Posts Tagged ‘Mother’

Girl in the Wind –

01/18/2012

Girl in the Wind

Chapter 1

Cassie ran as fast as her long, skinny legs would carry her. The screen door banged shut behind her. A sound guaranteed to piss off her mother  but she didn’t care. She had to get away from her. She had to escape the cutting words that sliced into her as sharply as any knife, carving away at her heart until the only way she could stop the bleeding was to run to the big oak tree across the yard and climb high into its enveloping branches. Past the long abandoned robin’s nest.  Past the broken limb that snapped off in the thunder storm last year.  Higher and higher she went until the branches thinned and she doubted the next one would hold even her slight weight.

She inhaled deeply, saying her personal version of a prayer, “Please God, don’t let me blow away in the wind before I show her a thing or two!” and stretched her arms as high as she could, wrapped them around the tree trunk, and stepped out on a limb so thin it seemed barely strong enough to hold the trio of leaves dangling from its tip.

She raised her gaze to the sky and felt the sun on her face  calming her.  White clouds of summer drifted overhead in a sky so blue it made her want to cry. A gust of wind rocked her as the tree swayed. Cassie welcomed the feeling of vertigo that came with the thrill of fear that she might fall. That was why she was there after all. To face the fear.  To prove she was more than what her mother claimed. Although she would never admit it, she was terrified of heights. Even more terrified her mother was right. She was clumsy. She was school smart and life stupid.  She would never be very pretty. Not like her mother. Not like her sister.  How many times did she have to listen to the same story? She got the message the first time she heard it.

They lived in the apartment house then. The one with two families and one bathroom on each floor. More than once she’d peed her pants waiting for someone to finally clear out of there.  It was bad enough if they were just whizzing or pooping, but if someone was taking a bath it could take a very long time and it wasn’t fair to get spanked or have your nose rubbed in wet pants if you tried and couldn’t get in.

That’s the place where they all got sick and the doctor had to come and give everyone but her father a shot of penicillin every day for a week.  Cassie, who was four at the time, and her big sister, Sue, six-years old,were with Mom in the big bed. Their little brother, Billy, was in his crib pushed up against the wall. All of them were sweaty and coughing. No one was getting any sleep and Daddy had to bring them soup and pass out pills and change Billy’s diapers.  Every day the doctor would ask Cassie and Sue who they wanted to get a shot first. Neither little girl would answer. Cassie always wanted to tell him to give the shot to their mother first. She was the only one who didn’t cry and maybe, just once, he’d get confused and forget about her.  But she never got up the nerve to say anything. Some days she was first, some days Sue or Mom. Billy was always last everyone always got the shot

Finally they were all better. Her father was at work and her mother was brushing Sue’s hair, getting her ready for school. Sue thought she was big because she was going to first grade and Cassie was still too little for Kindergarten.  Every now and then, as her mother talked and brushed her hair, Sue would turn to Cassie and give her a look that seemed to be a mix of superiority and embarrassed pity.

“You have the most beautiful hair,” Mom said. She brushed the long, naturally curly, locks at least five-hundred strokes every morning.  “Strawberry blonde is such an unusual color. When you grow up you will be beautiful and have lots of boyfriends. You will go on lots of dates and break a lot of hearts.”

“What about me? What color is mine?”  Cassie asked. She had hair too, but Mom rarely brushed it. After all, she wasn’t going anywhere but outside to play and she always came in a mess so why bother.

“You? Your hair is dirty blonde. Some people call it dishwater blonde because it reminds of them of the dingy water they pour down the sink after doing the supper dishes. It’s not unusual at all. And your hair is super fine. It won’t hold a curl like Sue’s. You’ll have to spend hours curling it or get a permanent. You won’t be pretty like Sue but, if you spend a lot of time doing your hair and putting on the right makeup, you could turn out to be cute. ”

“Will I have lots of dates?” Cassie asked.

“Not a lot,” her mother answered, turning to scan her younger daughter from head to foot. “Some of the boys that Sue isn’t interested in or has dated for a while and then jilted will probably ask you out. Maybe one of them will really like you.”

“I hope not”, Cassie said. “I don’t want to go on dates anyway!”

But she did. Not then of course, but someday she would want someone to think she was pretty and take her for a ride in his car. Somebody who wouldn’t care about the color of her hair. She secretly wondered if boys cared as much about hair as her mother seemed to. The ones she knew certainly didn’t do anything with theirs.

“Oh look, the sun is coming out,” Cassie’s mother said. She stopped primping Sue’s hair and crossed the kitchen to open the curtains over the sink.  All morning it had been raining hard with occasional crashes of thunder and bursts of lightning.  “It reminds me of the day Sue was born.”

“Tell us,” Sue said.

“April is a wonderful month to have a baby. Everything is so fresh and pretty in the Spring. However, it stormed all day and all night when I went to the hospital to have you. When I was in the delivery room the lights flickered out a few times and I was getting scared. Even the doctor said he hoped you would get here before the electricity failed for good.”

“Did I?” Did I come before the lights went out?”

