Today is Mother’s Day. I have been thinking a lot about my Mom the last weeks. She died when I was 23. My relationship with her was not very good most of my life. I often wonder what her take was on our relationship. I also wonder why she was the way she was. Through pictures and letters I discovered a different history and that has helped me to understand a bit where she was coming from and with the way she was.
Mom was the older of two girls. I know so little about my Grandparents. We were told my Grandfather died when Mom was very young. This turned out to be not true. After my Mom died, I got her steamer truck full of things from her life. In it was a box of letters from her father to her. He left the family when she was 15 and moved back to the family homestead in West Virginia. Mom told us that he died from being gassed in WWI. Well, he was gassed, but he died in a sanitarium from chronic alcohol abuse.
My mother must have been so embarrassed that she hid all this from everyone. I wonder if my father knew. I can understand why she did.
My father’s family was very wealthy and upper class living on Long Island. His father was an ambassador from Spain and I am not sure what else he did. He died when my father was three in a tragic accident. He was crossing a rail road and was stuck and got hit by a train. My uncle was also in the car and died. My father’s mother was pregnant with my aunt. Again, not much was ever shared with us about the past. My aunt wrote us all a lovely little book when my father died about growing up. They were well to do and privileged.
My mother married into a dream. She came from Detroit and I am sure there was not much money as her mother worked. The only proof I have the early years of their marriage are pictures of Mom in very lovely evening dresses and at dinner on cruise ships. They had a nice house with domestic help and my brothers and sister grew up attending sailing classes at the Yacht club where my parents were members. Being the youngest, I had a much different upbringing as by the time I came along, the money was gone and my father lost his business.
My Mom kept up pretenses all my life. My Nana, her mother-in-law, was a lovely woman but the truest snob I have ever met. We were not close. I am sure my mother was worried her whole life that she, the little girl from Detroit with hillbilly relatives, would not measure up. I am sure she worried about her pedigree. Hence, she did not speak about it. But she played the role of the grand dame right up to the end of her life.
Her gift to me was to give me some class. I grew up learning about etiquette and an appreciation for the finer things. Our house growing up was filled with silver, crystal and fine linens. We always had a proper dinner and I learned the use and procedures for setting a formal table. All this of course is now useless, which I think is sad. And now, I have what remains of the silver and crystal and never use it. I think my mother would be disappointed if she was still alive. She gave me traditions, some I still hold on to. But my sibling’s relationships are disconnected so the traditions have morphed into my family’s own.
My Mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in July of 1978 and was gone the next January. She did not want to talk about her illness. I think about that time and I wonder how she felt when she heard the diagnosis. Knowing my Father, I am sure she held back her feelings even from him. I was newly married but I spent the last two weeks of her life with her. She was in the hospital dying. They did not have hospice services like they do now. Even then, she did not share much. She did not complain about her pain other than to ask me to rub her back. As she slipped further and further away, we would sit in silence. She was the first person in my life to die and I had no concept of death.
I was the one who received the call that she had passed away. I now wish I had been there with her, but I was unaware that she was that close to death when I left that afternoon. I had to tell my father she was gone and that was only the second time I ever saw him cry. Emotional demonstrations were not allowed in my family. This is a remnant of their upper class behavior. “Stiff upper lip and all.” I never fit in that category and was constantly chided for being so emotional.
It has been almost forty years since she passed. I do not remember the sound of her voice. I only remember her face by pictures. She was the rock and glue of the family and when she passed, the family broke apart. I ended up having to take care of my father for 13 years, which was a huge strain on me. I am still close to my oldest brother, but he practices the same emotional restraint my mother had.
I look around my house and see pieces of her in my decorating. She loved flowers and taught me well about gardening. I have multitude of houseplants, much like she did. I have her love for sterling even though I hate to polish it. There is not much left compared to what we had growing up. My father sold off a lot of it and I remember being furious when he did. I felt like he was selling of pieces of my Mom.
I do not use all the china I have and now I am looking to get rid of it. I know that sounds callous but my nephews have their own or they don’t want it. There is no one to pass it on to. I have Waterford crystal that sits in boxes and other stem wear in a china cabinet. I have linens boxed and collecting dust and mold. No one wants these things anymore. My husband is content with paper plates and vinyl tablecloths.
There are other reminders of my Mom every day. She loved cardinals. I always have had a cardinal family living in my back yard. One time or another they have flown into the house. I took it as a symbol of my mother’s approval of this house.
Even being as old as I am, I do miss her, especially now. I want to ask her how she felt when she was diagnosed. I am facing my own diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease, Stage four, which has its own path to death. I want to know her truth. I want to know about her early years. She was only 58 when she passed. I would have liked to share old age with her. I wish she had shared more about who she was instead fulfilling some role she felt obligated to be. There were a few glimpses of the real Mom in my late teens when my father was traveling and she would literally let her hair down.
But most of all, I would like to know what she thinks of how I turned out. And did she love me.