As the title indicates, this one is all about my Mom, in advance of Mother’s Day. Obviously if you don’t want to read these kinds of details, stop reading now and go back to whatever it was you were doing. This is pretty revealing, so chew it up if you’re so inclined.
For those of you who do not have a relationship with your Mom, and those whose Mom is no longer living, I extend my hand, my home, my heart and my arms to you on cusp of this holiday that celebrates Mom-hood. For those of you who are Moms, pat yourselves on the back for greatness. We are all flawed, imperfect, but loved and accomplished for this deed, and as a Mom myself, here’s to you.
My Mom has not accomplished “Great Things” in her life, as defined by much of society. But she is a great lady to me, in so many ways. I have looked to her for guidance in a million ways. We speak on the phone every day, and always she is ready with advice, with encouragement, with guidance, with honest words when I need them. This is the true spirit of a Mom; the acknowledgement that the job does not end when the child turns 18 and hopefully flees the nest, but that it is a lifetime commitment, during which you never stop parenting, never stop loving, never stop learning.
My Mom was from a very poor family, born during the Great Depression as the youngest of four. My Grandmother was around 40 when she had my Mom, as I was when I had my own child. We were coming out of WWII and my Grandfather, a Navy vet and union factory worker with a love of the drink and 7 mouths to feed (Mom’s uncle lived with them) was not always happy about his lot in life.
After high school and a few jobs, (including waitressing at Porky’s, for my Mansfield-native friends), my Mom met a guy, fell in love, and then he went into the service. She was pregnant, young and alone. He would not marry her, nor claim the baby was his, even though there was no way it wasn’t. As her tiny belly grew, he sent her money for a train ticket to where he was stationed in California, and she took the train out and eventually had the baby at a home for unwed mothers, putting the baby up for a closed adoption, and came home, dejected that he had rejected her and her son.
When she met my father and got pregnant again, she vowed the same thing would not happen, so she married him, and had my sister. She had me four years later so that my sister would have a playmate and companion, and we have been tighter than drum skins ever since.
The marriage was troubled. She hung on as long as she could, and divorced my Dad when I was in middle school, and sent me to an uncle’s farm for therapy. I spent most of my middle school year weekends living farm life – getting up early to slop the hogs, saddle, ride and brush horses, milk cows, clean stables, and whatever else needed done before having a big farm breakfast and then going to church on a bus we waited for in the mud of a dirt road. Then I’d go back to my “normal” life during the week of going to school, getting teased about not having the right clothes, and go home to a tough existence of rapidly-disappearing money as my parents fought about child support issues.
My Mom fought hard to get a decent job to support me during the very lean high school years. She worked as a short order cook at the L&K and tried to support me on about $7500 a year. She worked as a receptionist and bookkeeper at a forklift company, where the men harassed her. She worked an accounting job where they had to write up how much time they spent in the bathroom each day. She smoked, she drank cheap beer, and she tried to find someone who would rescue us in between making government cheese and spaghetti and helping me with my homework as best she could. She dated a really sweet guy for awhile who lived in a trailer park and worked for GM. He had a shitload of money and never spent it. He was into hunting and fishing and was simple and good-hearted. He bought me my first Carhartts, taught me to ride a 4-wheeler and took my Mom ice fishing. We spent a few weekends in an A-frame on Middle Bass, where we scaled fish and nursed a duck back to health after it had been shot in the wing with an arrow. There is a picture of me somewhere on the porch of the A-frame with the duck in my hands, letting it go as it was finally strong enough to fly away. He asked my Mom to get married but she couldn’t do it again after what she had been through. “Marry me, honey,” he told her, “I’m not going to be around forever, and you can have my money for the girls.” She eventually broke it off with him as it just wasn’t right, and six months later, he died from a heart attack.
She has never been lucky. She had the face, body, spirit and talent of an MGM Chorus Girl, but was a small-town Ohio girl who never had her Schwab’s moment. “Always dress nice when you go out,” she used to tell me, half-jokingly, “You never know when there’s a talent scout about.”
When I graduated from high school, she left Mansfield behind. It was never her town (she grew up in Ashland), and she moved to the big city of Cleveland. She saved for years, working a secretarial job at Case Western, and eventually bought a small house in Lakewood, where she lives today.
She taught me to cook, my Mom. And how to run the washer and dryer. “I’m not going to be around forever,” she’d say, “Pull up a chair and watch, so you can do it next time.” She showed me how you scrape the outside of the eggs in, and why you should grind your own beef because that shit in the grocery stores will kill you. She made homemade yogurt and bread every week, and her own spaghetti sauce.
When I wrecked our only car, because I was driving it in the rain on bald tires, she did not chastise me. She hugged me and said all that mattered was that I was ok, we would figure out another way to get a car. She bought pizza for us the night I had to miss marching in the Big Game (I was captain of the flag corps) because I had a black eye and badly bruised arms and legs from the wreck.
When I came to her and told her I was sexually active, she took me to the gynecologist and I got on the pill, so the same thing wouldn’t happen to me that happened to her.
When my father died, she came to the funeral to be with me and my sister, despite the scathing hatred and awful treatment she received by members of my father’s family.
When I told her I was having a colectomy, she was aghast, and then collected herself and said, “Is this what you need to do?” and I said yes, if it wasn’t this bad, I wouldn’t be doing it. She took me shopping at Kmart for work clothes that would accommodate my temporary ileostomy bag.
When I told her I was moving to Beverly Hills, she said, follow your dreams, whatever happens, I will be there for you. She took me in when I fled there, and helped me get back on my feet. She saved my comforter for me, and my shower curtain that I loved, which still hangs in my bathroom today.
When I had my C-section and was struggling so hard with back pain, a new baby, and no milk, she sneaked in a tiny, personal-sized crock of her homemade mac and cheese. When I took it out of the bag, I cried like a baby.
This is what being a Mom means. This is what it’s all about. Happy Mother’s Day, Penny.