I have this old picture that I took from my parents home years ago. I love this picture. I think that the girl in it looks like she is waiting for something, with her hands on her heart. My sister Ally thinks I’m crazy, she thinks that the girl looks scared and she has no idea why I love this picture.
The reason(s) I love this picture are both simple, and complicated.
First, the girl in the picture reminds me of my mother. And the picture itself is one that my mom loved and managed to hang onto for years, until I took it one day when she gave it to me. That’s the simple part.
The complicated part comes when thinking about my mother. First, she is my mom and because of that, I love her. But also in spite of that, I still love her.
I often feel like I beat up my mom’s memory, both in my mind and when I talk about her to other people. I have guilt that she is watching from afar and sad that I feel like I do about her at times.
My mother and I had an especially complicated relationship. My memories of mom were and are conflicting. My first memory of my mom is actually when I was 3 years old, on the old farm when our pig barn was burning down. It was chaos; neighbors and the fire department were there trying to put the blaze out. I was watching from the window behind a curtain, and my parents thought that I had gotten outside and they were frantically calling for me. When I came out of the curtain, my mom grabbed me and was crying because she was so relieved that I was safe. The next memory I had of my mom was when I was about 6 years old. I was watching my younger siblings because my brother Randy had to go to school and I couldn’t get my mom up to make us food. She had been drinking and she had passed out. I called my grandma Elsie and she had me get the kids some cereal and some ice cream to eat. She told me that I couldn’t cook anything. She also told me not to let the kids go outside, to keep them in the house and play games with them.
I remember that from a young age I had a lot of responsibility around the house, and also for caring for my younger siblings. I also took care of my mom a lot as well. That continued throughout most of my life while mom was alive. I often despised her for what I thought were her weaknesses (her anxiety, alcohol, abuse and neglect). Because of that, I struggled with what our relationship was as mother and daughter. Our relationship was always strained.
My mother could be very hurtful and vindictive when she wanted and once when I was young, she was mad at me so she cut the leg off a pair of pants that I loved (and had gotten for school). They were brand new and growing up, we literally got one new outfit a school year (we were pretty much poor). These pants were black velvety pants with clown pockets. Yep, you read that right, black velvet pants with clowns on the pocket (she probably did me a favor by cutting the leg off 😉 but regardless, I was devastated. Another memory I have is of when I was in grade school and I was supposed to bring treats for my birthday. I forgot to tell my dad and so I didn’t have any treats to bring. When I left for school my mom was sleeping (my brother was home with the kids) and I knew that I wouldn’t have anything to share at school. That was typical and something that I just accepted. A little more than half way through the day, I got called to the office. I thought that I was going to get talked to again by the principal because I had just missed the day before, as I often missed a lot of school staying home to help mom and the kids. When I got to the office, there stood my mom and I was confused. The principal was standing next to her smiling. Beside mom was a huge box of homemade popcorn balls! She had to of worked on them all morning as each popcorn ball was the size of a softball, and she made enough for my whole class and some! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think she had remembered and I didn’t think she would’ve even felt good enough to bring treats but there she was, larger than life with some of the best treats I could’ve imagined. I was so proud as the principal and I carried them to my homeroom class. My friends were so impressed!
Another time when we were young, my sister Roxy was climbing up to get gloves from on top of a divider in our dining room and entry area. The dining hutch sat against that wall and the top of the hutch wasn’t secured to the bottom and Roxy knocked it over. I had been sitting in front of the hutch getting Dawn ready for school when suddenly it came crashing down, into my back. It knocked the wind out of me for just a minute and then I heard my mom screaming from upstairs (all her China was in the hutch). I quickly got the kids ready and sent them out the door before she got downstairs, and made sure to tell Roxy and Lonny to hold Dawn’s hand all the way to school. Then mom came down and she was in a rage. She slapped me and then told me to clean it all up (all the broken China and knick knacks that had broke). I remember cleaning it up, crying and raging on the inside about my mother and that stupid China hutch (which now stands in my dining room). There were times that I hated her and that was one of them. Another memory of my mom was when I was babysitting for some people that I had never babysat for and their house was super gross. It smelled and was dirty, with piled up garbage etc. I called my mom and her and dad came and got me and the kids I was watching. Mom left them a note telling them that they could find their kids safe at our home. When they did come to get their kids (the next day) my mom told them I couldn’t babysit for them anymore.
This was my mom, a contradiction. One minute, someone I could love and the next someone I could rage against within my own heart.
The instances like this were many. The scars both superficial and deep. The memories always conflicting.
