Friday, September 12, 2008

September 12, 1933

I've been thinking about my mom a lot lately, and today, on what would have been her 75th birthday (and an aptly gray and rainy day here in Denver), it seems fitting to pay her tribute.

I was 19 when my mom died. It was a pretty bad point on our relationship timeline to insert an abrupt end: I was in one of my more obnoxious, know-it-all periods—a time when I had a lot to learn from this brilliant, hilarious, and seasoned woman, but when I was too sure of myself to receive it. I was a freshman in college. She was 62. I remember the fall before she died, as she packed up the car to send me off to school, she looked at me and said, "How I wish I were 18 again and heading off to college." She seemed so wistful for lost opportunity. I didn't know at the time that she was dying of melanoma, but I suspect she did.

My mom never went off to college, but I often think what a different world we could live in if she and the other women of her time had. In her generation, women who had careers were either teachers, nurses, or secretaries, none of which was quite up her alley. She did work at various companies over the years, but over and over she would see the men she trained get promoted and become her boss. She stopped working when she had kids, but the injustices she faced as a woman in the workforce eventually led her to become a fierce advocate for women's rights—and for her three daughters.

She was almost 38 when her first daughter, Meaghan, was born. Caity came when she was almost 41. I was her final surprise, arriving when she was pushing 44 and certainly ready to get on with her life. Still, she was the most patient and loving mother I could have asked for. I often look at myself these days—ragged, frustrated, incapacitated after a day alone with the two kids, and I wonder how on earth my mother managed three kids ages 5 and under when she was in her mid 40s. And more pointedly, how she managed with grace.

Now that I'm actually going through the process of parenting, I realize just how much I still miss my mother, even after 12 and a half years. There's so much I wish I could learn from her, ask her, whine to her about. And it's just so hard to know that she'll never be a part of this phase of my life—that she won't meet my kids, that she never even met Greg. Even harder is the fact that they haven't known her. So I'll share with them my memories.

About the delicious meals she used to cook—her standbys: roast chicken with stuffing and gravy, her killer spaghetti sauce, her eggplant parmesan; seafood Newberg, rack of lamb, crown roasts on special occasions; and the best grilled cheese and chocolate milk for summer lunch.

About the time she called in to a political talk show to offer her opinion on the British occupation of Northern Ireland—a topic she could rant (intelligently) about for hours on end—only to completely freeze up and go silent when she got on the air.

About the time she sent a telegraph, instead of a letter, to the president (probably to complain about American complicity in the British occupation of Northern Ireland) so she could be sure he read it.

About the time I found in her drawer a letter she had written and sent to the principal of my school, insisting to know why her daughter hadn't been invited to join the National Honors Society and outlining all my unique skills, personality traits, and qualifications. I was livid—beyond livid—that she did this behind my back, largely because I hadn't told her the real reason I wasn't chosen: I had been caught cheating earlier in the year. Looking back, though, I'm flattered by the fact that she was so sure it was a flagrant injustice and sad that I took out my embarrassment on her.

About the time, when Caity and I were teenagers and we were making fun of her for something or other at the dinner table, that she poured a full (and cold) St. Paulie Girl over my head—with a self-satisfied smile on her face that made me think I'd probably had it coming for years.

About how, after I had been crowned high school homecoming queen (I know, big shocker), I was being interviewed by the school's news crew and she walked over, grabbed the microphone away from the newsguy, and told my entire high school that she had stuffed the ballot box. Who knows, maybe she did.

About how, when she was dying, she and I would sit together for hours praying the rosary—years after she had lost her religion but while I still had mine.

Of course the memories can't paint the whole picture of the person, but they're something I can pass down from this wonderful woman I was lucky enough to spend 19 years with.

The sun just came out in Denver, and Nora woke up flashing me the most brilliant smile. I'm going to go spend the rest of the afternoon cuddling with my kids and aspiring to love them half as well as my mother loved me.


Christina said...

What a beautiful tribute. Your mama sounds like one heck of a lady.

Liza said...

That was really beautiful. I know that wherever she is, she's so proud of her accomplishments in you. xoxo l.

Julie said...

How beautiful. I'm so sorry that you lost your mom, and at such a young age. She would be so incredibly proud of you I am sure. You really paint such a vivid picture of her with this post. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.
AND I am not surprised at all that you were homecoming queen- not at all.

Mark and Sarah said...

You brought me to tears. What a beautiful mother and a very thoughtful tribute to her. I had to crack up about her pouring that drink I'm not familiar with on your head...that's something my mom would do!

lisa said...

Thanks for sharing-I think we appreciate our parents most when we are parenting. I miss my grandmother every day and feel sad that she never knew j and s. I talked to her almost evry day of my life until I lost her when I was 29.
I cracked up about the beer too-as the oldest of three girls, I think my mom would be happier if she had done the same to each of us a long time ago.
As for the mid 40s-you'll be surprised when you get here-I have a hundred times more energy than I did 10 years ago ; ) ~lmc

Jamie said...

I have a lump in my throat from reading this. You expressed a lot of the same feelings I have about losing my dad at 20 from melanoma. I too was in a very bratty stage of my life. Every day I wish he were around to meet Brent and crack the jokes like he always did. At least we were lucky enough to have as many years with them as we did.

cathy said...

Written so well, Deirdre. I had no idea... and that explains the overprotective sun gear you wore at the beach. Although it is impossible to capture a person's life in words, I do feel I know her a little bit now. And, agreeing with another comment, she would be very proud of you.

Cindy said...

I just got off the phone with my sweet mama after a very satisfying whining session and read this. Now I'm in tears! But I still don't think *I* had it coming when mom poured cold chocalate milk over my own head (or was is diet coke?). Your mom was groovy. May our own children think as highly about us modern day mothers!

Peace & love.

Qiuqiu's parents said...

What a beautiful tribute, Deirdre.

The memory of your mother seeing you off to college is so poignant, on so many levels.
I was just thinking this week, as the college students become evident around town, how I wish I were off to college. I have never lost that thrill. What a privilege and an experience a good education can be. I didn't miss out (in fact I had more than my fair share of higher education) but I am still nostalgic and I can't wait to see my daughter take her first steps into academia.
And yes, though I still have my mother, a day doesn't pass that I don't treasure the relationship I have with my mother...and now with my daughter.

Heather & Adam said...

I have been coming here every day since you wrote this, and I never know what to say. I really love the picture of your mom that you have given us. She sounds like a total force of nature, and I know she would be so proud of you. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.
Love you!

Alicia said...

Oh D, you got me in tears. What a perfect tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman.

Cindy said...

Absolutely beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Melissa said...

That was a beautiful post and tribute to your mother. I'm sure much of your mother's spirit you'll pass down to your kiddos...

Mrs. Baker said...

I lost your blog a few months a lot has changed since I fell off!

This post is beautiful! I am glad to have found you!