It is interesting to me how memories of people we have known seem to come and go of their own volition. I can be calmly reading the evening news when a person from my past pops up in my mind.
The other day I was looking at a CD that my sister had brought me during her Christmas time visit. It was a Nancy Wilson album that my mother had enjoyed. As I looked at the photograph of Nancy on the inside front cover, the attitude and the way she faced the camera reminded me of my mother and began to stir up recollections of who my mother was and the persona she took on during her life.
At this point in my journey I would say that we all have several personality types that we project onto the flesh of our existence. Most commonly, there is who we really are and who we would like to be—and it is the latter that we want those around us to see and believe that it is the “authentic” us.
Our “real” lives are lived out of the circumstances that our choices in life have created. Yet we carry with us the hopes and dreams of what “might have been” had everything in our lives gone the way we would have liked them to.
In my mother’s case—she saw her mother and father divorced and re-married before she was 20 and then several years later left her hometown to have me “out of wedlock”. From the pieces I was able to pick up on (we didn’t talk about it much) she got pregnant and decided to visit a friend of hers in San Francisco until I was born—at which point she moved back to her hometown and began a life I am sure had its high points and low points. It couldn’t have been easy for her even though I am convinced that I was just a big bundle of joy. I arrived on the scene in 1949 and now know that the late 40’s and early 50’s were still leading up to that period of time where cultural mores would be challenged and replaced with women’s lib and planned parenthood.
Suffice it to say I never knew my biological father and didn’t find out until ninth grade that I was adopted by the handsome sailor my mother was later to meet and marry.
I mention these details only to give the reader some sort of idea as to how my mother’s life was shaped from an early age and perhaps a better understanding of her personality. During her final years I made sure to mention how thankful I was that she decided to keep me and the sacrifices that decision entailed.
Both my mother and father liked music, mostly lite jazz ala Stan Kenton, and I often saw my mother, during a semi-family evening, moving to the beat of the big band sounds that would float from the stereo speakers in the corner of our living room. There was something almost primal about the connection she had to the music as she snapped her fingers to the beat and seemingly for a moment lived out in her mind those other lives that had passed her by.
As a young girl my mother had played the piano some and had had an accordion but had to give both up during hard economic times. I have assumed that because of her choice to keep the baby, college was not an option and finding time to socialize was out of the question. I am somewhat foggy on these details—although I am almost positive that some of these memories are founded in talks we had around the dinning room table during my inquisitive years. As I write these words I wish that I had been more interested in these details when there was time to find out about them.
I really do think that my mother came to terms with the turns her life took—although she would often mention that she had missed out on some of the things that normal people got to do such as going to college or indulging their creative urge in painting and music.
She was an avid reader and as I remember, always had some sort of hobby project going. At some point, when us kids were old enough, she went back to work in a department store as a cosmetics salesperson and made a good income from that. I don’t remember the pantry ever being bare or my mother sitting around watching soap operas.
As I have written this, I have tried to connect to the very thought that began this stream of remembrance in the first place.
My mother was, above everything, a very proud person. There were moments of lucidity where I am sure that she felt as if she belonged in her life—but in retrospect my sense is that she was always somewhat of a stranger in a strange land. She was a romantic and her choice of music fit the popular mold of singing about what should be rather than what is. That somewhere over the rainbow there is a perfect life and if we just wait long enough, it is bound to find us.
Within this existence, my mother displayed a certain dignity that only comes from love. In her own way, she loved us greatly and while she had her heath and a consistent income, birthdays and Christmases were always times of joyful over abundance. She loved to shop and would hit the sales all year in order to have stuff to pack into those gift boxes that would always show up ahead of time, rather than mine which always seemed to be late.
When the money began to disappear and her health slowly evaporated, she took to other ways of blessing us and also spending her time. It was at this point that she began to cut pictures out of magazines and filled up endless scrapbooks with all sorts of what she saved. When gift time came she would take pieces of wood and use the pictures to make collage plaques and then paste sayings or poetry or history on the backs of the wooden wall hangings. It was in this very creative way that she lived out her days and in turn blessed us with boxes of hand-made items that were carefully wrapped and sent to us with all the love that she knew how to gather.
Even as her dignity slipped away she found a way to be unique. This is not to say that she was perfect and was always full of cheer and self-respect—she had her areas of hardness and unforgiveness just as many of us do. She never quite came to terms with her own divorce and the way things finally panned out.
But what I choose to remember today are all the years that she kept reaching for something that was just beyond her grasp—something that she felt that if she could only hang onto for just a little while—everything else would somehow work out as well. She didn’t let life defeat her although through the course of hers lots of rough edges were sanded off—which as we are aware are not all that easy to bear.
I could say more but I think the time has come to bookmark this chapter and perhaps so doing return to it another time. There are other thoughts to have and other books to read—it’s been a short but pleasant ride today.