My dad later told me that he thought my mom and I had a difficult relationship because my mom and I had never bonded after I was born. When my mom gave birth to me, it was a traumatic birth. Physically my mom tore and the damage was quite extensive, requiring extensive repair after the delivery. Because of that, my mom was in a considerable amount of pain and she was medicated quite heavily for several weeks. My care fell to my dad and so naturally, that is who I bonded with. Through the years, I would naturally gravitate towards my dad and would always defend him if there was an altercation between mom and dad. That only bothered my mom more and deepened the divide that already existed as mother and daughter.
For all of our problems though, my mom was someone that I admired in my own way. She was honestly the most (physically) beautiful person I know. She had dark hair and blue eyes (always a stunning combination) and a regal air about her.
She was also the most creative person I know. Her ideas were many and she barely finished one project before she started another. Her house was literally never finished. There would always be something unfinished, a corner not painted or a piece of furniture under construction. We have all learned our creativity from her. We learned to paint, wallpaper and craft because of her. I also learned how to really clean, a deep clean from my mom.
She sewed so many of our clothes growing up. She gave us all perms (back when those were still “in”) and she would decorate our rooms (Roxy had the best Strawberry Shortcake room ever!).
She also had a great sense of humor and would bust out singing around the house, ‘God Bless America’ was her favorite song, and her second favorite was ‘Jesus Loves Me’.
My sister Roxy is right, she did teach us to pray.
She loved her grandchildren and she was so good to each of them. My son Darien to this day still refers to my mom as the “crazy grandma” (lovingly). He loved to go to crazy grandma’s where all of Roxy’s kids would often be so that they could all play together.
My mom’s friends, her family and our neighbors loved her. She was a fun personality and a great conversationalist! We would go into a store and never get out because she knew so many people and she had to stop and talk to everyone!
The last few years before we would eventually lose mom to cancer were my best memories of her. After dad died, mom became a lot more independent. She would call and we would have good conversations, and when I would travel home to Marshall we would enjoy doing things to the house or go out looking at stores for crafting ideas.
Yet, when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was so conflicted. I didn’t wish it on her and yet, I was somehow detached from the emotions of it. I remember being devastated about my dad’s diagnosis and eventual death. But I honestly was sort of emotionally numb with mom. I went through the motions, helping to care for her and getting her to her appointments and treatments while she was ill. Yet somehow, part of me was numb to her. When she finally passed, I still felt that numbness, although it is hard to say if that was a combination of our conflicted years or just the drama of losing her so shortly after dad.
Recently, I had a counseling session and we briefly talked about mom. The counselor asked if it was more of a “good riddance” when mom died, and it stunned me. I said “definitely not, that I loved my mom and I miss her (the good stuff) and think of her often”.
I’ve realized through the years that it was a tough place to be for both of us. Mom struggling to be a mom, and yet dealing with emotional scars of her own from childhood (and probably undiagnosed depression and maybe even bipolar), and her unrelenting anxiety. Myself, struggling to be a daughter that really just wanted a mom and that unconditional love and care that I was missing.
Mom has been gone since 2006 and I still struggle with my memories of her.
This memoir is not to belittle her or disenchant her memory, instead it is to say that life is often messy and as humans, we make mistakes. It’s always those people that we are closest to and love the most that we seem to hurt the deepest, usually without premeditated intent. I also believe that without the alcohol, my mom would’ve been a different person throughout all those years. I know that because she was a different person after she did quit drinking. I am thankful that the memories that her grandchildren carry forward are good ones, and that they remember a grandma who was a little crazy, but loved them all.
Not long ago, my older brother Randy was here visiting. Randy is actually my mom’s stepson, so you can imagine his memories are even more conflicted than mine (he lost his mother very young (age 5) and my mom is really his only “mom” memories) as my mom was not very good to him. We have rarely talked about our past, but we did this particular visit. As Ally, I and Randy talked, we actually got choked up and cried at some of the bitter memories. Decades later the wounds from our childhood still affect us, it is crazy how our past can linger.
I do believe with all my heart that my mom, if given the chance, would change some things. At least I hope that. None of us have walked a perfect path in our own lives, and I tell myself that often. I’ve made my mistakes. She made hers. The past must remain is the past, but unfortunately at times, it seeps into the present. It is difficult to remember my mom without also acknowledging the bad with the good. It is simply our history. As complicated as my relationship was with my mother, she was still my mom and even with all the conflict within my heart, I love(d) her.
And do you know why I know that? That old picture. Every time I look at it I think of her, and I remember the day she gave it to me. She always loved when any of us girls would take some old relic from her house and bring it to our own home. That day, she was so proud to give it to me and so proud that I wanted it. Somehow, even through all of our years of struggle, I felt like she gave me one of her prized pieces of art that she loved. I remember that day like it were yesterday.
I didn’t tell her then that I wanted it because the girl in the picture reminded me of her.