Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

There is a temptation to idolize or to totally excoriate one’s mother depending upon one’s experience. And when the mother is “late” as Maa Ramotswe would say, the temptation is even greater. But I would rather not do that with my mother. Mom never would have wanted me to do either. She was a woman that did not think highly of herself and for that I am sorry. She was a smart woman from a tiny little town in northern Missouri. She was from a family that was deeply rooted in American history from the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the westward expansion in the 1830’s, through the Civil War, the Reconstruction as it was lived out in a border state.

Mom was born in a house in a little crossroads community in 1912. When she was quite small, they lived on a farm. She had few recollections of the farm except that she was terrorized by the rooster that she had to face when her chores included feeding the chickens. It colored her attitude toward fowl the rest of her life. She would not eat it and prepared it only under duress.

Her only brother was sixteen years older and the apple of her mother’s eye. And from what I saw of her mother, whom I loved dearly, mom was basically ignored. It was the day when you made over your sons and the daughter was to help with the housework. I am not saying that my mother wasn’t loved. She was. And Grandma certainly made over me, but something had happened that neither of them talked about. I don’t know if it was that Mom and Dad ran off and got married, or something earlier, but neither of my parents was keen on going home to visit their mothers. Mom took me which was the highlight of my summer because Grandma fed me fried chicken which my mother never served.

My mother and I did not get along well from the time I was little. I was not the frilly, doll-playing girl that my mother wanted. She was quite worried about what other people thought. And somehow I didn’t measure up to what a little girl was supposed to be. Somehow I embarrassed my mother. It saddens me to say that after all these years. My tomboyishness disturbed her deeply, and she was always telling me to ‘act like a girl’, whatever that meant. Our neighborhood was all boys. I loved playing baseball, football, cowboys and Indian and wanted a football for my birthday when I was 8. She had her son when she was a young wife. He was twelve years older than I and she made over him as had my grandmother made over my uncle.

Now that I look back on it, perhaps she knew of my being a lesbian long before I did. It was an icky thing in those days. In all my 65 years, my mother and I never talked about it. By the time I came out, my mother had entered into a kind of dementia that denied her the ability to speak. I lament that.

Mom was not a warm person. Our family was not demonstrative in their love. Mom was not someone you could go and curl up with when you were feeling blue or unhappy. But she did have a sense of art, music, and drama that she helped me develop. I started school at four—way too early for me. I always trailed in my classes because of it. At times in my young adulthood I was angry at my mother for starting me too soon. But it was in music that I excelled. My folks had not set money aside for me to go to college. They had for my brother, but he was a boy, after all. It was only through a music scholarship that I went to university. But they did support my musical bent. They went to the football games to watch me march in the band and went to concerts. Mom would take me to the opera and symphony concerts.

Mom was a school secretary. She would have liked to have gone to college to become a teacher. But she graduated high school in the height of the Great Depression. She could organize to a faretheewell. She put up with a principal who was known as the school district’s battle ax. But they respected each other. Her friends were the teachers she worked with, the families in our neighborhood, the women in her club, the men and women in their camping group and her best friend acted as my godmother. It was Mom’s “girl friends” that gave me the first glimpse of what sisterhood was. I doubt she would have been able to make it without them.

Both of my parents were introverts. They made up their mind before consulting with others. And the wars in the family were always about “you didn’t tell me…” Of course I was the extrovert. I was always asking questions, wanting to talk, speaking my mind. It was not appreciated.

But as I grew older, Mom and I would talk. After Dad died while I was in seminary, Mom began to ask questions about what I was studying. After I was ordained, she was quite uncomfortable when I would wear my collar to church. She thought I was ‘putting on airs’. Her Campbellite heritage frowned on such manifestations. She hated the Episcopal liturgy so we went to the Methodist church when I visited. It was also easier as the Ft. Worth diocese began its trek towards schism.

Throughout her 80’s and 90’s I enjoyed our relationship. We were finally beyond the need to control each other. She could still “zing” me—make a comment that would cut to the quick. But I began to understand her. We would talk on the phone almost every day until she was unable to hear me on the phone. After I came out in 2003 and lost my parish, I knew she wanted to talk about it. But I was too raw at the time to share it with her. The “family (church)” that I had chosen had abandoned me and it was just too hard to share it with her. By the time I went to the ELCA parish and I was getting healed, Mom had lost her ability to communicate at a deep level.

I have always felt that when a person died, that did not end the relationship. Mom died about two years ago during Easter week. I was able to see her before she died. She waited for me to come, I believe. I miss her terribly especially now that I am back in FTW and I am close to her haunts. I am unreasonably angry with Jack Iker for not having left the Church a couple of years earlier so I could have spent the last few years with Mom. I miss her on days like these. But it was time for her to go. I talk to her often now, mostly working out all that disjuncture that happens in life, letting her know what I have learned. She is one of those women I admire. I know that much of her is in me, some of it I like and some I don’t. But she is there and I like it.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

1 comment:

Crimson Rambler said...

Well, friend, you clarify a lot of things for me in this post -- me and my Campbellite mother! Who didn't thrill to my being some kind of high-falutin Anglican in funny duds, either... I read this saying, "yup," "yup," "yup..." -- and I thank you!