Today is my Mother’s birthday, she would have been Eighty years old today had she not passed on November 14, 2011.
Mom used to say, “I’m just a dumb old country girl.” This is something I had also heard said by my Grandmother, I ‘m assuming she learned it from her and repeated it as a truth like so many children do growing up. I never agreed with that remark, and it would pain me to no end to hear it, but, I would never dare contradict her about it. No matter what she said about herself, to those who knew her, she was much, much more.
She was a devoted wife to my Stepfather for well over fifty years, and a caring Mother who raised four good sons who went on to be come successful engineers and artists. It’s not easy to raise four boys, especially us, but she did it, making sure we were well fed, educated, protected, and given a good start in life. We were always her first consideration, putting herself second, if not third or fourth in priority. She suffered the loss of one of my brothers to an HIV infection, when he became sick, it was my Mother who selflessly cared for him. She later became a Grandmother, and my brother Benjie’s kids gave her much joy and amusement as they grew into the bright children they are today.
Mom was a Depression baby who grew up in rural West Virginia during WWII. Life back then was not easy, she worked on her family’s farm just as soon as she was old enough, and her early education consisted of a one room schoolhouse. Despite the rough conditions of her childhood, she graduated High School and even had a year of college before marrying my Father and having me. Before that, her choice of a career and life path was to be an artist, and art teacher. My Father didn’t provide much in the way of financial support, so it was all up to her to keep things going. She finally decided to take a drastic step and divorce him, not a big deal these days, but in the Fifties, it was almost scandalous! As daring as divorce was, my Mother was willing to take the steps necessary to protect me, and improve our living conditions, something she could not do by staying married to my Father.
To be honest, I don’t remember my Father all that much, at best I can only recollect a few things, he was gone by the time I was three. But, I do remember my Mom carrying me to my Grandmother’s in the mornings before she went to work. It would still be dark outside when we left those mornings, and grandma’s house was at least a mile further up the dirt road we lived on, she carried me every step of the way. I remember one morning in particular, it was bitter cold, I was bundled up, and in her arms, I could see over her shoulder the snow-covered road behind us, and hear the frozen mud crunching under her feet. Back then I was too young to understand the sacrifices my Mother made to care for me. As far as the distance was up the road to my Grandmother’s house, it was three or four times as long back down to the “hard road,” for her to catch the bus in to town to work. We lived in a two room shack that she had purchased with her own money, there was no running water, and, the “bathroom” was an outhouse out back. I guess you could say things were “minimal” as far as creature comforts go, but, she had made a home out of it, she was determined to have a better life for the two of us. My Mom worked hard all her life to make sure I was ok, and these are only two examples, there are many, many, more, for all she has done I am truly grateful.
Sometime later she remarried, and we moved away from the two room shack and lived with my Stepfather, it was the beginning of a new chapter in her life. Soon I had one new brother, Benjie, then a little later, Chris, and then the last, Jeff. My Mother gave them all the same attention, made sacrifices, same as she had for me, her children were the heart of her life. She was a full-time Mom, when we were young there was no such thing as working outside the home, we were the job!
When we were older and all in school, she did go back to work, first as a part-time cook at our local elementary school, then later, working as a teacher’s aide. She even resumed her painting and art, something she had not done since the Fifties. That didn’t mean she had given up her role as our Mother, she still fussed over us, worried, gave advice, and did whatever she could, whenever she could to help us be successful.
My Mother grew up in a time when there was little expression of love, or joy, it was there, just not expressed. Openly saying, or expressing love was just not done, and this was her way. For years I never heard her say she loved me, toward the end of her life, she had an easier time saying it, and our weekly phone calls always ended in an “I love you.” Looking back, I have come to realize that with every act, every sacrifice, she was saying “I love you,” I was just too deaf to hear it.
I love you too Mom, happy birthday.