Sunday, May 11, 2008

Still Missing My Mother

On Friday afternoon, I was in the computer lab at school, supervising a group of "challenged learners" who are enrolled in a tutorial skills program. Many of the students came in that day with tissue paper flowers, cards, or other projects they had made in school as Mother's Day gifts. One of the fifth grade girls asked me, "What are you giving your mother for Mother's Day?" I replied that I had lost my mother many years ago. The girl next to her poked her with her elbow and chided, "Hush up! You will make her sad!"

I was rather touched by this demonstration of caring for my feelings, a trait not often observed in this particular population who know me only as the lady who circles the lab to make sure they are not looking at rap music web sites instead of their educational program.

But, it did start me thinking about my mother, and how sad I actually am that she is no longer with us. It has been twenty-four years since my beautiful, healthy, vibrant mother succumbed after only six months to a particularly nasty form of cancer. She was sixty years old. She had raised seven children and had ten or eleven grandchildren. She and my father had been married for almost forty years.

My father and mother both grew up during the Depression in Washington, D.C. My mother, Betty Lou Donovan, was the youngest of four girls in an Irish family, although they got a surprise baby brother when my mother was twelve. She and my father became sweethearts after meeting at a dance in junior high. She reportedly told her sisters that she had "just met the man that she would marry." Indeed, they dated all through high school. Their dates often meant roller-skating in a park or taking little brother Jerry along on a walk or to the movies. When World War II came along, my father was off to England and then Italy in the Army Air Corps, the earlier version of today's Air Force. I wrote last year about my father, Pete Turner, a successful commercial and fine artist. We were allowed to read their love letters when I was growing up. My father called her "Botts," and all his letters were filled with wonderful little cartoons and drawings. When the war was over, they married and moved immediately to New York, where my father could begin his career as an illustrator in the midst of the big city's advertising and publishing mecca. They started out in a tiny apartment in the Bronx. When the babies started coming, they moved to a new apartment building in Stuyvesant Town, which was built for returning veterans to have affordable housing. By the time they had their "Irish triplets," or three babies within four years, it was time to move to the suburbs. But I have a photo album of pictures to prove that despite raising three little ones in a high-rise apartment, we went out to play in the park every day, and I seem to be wearing pretty little starched and ironed outfits every time.

We stayed in the suburbs of New York and New Jersey until I was fifteen. By then our family had increased to seven children. The last three were boys. I, too, had a baby brother twelve or thirteen years younger than me, but there were four others in between. Have you ever seen those old maternity outfits of the fifties and sixties? Before the onset of spandex, the maternity pants and skirts just had open holes with ties around the waist, where the big belly just kind of hung out and was covered by a tent-like maternity top. I guess I remember my mother the most wearing that sort of get-up. She remained beautiful despite all the pregnancies, and the difficulties of a being a housewife before all the modern conveniences of today. Here is a picture of her dressed up for her brother's wedding (yes, that's me as a flower girl, shortly before my cousin spilled a glass of ice water right on my dress). I found out later that my mom, the ultimate bargain hunter, had bought the whole outfit, lace dress and all, for about ten dollars. Money was always a little tight in our family with so many mouths to feed, but she could squeeze a dollar harder than anyone I know. We always had fabulous balanced meals for dinner. I don't remember ever going out to eat dinner as a family until we moved to North Carolina when I was fifteen. That's right, every single meal cooked at home. When my husband was talking about my mother at my nephew's wedding a couple weeks ago, it was all about how she always made him something special when he came to dinner, even if it was a special bowl of turkey gravy with no "giblets" or mushrooms. Nothing was ever wasted by letting it linger too long in the refrigerator. And here is a memory I treasure: a line of eight brown bag lunches every morning, with names written on each one, from "Pete," my father, to "Patrick," the baby. Why did they have to have names? Why, because they each were different according to our preferences. Creamed cheese for this one, peanut butter for that one, white bread for some, pumpernickel for others, Oreo cookies for this one, Hydrox for that one.

It does make me sad that my mother never reaped all the joy of being a grandmother and great-grandmother. Fortunately for her and for us, she did adore babies. When my first child was born in 1977, I had a fairly difficult recovery due to anemia. At the time we were living only eight miles from the family home in Cary. My mother came every single day to stay with me. When I was able to get up and around, I noticed all the small miracles she had performed around my house. The old kitchen sink in my fifties-style ranch house was sparkling white! The dining room windows were sparkling clean! That was just like my mother, just noticing what needed doing and quietly getting it done with no fanfare. Here is a picture of her holding my son Bryson at his first birthday party, in April of 1978. My mother died in 1984. It hurts me that my children do not remember her, or how much she loved them. She would now have fourteen grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, including the two new ones who joined our family when my nephew married last month.

I miss you, Mom, and now that I have raised my own family, your accomplishments astound me. I don't know how you did it. I guess the answer is love and self-sacrifice.

Thank you for being my mother.

That is all that I can give you for Mother's Day.


Unknown said...

What a lovely Mother's Day Tribute. My own mother passed away several years ago. I plan on doing a mother's day tribute for her on my blog today, too.

Anonymous said...

Happy Mothers Day, "MOM". Thanks for your call today, and I hope you had a wonderful day. You surely deserve it. Your Mother sounded like a beautiful woman. I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet her. I'm sure I would have loved her. Love, Miranda

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeanne,

Thanks for sharing about your Mom - what a beautiful story. I love the picture of her at her brother's wedding! What a beautiful dress she had on.

Thanks also for sharing about how you made the Little Girly Quilt! It is fabulous!!

We will visit again, I am sure. Have a good week ahead.

Melody Johnson said...

Gosh, what a wonderful life story of your Mom, and how lovely to have had the opportunity to read it.
Just one post and I am hooked on your blog!

Unknown said...

Wow, your words about your Mother, our Grandmother, are truly touching and makes me proud to be a part of her family! I wish the kids and I could have met her. I know she was a beautiful and awesome woman. It gives me great inspiration to hear your words about her. Thank you!


Robin Hall

Cathie said...

Bittersweet and beautiful.

Unknown said...

what a wonderful lady...thank you so much for directing me and I am glad to get to know her thru her daughters eyes....she sounds awesome...I notice you look like her too...I look like my mom too...lucky us!