“Yes, you did,” her mother assured her. “And just as the nurse was bringing you to me, the storm ended and the sun came out, filling the hospital room with light. It turned out to be a perfect Spring day after all. I had never known what it felt like to be so happy.”

“Tell me about when I was born,” Cassie said. “I’ll be you were very happy that day too.”

“No, I wasn’t,” her mother answered abruptly. “You weren’t due for another three weeks and your Dad and I had planned to go out. Aunt Celia was coming to stay the night and watch Sue.  It was the last time your father and I would have a chance to go have dinner in a restaurant and go dancing before you were born. “

“What happened?” Cassie asked. A chill ran up her spine as she waited for the answer. She knew that something had gone wrong and it was her fault.

“What happened is you!” her mother snapped.  Instead of having a night out I was in pain in the hospital. No, I wasn’t happy. I was mad. My last night out was spoiled. ”

“I’m sorry,” Cassie whispered, tears glistening in her big blue eyes.

If her mother heard, she didn’t respond. She simply finished brushing Sue’s hair, helped her put on her prettiest dress, and with Cassie following a few feet behind, walked her daughter to school.  Later that afternoon, when her mother shooed her out of the house so she could have some peace and quiet, Cassie pushed a rickety ladder up against a tree, climbed up on one of the branches and faced the sting of her mother’s rejection for first time.

Why did feel so much like falling?

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For Betty on Mother’s Day

05/08/2011

Monday, September 9, 2002
The following is the eulogy I wrote and presented for my mother. On this Mother’s Day and all the ones to come I think of her and miss her more than I can say. I hope she understands my desire to share this with you today. It’s important that she live on and this one way I can help to make that happen.
********************
September 9, 2002
Good Morning,

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I’ll introduce myself. I’m Bobbi, the second of Betty’s six children.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I started to write what I hope will be a fitting tribute to my mother.

How do you define a life in a span of words? …..I can only try.

At first I tried to honor her life with high praise and lofty words. I struggled and wrote and discarded page after page until finally it hit me, (or was that you, Mom?) that the only way to celebrate her life is to tell it like it is. She wouldn’t want it any other way.

So first, let’s go back in time and see her through her sister’s eyes – Two little girls tussling on the bed when one of Mom’s shoes comes off and flies through the open window and hits their Grandpa Hogan smack on the head. First puzzled, then angry he goes into the house and up to their room only to find them giggling, arms wrapped around one another, hiding under the covers. …… Love and laughter, two sisters clinging to one another.

See her growing up, becoming a beautiful young woman. One who loves to flirt loves to dance, driving the young men wild.

Picture her as a young war bride, alone and waiting for her allotment check. It was always a struggle to make ends meet but she always took a portion of the money to buy something nice for her sister. …… Love and giving, watching out for family, that’s our Mom.

See her as a young mother, cradling her first-born, looking at this miracle with no hint of the future tragedy that will take her beautiful daughter from her.

Watch as she works and struggles to raise six kids. Three girls, three boys, children who will be loved but not coddled as my brother Ed so clearly stated it only a few days ago.

She taught us all so much!
It is through her example that we learned that books can open up a whole new world and that crossword puzzles can expand more than your vocabulary, that some times the only correct answer is to call out your child’s name.

She saw to it that we received a strong foundation in faith, taught us our prayers and sometimes even mistook one of the boys for Jesus Christ.

By providing us with brothers and sisters she taught us to share, to try to get along, to fight for what we believe in, to define our own place in a wide and diversified world, and most of all to protect one another, even if that means two big brothers rescuing a two-stepping sister by her swinging blond pony tail.

She taught us with love and with her own brand of discipline. If a word or “the look” didn’t take care of a problem a well-aimed backhand would ….. and failing that ….there might even be a coke bottle handy.

Can you see her in your mind’s eye now? I can.

Watch her as throughout her life she creates special bonds with people, gathering them to her as she did with her “other daughter”, her niece and Godchild, Dee Dee. I know that going to see a movie will never be quite the same again but I also know that when you do go she will be right there with you, loving every minute ….

Unless of course she has gone dancing with Margaret. How her eyes would light up when you came into the room and how pleased she was with the very idea of stepping out again. One of these days you and Katie will be out and you will spot a rainbow, When you do, stop and do a little dance and know that she is smiling down on both of you, doing a little twist to her very own melody.

Picture her little house and think of how many of us she has taken in over the years for periods of time both long and short, including you Chris, Tiffany, Colleen and Sean, Ed and Laura, as well as visitors like her Cousin Jim who brought her so much joy.

All of her life she worked on her feet, serving people and she did it with style and sass – she did it with love and laughter. – What an amazing woman she is.

It didn’t matter what you called her, it could be Mom, it most certainly could not be Ma. It might be Sis, Auntie, ‘Lisabeth, Betty, Nana, Miss Lizzie, or her own personal favorite, The Matriarch, the end result was the same. She was there for you to tell it like it is, and if you didn’t like it, well you could just, “Kiss it, Kate”.
Picture that one more time and see her smile once again.

We all love you Mom and we know that one day we all be together again, ….. Until then I can only say –
Goodnight Elizabeth.

