May 13 is my mother’s birthday. If she’d lived, she’d be 88 years old today, but she died when she was only 60. I can’t even imagine Mom at 88 years old, although I can promise you, she’d be a totally unique 88-year-old. Picture dangly earrings, a long gypsy skirt, and a full-sleeved, colorful gauzy top. You see, Mom was born about 25 years too early. She should have been a hippie–she would’ve been great at it. I can so imagine her in Haight-Ashbury in the late ’60s, weaving daisies into her hair, dancing with bracelets and anklets jingling, and wishing peace and love to tourists and passersby–the ultimate flower child.
But she was born in 1927–a lost soul in her late teens in post-WWII America, when soldiers were coming home to their GI housing and women were expected to be housewives and mothers. She did that life because it was what was expected of her, but she never really fit in. Her ideas were too liberal, she could be outrageous, and she loved shocking people. She was a free spirit who didn’t fit the mold that had been made for her and that disappointed hell out of my grandmother and my father. I remember my dad telling the story of coming home from work one day, expecting dinner to be on the table, the house to be neat and tidy, and us kids all scrubbed and ready for Daddy. Instead, the house was in disarray and supper wasn’t even started. Mom had pulled out the sofa bed and had all four us snuggled together while she read aloud to us. Dad was furious and Mom truly couldn’t understand what his problem was. He stormed out, and although I don’t personally remember the incident, I’m guessing Mom gave us kids a shrug and that inimitable grin and continued reading.
Not long after that, my dad left us, mostly, I think, because Mom just couldn’t be the woman he wanted her to be and he couldn’t accept who she actually was. Once he was gone, she began working full time and going to nursing school full time–God only knows when the woman slept. I kinda think maybe she didn’t sleep for over two years. Money was scarce and I know now how worried she always was about keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. My grandparents helped out as they could, but Mother shouldered the biggest part of the burden of four young children and a husband who’d gone AWOL.
Yet, I don’t remember ever being afraid or worried–life was safe and secure. I thought everyone had pancakes or eggs for supper a couple of nights a week. Sunday night suppers were always grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup–I thought it was tradition. It never occurred to me it was economy. I wore my sisters’ hand-me-downs that my Aunt Alice carefully altered to fit, and I felt very grown-up. And didn’t everyone’s Grandpa show up a couple of times a week with a bag of groceries? Housecleaning fell to us kids, and we did chores while Mom was at work or school. It was simply our life, nothing out of the ordinary.
Mom studied on weekends–I have a vivid memory of PJ quizzing her on anatomy while I read, curled up next to my mother on the sofa, squeezing close to her to avoid the place with the broken spring. I was amazed that she got almost every answer right. Today, I’m even more amazed–how did she do it? Study, work full time, take care of four children, and attend classes to get her nursing degree in just two years. I’m an empty-Nester, and yet as I try to fit editing gigs, caring for two houses, helping with yard work, the gym, meal planning, and writing into one week, I’m in awe of Mom’s drive and determination.
We never went hungry, we were dressed in clean clothes, homework got checked, and she always made time if one of us needed to talk. What she didn’t make time for was arguing among ourselves–“Ten minutes to pout and then you work it out” was her rule. I realize now that she didn’t have time or energy for kid drama and temper tantrums. Can we blame her?
I miss my mom. To me, she’ll always be that zany, slightly off-center lady who was up for any new adventure. Perhaps that would have changed about her had she had the opportunity to grow older. But I like to believe she’d have been the 88-year-old woman who danced on a beach in the moonlight. I hope I’m becoming more like her in that way—freer of spirit… bolder. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you so much. I hope you and Kate are up there in heaven, dancing together in the moonlight.