Saturday, April 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

My mother was born in Lawrence, Kansas on April 2, 1921.  If she was still alive , she'd be 90 today.  I miss her a lot.  But 60 years of smoking cigarettes took her life on January 31, 1999.  I love you. Mom. You were a beautiful and loving person. I will remember you always.

My mother in Los Angeles in 1946
My Dad, me and Mom in San Diego, about 1978
My Mom, Dad, sister and me at Disneyland, about 1960
Mom in her new retirement apartment after my father passed away, Yuma, 1996

When our parents pass away, we often try to understand their lives from a patchwork of a child's recollections. We realize that we really didn't know who they were as individuals but only remember them from a child's perspective.  During the final months of my mother's life as she lay dying of a terminal illness, I began grieving for her.  I was full of sadness and regret that I didn't know her as an individual.  I began to write about what I did know with the deep subjective feelings of my childhood memories. This is a remembrance of my mother (b.4/2/21, d.1/31/99), begun 1/4/99 and finally finished on 5/31/99, Memorial Day.


Laying on these things
These artifacts of life.
Some measurement of time
This dust has come.
Like some geologic marker
Hiding below
A layer of pain,
A layer of sorrow.

What is knowable
When so may years have past?
The dust tells us

Is this how she wants to leave us?
As dust in the wind?
What memory may hold about this Life
Is insufficient.
In the telling of the story.
So many questions left unanswered
About this Life.

I think so much of her Life was about Escape.
This legacy haunts my thoughts.
“When will we stop preparing to live and start living?”
Escaping the meaninglessness
Of her hard mid-western childhood
Where too many souls competed for so paltry a nourishment.
Escaping to the Golden State
With a thought to find herself and her fortune
As young people will do.

To the City of Angels
West Coast, Hollywood, and anything goes.
This adolescent of the Depression fled.
Girlfriends, Boyfriends, jobs-
And still no money.
The drum beat of war not far off.
December 8, 1941
War was here.
She joined the Marines in March of 1943.
The first women in the Corps.
To the excitement of the Marine Corps
Where she wished to be in radio communications,
But ended up checking out sail boats in North Carolina
Her hearing and gender insufficient for the job.
Discharged “for the convenience of the government”
In 1944.

In L.A.
She met a young man,
So young and handsome.
With boldness of character
He promised her everything.
A certain millionaire someday.
He asked for her hand.
And she escaped into marriage.
Right after the war
On the 5th of February, 1946.
To the dust of Yuma, Arizona
They eloped.

The husband became an apprentice carpenter.
It was the trade of his Grandfather and Uncles.
He learned the trade well
Working for his Uncle.
But the money was not steady nor enough
For an ambitious man who had a child on its way.
He re-enlisted,
Enticed by a big cash bonus offered up to fight
In Korea.

With one child born
And another on its way,
they bought their first home in L.A.
The American Dream realized.
Restless husband, two children to raise and a wife with rising expectations.
Soon to escape to an island paradise
The happiest time of her life.
Too much alcohol.
Not enough money.

They bought a few acres in Southern California,
A “Fixer-Upper” which a handy carpenter could reconstruct.
And grow flowers and vegetables,
Their modest Shangri-La
For two kids and a dog,
Hidden away from the rest of the world.
An escape from somewhere or something.
Save and scrimp and sacrifice.
Hand-me-downs and second-hand and do-it-yourself
Ruled the day.
Someday their ship would come in.
And more alcohol,
Mostly to get away from this reality.

Life took her to the suburban village.
They bought a tract home and rented out Shangri-La.
Save and scrimp and drink and escape.
Life with this man became intolerable.
He could not stand the man he was.
He could not be the man he wanted.
Drink and fight and escape the pain.
Beat your wife and kids and kick the dog.
God! This man could not stand the life he lived
And neither would any one else.
Especially her.
He had promised her so much more
And she reminded him of his promise.
Back they went to a simpler, more hopeful time,
Back to the Shangri-La.
But it was a daily reminder that they didn’t have much.
She worked hard to bring in extra money.
They were saving to become millionaires some day.
And while they waited, they drank to escape what they were.

One summer night in 1964,
Her world changed.
A night of heavy drinking with friends
(All their friends now were heavy drinkers)
Ended when they drove home on a winding rural road.
The husband could not hold the car to the road
When he failed to make the curve.
Tumbling, crashing, violent pounding, darkness and pain,
The car rolled over and over.
She was encased in plaster, her neck broken.
Physical pain never-ending

Perhaps from guilt (who knows?)
The husband relented to buy her a dream-home
She furnished it with new furniture,
Golden fabric, French provincial and faux-marble tables.
But always there was the physical pain.
She took medication and alcohol,
To escape.
Life had dealt its cards and now she must play the hand.
No dreams to dream anymore.
This is what you get.
A husband with such guilt and anger.
He drank to escape.

The kids left home to escape.
Off to colleges and jobs.
They stayed away.
This woman and her husband sold everything
And escaped!
With a trailer behind them, they traveled the untraveled road.
They lived as simply and as cheaply as they could.
They put their money away, invested it, and held tightly to it.
(One day their ship would come in.)
Her children married,
Settling in to their own definite lives.
Grandchildren were born,
Bringing joy and wealth unknown to this woman in her “golden years.”

Settling finally as the dust will do
In Yuma, Arizona.
Bright clear days,
One after another.
Hot sun and beautiful desert skies
Welcomed this Life
To this desert town
On the edge of a great life stream called the Colorado.
She realized a certain peace
For the first time in her life.
She had begun to relax
And live for today.

Her husband began to change.
Strange symptoms
He seemed frail and vulnerable
For the first time in his life.
This man who had been her alter ego
Began to falter and fail in his strength
His determination evaporating
Her future dissolving before her.
She would spend nearly every day of his final years caring for him
Until the day he died and
His body was reduced to dust to join the Yuma hills.

He probably did become a millionaire.
His fortune sustained his care.
She would never want for material things.
And generously she was able to give
To her children at times when they were in need.
And each grandchild was provided with money
For a college education.
A trip to Hawaii brought her home to paradise
Even for just a brief moment.

She began to dream
Vivid, exotic dreams
With intense feelings.
She remembered an old boyfriend
And imagined a renewal of their love interest.
But she found he had passed away,
Like so many friends had now.
It was hard to imagine this life so alone.
Memories did not bring pleasant feelings.
They merely reminded her of people and things out of reach.

With her own health fading now,
She enjoyed simple pleasures.
Sitting at her outdoor balcony,
Watching the desert sunset
And the moonrise in the quiet of the night.

When this Life passed
It was with great pain.
And the suffering lifted
From the vessel whence it came.
She became as dust floating in the light
Rising with the morning sun
Until gone from sight.

I think she’s dwelling
on some star.
Seeing things she’s never seen
And happier by far.

Mom in Hawaii in 1996

Mom in Yuma, AZ about a year before she passed away from lung cancer.
Behind her is a picture of her father and mother's wedding day.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, how beautifully written. I often just skim posts due to lack of time but you had me riveted here.
    My mother was a heavy smoker and in the end it was the end of her too. Only 63 years old.