the adoption was never discussed. Sometime around Mom’s 18th birthday, she found out that she had been adopted and there was a split with her adoptive parents. I don’t know the details, but she was reunited with her birth mother to find that she had remarried and had had more children. I don’t know a lot about the following years. I know she married – don’t know who – I know she had a daughter (her name was Joan Edith) and was later divorced. I know that for some reason, the daughter lived with her father and his parents and she was told that her mother had died. At some point, I know that Mom confronted the family of her daughter and there was some type of court battle which Mom lost. She never saw her daughter again. I know she met dad at Coney Island, NY while he was in the Navy. And I know little else about her life. Things get really confusing about my early years. Mom and Dad lived in Elmira, NY, where my older sister, Sandra, was born. They moved to Alabama at some point and my younger sister, Sonja, and I were born in Birmingham. We moved to Springfield, OH, when I was about five or so and only lived there a short time. We left Ohio and moved to Georgia when I was six. I know that Dad worked for Purolator Thermometer Co. as a traveling salesman and only showed up at home every couple of weeks while we lived in Ohio. (There’s a background story about this that I will talk about at some point.) I remember Dad coming home one weekend and Mom telling him that she could not live in Ohio by herself with three small daughters and the decision was made for us to move to Georgia. Through Dad’s work with Purolator, he had connections with Genuine Parts Company and arrangements were made for us to move to Georgia where he would open a NAPA store in a small town. The week before the store opened, Dad was in a very serious wreck on his way back from Atlanta where he had gone to pick up a shipment of parts for the store opening. Some man from Shady Dale showed up at our house that afternoon to tell Mom that her husband had been in a wreck and he had come to take her to the hospital in Atlanta where they had taken Dad. She bundled the three of us up and we climbed into a pickup truck with some man we didn’t know to go to the hospital in Atlanta. Upon arriving, he sat in the lobby with us girls while Mom went to see about Dad. At some point, he took us all back home. The next day, some neighbors kept my sisters and me while Mom went back to Atlanta to the warehouse to pick up more parts and to see Dad. That began the real work for Mom. By herself, (with the help of the guys that Dad had hired to work the counter) she somehow got the store opened on time and began our life here. Dad was in the hospital for quite a while, having suffered a broken back, broken leg, ear torn off, and other injuries. Upon returning home, he was confined to a hospital bed set up in our living room for several weeks. Each day, Mom would go run the store (which had not been the intention upon moving), come home during the day to see about Dad, take care of us, and drink.
Much of my childhood is immersed with memories of Mom’s drinking. I never understood it, but I guess I thought it was normal. There were huge fights with Dad over the alcohol, although he drank just as much as she did, so I never understood that part of the fights. It was just an everyday occurrence as far as I knew. My younger sister, Karen, was born during our first full year of living in Georgia and I swear, the poor thing was born drunk. (Sorry, KaKa, but we know it’s true.) Back then, there was not the emphasis on the effects of alcohol when pregnant. For the next ten years, it was all work, drinking, and fights for Mom. And then I left home — partly to get away from the alcohol (much more on this later) and partly (mostly) to get away from Dad.
I spoke earlier about things Mom did with us that should have made her happy. Let me elaborate a bit. Some of my friends say that they always thought we had lived the perfect life – store owners, four daughters, trips to New York each summer to visit family, weekends spent in Atlanta with Mom, summer vacations to Florida for Mom and the four of us girls. I remember the weekends in Atlanta when we would stay at the Georgian Terrace and go to the Fox. I remember when the Playboy Club opened in Atlanta and Mom took the four of us girls there for lunch – wow, that was an amazing lunch with those ladies walking around in their little black outfits with the big white cottontails on the back of their outfits. I remember Mom (not Dad, mind you) taking us to a Braves ballgame. I remember trips to Atlanta each Christmas for us to ride the famous Pink Pig and have lunch at Rich’s– gosh, what was it called, my memory is failing here – the Magnolia Room maybe? I remember Mom taking us to the Atlanta Zoo and the Cyclorama. I remember the special lunches we’d have at Mammy’s Shanty, a really neat restaurant out Peachtree Street. All these memories, and I just can’t remember her laughing. Why can’t I remember that?
Mom worked hard. She took care of the four of us girls. She waited on Dad. She had friends, but never many really close friends. In fact, I really only remember one really close friend that Mom had. Her name was Mary and I think I remember Mom laughing when with Mary. But I don’t remember her laughing with us. I know she was proud of her grandchildren when they came along, but she never really spent a lot of time with them. That makes me sad.
At some point in the late 60’s Mom had had enough and slit her wrists. Although she was found in time to save her life, things were never the same. Her downward spiral was in full force now. I’ve often wondered if there was anything I could have done to make her life better. I certainly didn’t make her life any easier during the late 60’s. Dad and I were always fighting which always upset Mom. I wish I had realized at that point how those fights were affecting her. I wish that Mom had been able to get help for her sadness.
I remember Mom taking care of Dad after his cancer diagnosis. It was 1976 and the doctors at the VA Hospital told Mom there was nothing more they could do for him. They said he had no more than three months to live. Mom took him home and began to wait on him hand and foot. Gracious, it took her a couple of hours each morning to provide his breakfast. First, he’d have a bowl of fruit. All fresh, all hand peeled and cut. Then after a bit, he’d have a bowl of cream of wheat (that’s some nasty stuff, ugh). Then after a bit, he’d have a soft-boiled egg and toast. Then he’d have to rest. After a while, she’d have to start on his lunch with the same routine – one thing at a time, with rest time in-between. The same for supper. Bless her heart; I don’t know how she did it. This ritual went on for the rest of Mom’s life – taking care of Dad, one thing at a time. And drinking. By this point, Mom and Dad turned the store over to the “boys” and they took off for their home in Florida to wait out the time left for Dad. Well, evidently the doctors at the VA hospital had not known the whole story because Dad didn’t die until 1995, 19 years after being given his 90-day countdown. At some point, Mom and Dad moved back to Georgia and lived with my sister, Sandra. Mom was diagnosed with leukemia and died within the year. I was with her the night that she stopped breathing. I had been sitting by her bed, apologizing to her for not making her life happier, wishing she had been more open with us about her life. Why hadn’t I made the effort to find out more? There were so many things I still wanted to ask her about her life, but knew that I’d just never get the answers.
I know that this may seem as though I am judging my mother and I’m not really doing that. I am trying to understand my feelings about Mom’s life. I think Mom did the best she could with the best knowledge she had at the time. I think she was just sad and did not get the help she needed. I loved my mother and wish I could have been nicer to her.
I still wonder to this day why my mom was never happy. I will always wonder.
THOUGHTS ABOUT MY THOUGHTS: I know there is nothing I can do to change my past or my mother’s past. It has been said that rather than remember the sad times with a loved one, we should remember the happy times. That’s my problem. I can remember those times that I was happy with Mom, but I can’t remember her being happy with me. She never mistreated me in any way and did her best to protect me from Dad, but that was a losing battle. And that’s what makes me sad. I know I cannot dwell on these feelings, but don’t know how to stop them.
TODAY’S FEELING BAROMETER: Most of today was one of doom and gloom. I know I brought on most of it myself because I took myself back in time and unlocked that chest that had all of my memories of Mom. It’s hard to visit those memories. I was cheered up tonight by a phone call from my friend, Deanna. I needed to hear her laughs and feel her love.