I’ve been writing a lot, both on my own and with writing groups I’ve started. I want to use some of them as blog posts.
The first memory I have of my mother involves some tiny clear plastic animals. I remember them being about 2-3” and very flat. I had some of them in my desk drawer for a long time. I have a vague memory that my mother hid a lot of them down on the little beach as part of a birthday party for me.
Good memories — taking me out of grade school to see a movie “Knights of the Round Table.” Season ticket to Playhouse in the Park. Going to Shakespeare plays in Litchfield when I lived in Brunswick. The time she lost her wallet and was so afraid of Dad’s anger. I think by that time I thought of him as a petty tyrant, and I had told him “You don’t have to lose your temper.” A college classmate had said this to me, and it was the first inkling I had that one didn’t have to lose one’s temper. Then there was the time Mom bought me the Russian box, and the time she bought the loom. She could be generous, but only if I showed how much I wanted it and didn’t ask. If I asked it would be “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” or “you can’t have everything you want.” When she said she’d buy me a loom for my birthday, I said “Mom — you don’t know what it costs.” She said “Four hundred dollars.” So she got it for me. Then there was the stuffed lion. I wanted it desperately, so she got it (I assume), and then once I had it, it lost its magic. That was when I learned that buying something didn’t guarantee happiness. The time she said “I’m not feeling good about myself right now” and my heart went out to her and I hugged her. That’s the only time I remember my heart going out to her. No, there was another time. After Dad’s funeral, when the others had gone home and I was still with her, and we went to have lunch at a friend’s house. They asked what she wanted to drink and she said “Water on the rocks.” I was so proud of her. Alas she didn’t know what it takes to keep it up, she never admitted that her life was unmanageable, never went for help to AA, never worked on the twelve steps.
I’ve start writing about Mom. I feel like there’s so little I know compared with the women in the writing books. One woman wrote life stories for both of her parents in order to understand why they were the way they were. In some ways the 4th of July Monologue is the most complete document I have of my life with my parents. I have stories that other people told me, but not much in the way of memories. I have so little evidence. Bare facts: my father’s mother died while he was at war. This was hard for Mom too, she loved her mother-in-law. My mother’s brother died during the same time period. All I have for evidence of him is the picture of him carrying me on his shoulder (I wonder where that is now), the Indian War bonnet he made (it must have been eaten by mice, I couldn’t find it when I looked for it), and mother’s story of how he was her “little boy,” she dressed him, etc. Losing him must have been very hard on Mom and her parents. But I’m sure they didn’t feel it was OK to mourn, there was a war on. I always imagine mother saying “Carry on, with head held high,” holding her head high as she said it proudly.
I want to write something deeper. I think of what I wrote about mother, how she might have felt as bad as I did that day, that my life had been wasted. (It was October 1) Mother must have known that she was failing her children but refusing to see it and reaching for alcohol instead. I wonder if she was depressed, as Char said. Char was the woman who helped me get on medication. She asked if Mother got nasty when she was drunk. I said yes. Char said “She’s probably medicating depression.” If she was depressed, that would account for her inability to enjoy things like us kids washing the Christmas dishes while singing The Twelve Days of Christmas. I remember when she said “I was promised a maid and a mink coat and I ain’t getting it,” or something like that. I don’t think it was a mink coat, but I can’t imagine her saying “wealthy life style.” I know she talked about her “mink coat” a lot as something she thought she ought to be given. I think she believed the myth that things, and social status, were meaningful so that’s what she counted on. She talked a lot about “loving others more than self,” but as far as I can see she never practiced it. Even the words sound like a cliché, a “should” not a “want.” She drove for the Red Cross, but she was also a member of the Colonial Dames. I think the Red Cross thing was the lady of the manor condescending to help the less fortunate, rather than truly being of service.
Father Greg says that to be of service you have to see the one you’re helping as kin. I’ve almost always felt that way. I remember the time I drove the couple to the grocery store for Family Service. They didn’t know how to read, but they knew what they wanted and somehow managed to come within their budget. I admired their coping skills. And the woman I drove to her shock treatment, who looked so nice when she went in, and came out looking so battered and confused. I felt compassion, not pity, and angry that she’d been subjected to something so destructive. Years ago I had a dream in which I was the poor relation in a Victorian household, a kind of unpaid servant who could be turned out if she failed to keep up with whatever work was given to her. I realized that I had always felt like an unpaid servant in my family home, I never felt like “the daughter of the house.”
I remember the time Mom was complaining about going to the hospital with Dad and acting like she was the only one who had ever had to do that. I jollied her out of it by saying “There will be other women there with their husbands. Maybe you’ll even like some of them.” She hesitated, wanting to maintain her injured stance, and then gave in and said “I’ve always liked people.” I wonder what she would have been if someone had been able to jolly her out of all her narcissistic ways. I remember how Aunt Sally gently brushed aside some criticism of her that Uncle Grant had made. I had never seen either Mom or Dad do that for each other.
Seeing how Mother must have thoroughly repressed her intuition that there was something she needed to do differently. I remember sitting with her on the screen porch in Cincinnati sometime after Daddy died. She was drunk as usual. It was while Jack and Milda were getting a divorce. She said “Jack said I was a bad mother, but I took care of you little peeps. But Milda — fft! (throwing her hands up) Those little peeps are hurting…” meaning Jack & Milda’s children. I remember feeling slightly sick, sad and disgusted while listening to her. There was nothing I could say.