Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mama

We had a splendid time last eve. Turned out we were a congenial group. People arrived at 6pm and left at 10pm. I expected them to stay for a couple of hours at best. My soups, Creamy Lentil and Salmon Corn Chowder, were a hit. The weather was gorgeous. We had our dessert and coffee outside. Was fun getting to know people. Was fun focusing on something in no way shape or form connected with me. I did not think about myself for four blessed hours. I did go semi-nuts cleaning, and Mark came home from work early and mowed the lawn. A clean house is like a blank canvas on which can be painted all the joys of life. We all meet again in a month. I am looking forward to it.

Mama died on Mother's Day morning when I was twelve. I woke up to find her gasping for air. I did not know what to do and just stood there. She was too far gone to notice me. I was not scared but I knew something was terribly wrong. In the midst of the gasping, her breathing suddenly returned to normal. She sat up, lifted her hands in the air, and began to laugh. Not her usual shy, quiet giggle, but deep joyous belly laughs. This scared me. She started talking to someone. I knew she was dying. In my pajamas I raced across the street to the nursing home to get Aunt Wilma. She was cooking breakfast for the old people that morning. I ran in and said come quick. She did, but by the time we got back Mom had died. I told Aunt Wilma about the laughing and she began to cry and thanked God for Mom's release. I had given up crying by then and just stood silent at her side. I remember telling Aunt Wilma that God had made Mom younger. No stranger to death, she patted my hand and said yes it worked like that. (I was alone with Aunt Wilma when she died and she too gained youth.) Aunt Wilma took my hand and said, "Louise (my Mother) and I agreed I would adopt you when she died. Is that okay with you?" Was fine with me. Seemed the normal thing. I got dressed and we went back over to the nursing home to call the funeral home and finish breakfast. I never even wondered at the preplanning these two friends had done for my future. My mother loved me but I never really understood it.

Mom was 48 when she died. She had a hard life. Her family was very poor and there were eight kids. I think my grandfather drank. They moved frequently. Mom was "sickly." She had asthma in an era before much could be done for it. Also family did not have the money for health care. She was also very "nervous." Mom was the plainest of her five sisters. She was very smart according one of the Aunts. Also, "a bookworm." Mom wrote poetry and kept a journal. She also drew. Through some miracle of God I have her teenage journals and her pencil drawings. She was introspective and self doubting from the first. Also had a keen eye for the ridiculous. There was no money for college so Mom got a job pumping gas when she graduated. It was during the War and she loved this job. By this time my grandmother was also sick. Mom stayed home to take care of her, and be taken care of. She and my grandmother ran a popcorn stand outside the movie theatre. Somewhere along the line she met and married a nare do well named Jake. He was a drunk. Used to beat her, if he could catch her. She could outrun him. She loved that. They were married for a few years and then divorced. Mom moved in with one of the Aunts, also going through a divorce. They began to "run around." Mom ended up pregnant at 39, and was unmarried. Family moved her to a small town a few miles down the road and sort of deserted her. Her mental state deteriorated rapidly.

After I was born things went from bad to worse. She was no good at living on her own and no good at caring for a child. We were on welfare and the Aunts and one Uncle occasionally arrived with food and to clean the house. We stayed with my uncle and his wife when Mom totally couldn't cope. Some idiot decided Mom would be better off if she could "get a new start" and moved us to Denver. We lived in an apartment in a rundown old mansion in Five Points. Five Points was and is a slum. The apartment, in the attic, was so hot we would go outside and sleep on the lawn at night. I got nosebleeds all the time. She got really bad in Denver. Eventually my Uncle showed up and took us home. Another rented apartment in the "poor" section of town. By this time I had begun to take over caring for Mom. I bought groceries and cooked. I was not good at it. I was four. I could make pancakes and toasted cheese sandwiches. I was four. In my mind's eye I think of myself as a "mature" seven or eight. Anyway, when Mom began locking me out of the house at night and the neighbors complained, the Aunts and the State stepped in. They came and took her away.

She was in the state mental hospital for four years. I have the letters the Aunts and my California cousin sent to her. I have two letters from her from late in her stay. They are to our social worker, Miss O"Mara, asking for someone to please find me a real home. Heartbreaking. I know only bits and pieces of her time in Bedlam. She felt violated and safe, simultaneously. With huge doses of Thorazine she got better and was dismissed. You know the story from there.

I had not seen Mom in four years. Aunt Zella told me she was "nuts" and I would have to be very careful not to say something "stupid" that would "set her off." I dressed meticulously so as to look my best. I was nervous as we drove in from the farm. Mom was waiting on the front step. I got out of the car. Aunt Zella came around and took my hand. I think she was going to lead me to Mom. Mom came down off the step and walked a pace or two forward and then she knelt down. I remember ripping my hand away from Zella and hurtling down the sidewalk. I was yelling Mama, mama, mama. I do not forget melting into her. I had come home. I don't remember much of that day. I held Mama's hand the whole time. I remember meeting Aunt Wilma. I had never seen such a big woman. Aunt Zella beat the snot out of me when we got home because, "you made a fool of yourself." I didn't care. She and I both knew my life had changed.

I think Mom's last couple of years were the happiest in her life. She had a job, friends and a family. I was a pain in the ass, but what smart aleck ten year olds aren't. She told me about herself. I wish I had been older. I took some of it in but was more interested in my new wonderful life than to listen. I hope in Heaven to have an eternity of just chat. I think we may have much in common.

It has been 38 years now, but I still remember. Happy Mother's Day Mama.

Take care of yourselves. Love Bea.

8 comments:

Andrea K said...

Oh my gosh, I get so wrapped up in your storytelling. I really hope you can get published one day (if you want to), because your writing is superb and your story is intriguing.

I am so grateful that I was able to meet a creative, introspective person like you (even if it is only online). This is yet another fantastic reason why I love the AFG blog that brought all of us together.

Vickie said...

Your mom sounds like she has traits that many of us have - I was going to say that she would have probably had a very different life if she was born in a later generation - but maybe it would have been better only if later generation and born into a family with money. It is so scary how easily people can just fall "over the edge" and end up in such terrible circumstances. What a childhood you had. . .

Helen said...

What an amazing series of posts, Bea. Just wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

Cindy174 said...

This one has left me speechless and thoughtful, pondering many, many things. I am glad you have her journal writings and drawings. And that you had Aunt Wilma. So many different bits of this story touched so many different bits of me, and my life. If you wrote your life story, I would most likely read the whole thing without putting it down. Thanks so much.

Helen said...

A wee bit more: I shared your 4 beautiful Mothers' Day posts with my sweetheart...we agree that you are a beautiful writer and such a gift that you have! Maybe a book around the basis of these posts? We'd read and buy it...unusual (but probably universal), poignant, warm, REAL. :-)

daisyk said...

Like Cindy, I'm enormously grateful you have her journals & letters, & enormously grateful for the encompassing love & compassion of this installment. Thank you for showing us what love, homecoming, & heart are.

Debra said...

I'm so happy for your successful dinner and capacity for memory. I loved the part where you went running to your mother -- when you ever question what the "real self" is, that was it. You broke out of the restrictions imposed on you by your dreadful Aunt, the fear and inhibitions welling up inside you and broke free. That's it! The real self -- there for you to connect with, patiently waiting to be free.

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