I’ve thought a lot about my mother these past few weeks. She was/is robbed from her family because of what the doctors said are “symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s”. It’s been about ten years since we observed major memory issues, although back then she did try to hide it. Some patients get angry. Some repeat themselves over and over. My mom lost the ability to talk.
And I have questions to ask her and I want to hear her laugh and I want to see her dance around the room after she’s had a few glasses of wine. And I want to go for walks like we used to do. And I want her to give me roses from her garden. There’s bitter-sweet memories when I think about my mom.
My mom loved Christmas and would bring out the decorations the day after Thanksgiving. She wrote long, newsy letters and cards to old friends. She bought tinsel for the tree and wanted us, children, to hang the silver threads one at a time (but the tree always ended up with clumps). I made her Christmas decorations and she remembered to tell me how nice they look or how much she enjoyed them…every year thereafter.
Before kids, she finished college and had some on-the-job nursing experience before my sister arrived. While great-grandma watched the baby, my mom went back to work but then I came, only thirteen months later so that brought an end to her nursing career. Then two more children, my younger sister and my brother. My mom was protective and dutiful, although I would say that she was also overwhelmed with four young children and several moves across the country.
The family moved from California to New York to Colorado and back to California, living first with grandparents, then a rental house and finally settling in a home. I lived in that home from fourth grade till I married.
Memories of my mom: She had a fashion style about her, classy, with matching hats or belts. She loved the old black and white classic movies, but she grew up seeing those movies and those glamorous movies stars: Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Claudette Cobert and they influenced her style.
She loved to read novels. Once our family was settled back in California we use to go to the mountains each summer for a week. (Mom and dad had spent part of their honeymoon at that same cabin.) There was always a trip to the library before vacation, so that each of us had books to read. Mom introduced me to authors like Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt and Dodie Smith. (Disney made movies of several of their books: “Moonspinners” by Mary Stewart; “101 Dalmations” by Dodie Smith.) However, my mom’s all-time favorite book was “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith and this book was by her bedside for years.
My mom was protective. She could act quickly and come to the defense of her children and diffuse uncomfortable situations. The neighbor women would seek her advice. She had a close relationship with her own mother and father. She maintained long friendships with friends from her youth and from nurse’s training. In fact, several of her friends e-mail me now for updates and to stay connected.
I think of my mom as an innocent. Her influences were clean and classy. She is a gentle soul now. But life took some painful turns and I know she tried her best. When I was in high school, my mom tried to re-enter the nursing world. She had renewed her license for years and continued with training but the hospital world had changed greatly with technology and my mom wasn’t able to transition back to nursing. I think this happens to many women who give up their careers to marry and have children.
Another painful development in her life: My brother, her fourth child developed a debilitating disease in his twenties. I found a notebook that my mom kept during those years, with clinical notes about his behavior, his symptoms, treatments tried, and failures.
My brother became the focus of my parents’ lives and my sisters and I helped when we could, especially during a crisis and there were many of those.
I have random memories of my mom. She took interior decorating classes. She would line us, children, up and give us a tablespoon of cod liver oil. She helped in saving my sister’s life by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (which was a new procedure back then). She worked for May Company one Christmas season. She learned to drive late, in her thirties, and never drove freeway. She belonged to a garden club in Colorado and one year she planted lots of daffodils and tulips. She would golf with friends. She always wrote encouraging notes on our report cards and hung them on the refrigerator. I see a memory of mom and me playing jacks on the kitchen floor. And another memory of her teaching me to play bridge. (I wasn’t very good.) On vacation, we played many games of Hearts.
Everyone has a “dark” side. Sometimes my mom would make comments that I think were sarcastic. Also, my dad, the patriarch, would overshadow my mom with his booming voice. My mom appeared to act passively but I remember she would flip him off behind his back.
My mom loved the holidays and for years, she and my dad brought us all together, along with all the grandchildren, the great-aunts, and Grandmother Esther, for a giant Thanksgiving feast and then a month later for another Christmas celebration. The house was always clean and festive, food delicious, and lots of conversation.
One of my fondest memories, was seeing my parents in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. They worked well as a team on that day. My dad always put on the Macy’s Parade. He would baste the turkey and make a huge pot of mashed potatoes. Mom set a beautiful table.
Eventually, I took over Thanksgiving and a few years after that I did both Thanksgiving and Christmas and it’s a lot of work to put on two big celebrations a month apart, even when family helps with all the side dishes. Thanks mom and dad!
Some annoying things about my mom: for years she dressed my two sisters and I in identical dresses, until junior high when my older sister and I put a stop to that. She also would sugar-coat things, which as a teenager didn’t ring true with me. (a pimpled face teenager will not accept a comment like “oh, honey, you are so pretty.”)