My mother grew up in a very small town. They were poor and had a lot of mouths to feed, but my grandmother was tenacious and of strong character, creative and lively, with a sarcastic and hilarious sense of humor and a determined spirit that left me in awe of her. My mother was her youngest child, and saw each of her three older siblings leave the nest to get married. It was a rough childhood. You could still take a potato as admission to the movies. Grandmother fed hobos who came up the hill in the backyard where the railroad ran through, and the she lived through a lot of fights and embarrassment from an alcoholic uncle who lived with the family.
Mom appeared in musicals in high school as a chorus girl. She was very pretty and petite, and could sing and dance a little even though she had no training, and dreamed of being an MGM chorus girl. But she didn’t have the spunk or drive to pursue such a career, or any other particular career, and graduated from high school and waited tables in diners in her small town.
She briefly dated a boy she really liked who was in the service and in between stints with his regular girfriend – they were broken up when she dated him, though he eventually went back to his girlfriend. She unexpectedly became pregnant, and he refused to accept paternity and went out to California with his service branch. It was quite the scandal back in the day to be young (she was 19 I think), unmarried and pregnant. She tried very hard not to gain any weight and the pregnancy barely showed for many months. Eventually, her service man sent her a ticket to come out to CA so she could have the baby in a home for unwed mothers, and she put the boy child up for adoption, then returned to Ohio. It was painful but more regularly done at that time, to avoid shame. She had no way to support a child, either.
When, a few years later, she started dating another fellow from a neighboring town and became pregnant again, they decided to get married as she didn’t want a repeat performance. It was no great love of her life, but he was smart and worked hard and could be funny and knew a lot of people in her hometown that made her feel welcome.
That baby was my sister. Four years after she had her, my Mom had me so my sister would have a companion.
The marriage was not ideal, but she stuck it out and tried to make the best of it as long as she could, and doted on her two girls, doing the best she could to raise them creatively and with spirit on little means, like her own mother did. My Dad seemed to love her a lot and took a lot of photos of her, she was still such a beauty. Until something happened and she couldn’t do it anymore, and she couldn’t say what happened, because that would be more scandal. So she didn’t. So she divorced him, and was ostracized and blackballed all over town, and had trouble getting a job. Her credit was ruined. My father’s family disowned me and my sister for choosing to live with our mother. There were a lot of money struggles and eventually we ended up on public assistance. But we had tenacity and grit and had a lot of laughs and good times. She did the best she could.
When they were divorcing, my father said my Mom would never amount to anything, that she’d go through a string of boyfriends and jobs and I’d be better off living with him. It was a crappy way to approach things and backfired. She did have one, single boyfriend, who was a very kind and simple man, a factory worker like her brothers had been, who fished, hunted, lived in a trailer and drove a Trans Am. He had an enormous, staggering amount of money socked away from years of labor, but nothing and no one to spend it on. “Marry me,” he told my Mom, “I’ll be worth a lot of money when I die.” She could never bring herself to marry again, and they split up over it. He died a year later. She just never wanted anyone else’s money, or to be dependent upon any man again.
Once she left that small town, immediately after I graduated high school, she flourished. She got a job at a university in Cleveland, which she held for 20 years. She saved and saved her pennies and eventually bought a small, lovely house in Lakewood, which she lives in today. She retired from her job and that year, 2009, took care of my new baby for the first year or two of his life as best she could, though age has not been kind to her and arthritis hampered her efforts.
Most of my life, she has been the one person I knew I could tell anything to and she would never judge. And believe me, if you want a secret kept to the grave, and never mentioned to another soul, you may whisper it to her and be certain it will never, ever leave her lips. I never even knew about the baby she had until about 7 years ago when he, as an adult, sought her out on an online adoption site for people looking for birth parents. So now I have a half brother in California. We have little in common but he is a caring, loving person and connecting with our family has meant a lot to him, understandably.
Mom has an almost innate ability to size up people and situations and see their character. We have been psychically connected since I was born, as is my sister, and we finish each other’s sentences, eat the same meals without knowing that’s what the other is eating, and can tell when one of us is in trouble just by sense. Our connection and bond has been unlike anything else in my life, and I will forever be grateful for the way she figured out how to love and nurture the fucked up, difficult, angry child I was so that I could get through the bad part of my life and find out what beauty life had in store for me without killing myself or anyone else along the way.
I will always be in awe of her beauty, her intelligence, her sense of humor, her love of nature. I am so proud to be Penny’s daughter, and I celebrate her on this day.