I See Angels – A Memoir

02/25/2011

The following is Part 1 of a true story about my time with my mother in the days before her death in 2002.  I share this today as my father lies in the hopsital close to death.  I find this piece comforating on this very difficult day. 

***

Fatigued and only half awake my mind wandered, recalling the day I first pushed through the swinging doors of the Palliative Care unit. I’d stopped in my tracks, stunned by the sudden quiet. All the noise of a busy hospital had disaapeared. Even the usual blips and buzzes were filtered out. I’d felt a sense of peace enveloping me; welcoming me. Only then did I understand that my assumptions were wrong. This isn’t a place of death; it’s an island of hope and dignity.

Mom is here.
I’d come from far away, lugging my suitcase and my fears to sit by her side. I won’t leave until she does. I know she will be with me when I walk through those doors again.
Rousing slowly I began to wonder just how long my suitcase had been sitting beside Mom’s bed. It seemed like a very long time. In this place that’s a blessing. Dates on a calendar mean nothing, every moment is precious. I am blessed to be here.

The aroma of fresh coffee lures me to the tiny kitchen across the hall. Grabbing a cream- filled doughnut from the box on the table I know right away that Karen is here to see her husband, Bill. Bill has colon cancer. I hope to get a chance to talk to her, find out how he’s doing before she leaves again to spend time with their two little girls. She looks up from their glass fronted room and waves to me as I shuffle back to Mom’s with my breakfast, wondering how many more days I can go before I give up and wash my frizzy hair in the sink.
Thank God for rubber bands and scarves, I think to myself. The right scarf and a sassy pair of earrings can go a long way toward extending a wardrobe consisting mainly of jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I’ve found that t-shirts and pajama tops are virtually interchangeable. No one seems to notice the difference or if they do, well, they’ve been polite enough not to comment.
Mom is finally resting after a twenty-four hour marathon conversation with the universe. Rambling on incoherently at times, speaking clearly at others she took me on an unforgettable adventure of fantasy and memory.

“Wow, look at that!” she said. Her eyes wide with wonder.

I see,” I tell her.

“What is it?”

Uh oh, I think. What do I say now?

“What is it?” she asks again, this time a fearful note in her voice.

“I don’t know, what do you think it is?” I respond.

“I think it’s a bee. I hope it doesn’t sting me.”

“I won’t let it get you”, I reply. “I’ll swat it if it comes close again.”

“OK”, she sighs, relieved to know that she is no longer in danger.

“Do you have to go on tonight?”

Go on?  What’s this about?

“I don’t think so,” I tell her. “I’ll have to check my schedule.”

“I never knew you could sing. When did you learn to sing like that?”

Sing? Me? No way, I laugh to myself. I’m the one they couldn’t decide where to place in the second grade choir because the director couldn’t figure out if I were an alto or a soprano. My voice is that bad. I’m pleased that she’s given me a talent I always wanted. I wonder if she can also make me a real blonde. Fix it so I no longer have to spend hours at the hairdresser to look more like my beautiful sister.

“Sing to me. Sing me a song so I can rest.” So I sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…”

The nurse raises her eyebrows and covers her ears as she goes by smiling at the two of us. I shrug my shoulders in a “what ‘re ya gonna do” gesture and continue singing until I feel Mom relax in my arms.

“Sleep tight,” I whisper, only to see her eyes pop open .

Look, look over there,” she points. “I see angels. Three of them, right over there. They have light all around them but I don’t see any wings.”

Yes I see them,” I placate her. “They’ve come to watch over you as you sleep. Get some rest now, it’s OK. And I begin again. “You are my sunshine……”

“Oh please,” she rolls her eyes. “Stop that racket if you expect me to get any sleep. Who do you think you are; some lounge singer?”

I watch as she drifts into sleep, hoping it will last this time, thankful for the gift of song, even if we shared it only for a little while.

We were up and down all night long; I saw her chasing shooting stars, crying over a ruined party dress, livid with rage for some unknown man from her past. I saw the wonder in her eyes as she held her firstborn child. Laughed as she went skinny dipping with my Dad in the creek behind their first house. For a time she spoke a language no one else could define, growing frustrated with my lack of understanding. Until she looked at me and said, “I love you.” I can recognize that in any language. Finally seeing understanding in my eyes, she drifted into a deep peaceful sleep that has lasted for over two hours and counting.

After washing up, dressing and brushing my teeth I do my housekeeping. I toss out the dregs of tea and coffee that have collected in the paper cups left behind by her many visitors. Remove the candy wrappers and fast food cartons left behind by her grandchildren. Even in the hospital she can’t stand to have anyone go away hungry. She loves to watch them eat. I change the water in the flower vases that line the windowsill. Everywhere I look there are cards offering prayers and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

“Your Mom is a very lucky woman to have so many people care about her,” the nurses tell us. “So many of our patients have no one, it’s very sad.” We tease them about our big Irish family taking over the place but they don’t mind.

This morning the man in Room 702 is gone. Just three nights ago I sat in the lounge watching as his friends went in one by one only to leave quietly trying to hide their tears. Now he’s on his way home. A miracle. I want one too.

 

To Be Continued Tomorrow Feb. 26 2011