This year, my mother would have been 89 years. Like most southern women, I had that love, hate, ignore, love relationship with her. As a baby we all dearly love our mothers - what else do we know?
Then we start to age and the truth starts to rear its ugly head. Southern mothers dote on you as a child, dressing you as they did their Shirley Temple doll. Well, in my case it was in gingham and ric-rac that I swore led to most of the ills in my life and finally my road into therapy. In reality, they were expertly handmade dresses that not every mother had the skill to make. It was a practical way to dress a little girl who was growing quickly. Looking back on family photos, the dresses were not the precious smocked bishop dresses my granddaughter now wears, but they were cute, well made, and the appropriate thing for a four or five year old to wear in the early 1960's.
Years later, my brother and I were dealing with a raging alcoholic totally out of control. Every time the phone rang you never knew what it foretold. It could be mother dear, sober, calling to chat. It could be some unintelligible very southern accent trying to explain something that made no sense. Often it was my brother telling me of another "crisis" we had to deal with. Or, worse case, it would be some stranger informing me they had my mother and I needed to come get her.
One can only deal with that stress for so long until you realize that the counselors are right - if she is not going to help herself - you cannot save her. So I walked away. For several years, I ignored her. We had no contact. If I could not save her, I did not need to have my life go down the drain with her. And, yes, it was hard to explain to family and friends why I had nothing to do with my mother.
Then drawing on that inner strength that all southern women have (if they decide to use it), she emerged sober, healthy, remorseful, asking forgiveness, and ready to live the rest of her life. That was the good news - Mama was back. Of course, once again, my life was complicated - Mama was back.
Even though we spent time together, there were the phone calls to instill guilt that came if there had been several days without any communication, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you were OK." or "I know you are so busy, but . .. " and always, "I just wanted to let you know that Mary Johnson died. The funeral is Tuesday. I know you do not have time to go, but figured you would want to hear it from me."
She was there to help me with the girls before they were old enough to take care of themselves. Looking back on it, our visits those last years of her life were an inspiration to me, watching this lady live her second life, helping anyone she could, thankful for every day she had, always telling me she was lucky to be here. Watching her walk with her four foot eight inch body slightly crooked to the left due to the bone breaks from the many falls while she had her proclivity with the bottle, was quite humorous but it never slowed her down. Learning (quickly) that anywhere she went in town required a circuitous route that included a trip past our house. And, if a car was there unexpectedly there would be the phone call. "I happened to be going out your way, and saw . . ."
When Cokie Roberts wrote her wonderful book, We Are Our Mothers' Daughters I found it frightening at first. Was I going to be like this to my daughters? But looking back on her life, I can only hope that I can have that zeal for life, that appreciation for every day, the unapologetic southern female disposition, and the love for my family that my Mama did.
Now I have to read the obituaries myself to learn who died since Mama is no longer here to keep me apprised.
As most of you know I wrote about my very southern mother in Sterling Silver and Dollar Stores
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