I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day

Me and my mama
I love this old picture, taken in the mid-1940s, judging by my age, somewhere around two. Leave it to Daddy, the photographer, to make sure our car was also in the frame. Is that an old Studebaker? He was probably as proud of the car as he was of his family. My sister Norma Jean was born two years and eight months after me, so Mama was probably already pregnant with her, but otherwise it was just me, the apple of their eye and obviously quite spoiled, believing that I am the center of the universe.

Mama was only nineteen when I was born, so she was very young and beautiful at this time, and a very good mother to me. I suppose it's normal when a baby grows up in a secure and loving environment to believe that everything was created just for her enjoyment. My childhood was a very happy one, and that was due mostly to my mother's efforts. She ended up bearing seven children, with me the first and my sister Fia the last, twenty years later. She had one pregnancy that she didn't carry to term; at seven months gestation the baby didn't have lungs developed enough to breathe on her own. These days that baby would have lived, but back then (I was a teenager at the time), she didn't make it.

The remaining six of us were raised by our parents to become productive and relatively happy members of society. My sister PJ died at 63, from complications of heart disease and diabetes. Mama herself only lived to be 69, so I wasn't born into a family destined to become centenarians. I've already lived longer than either parent, so that's one reason I take health and exercise seriously: to be more fit and active in my old age than my genetic heritage would suggest I've got coming to me.

Daddy was in the Air Force when I was growing up, so we moved often. Mama would always create a home for us wherever we were living, and I didn't suffer so much from the experience. Norma Jean did, however; she decided when she grew up that she wouldn't do that to her children and would raise them in a secure home in one place. It's interesting how differently two siblings can experience the same events, isn't it? I loved the experience of going to a new school with new friends. She was shy and would make one dear friend who she would have to leave behind when we moved. I, on the other hand, never made close friends like that, preferring to have lots of acquaintances who were interchangeable. Of course, I always had my sister, and we were very close when we grew up. We still are, and it occurs to me often that she's the only person still alive who shares my childhood memories.

My mother never felt like she accomplished much in her life, since she never brought home a paycheck, never worked outside the home except for volunteer work. I think she had the idea back then that somehow her life was lacking an essential ingredient because she never developed a career. But she was so wrong: the career of motherhood at the center of her life gave every one of us the best possible start in our own lives. And we all end up having our children grow up and away from home in any event.

There are moments from my childhood that stand out in my memories, and almost without fail they involve my mother. I remember once when I was very sick and she was taking me to the hospital. I was feverish and felt awful, but she put my head in her lap (someone else was driving) and she stroked my forehead with such love and devotion that I remember it to this day. Once a child from a large family no longer needs that kind of care, it's memorable when it happens again. Mama loved me, and all of her children, I have no doubt whatsoever.

She was an avid reader all her life. I'll bet Mama read just about everything in the local library, and I remember her going in with a box of books she had read and leaving with another full box. She'd sit on the couch surrounded by books and make her way through each one. I don't remember if she preferred any particular type of book, but I do know she devoured an enormous number of them. Norma Jean and I are the same way, having inherited the love of reading from our mother.

Mama had so many illnesses to combat in her life. She developed breast cancer in her forties, and the treatment they gave her back then, cobalt radiation after a radical mastectomy, scarred her heart and caused her numerous heart attacks over the years. She always rallied, and we began to think she would continue to fight back forever. But she had a final heart attack in 1993 that she knew was the final one. Although she lived for a few weeks afterward, giving all her children a chance to say a final goodbye, she gave away all her possessions and we knew she was ready. She slipped into a coma and for about a week she lingered before finally breathing her last.

I was privileged to be with her in her final moments. After the last gentle breath slipped away, we took all the flowers that were in her room and arranged them around her face. She was simply beautiful and her face was filled with peace. Although it was a hard time, it was one I will always cherish, having been able to be with her when she took her last breath, as she was with me when I breathed my first. We came full circle together.
Life began with waking up and loving my mother's face. --George Eliot
And so, on this Mother's Day, I remember my beautiful mother with love and happiness. I'll go out to my regular places and carry her memory in my heart and spread love and joy as far as my being allows. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, my dear reader. Happy Mother's Day.


Meryl Baer said...

A beautiful tribute to your Mom. She was a special lady, and you and your brothers and sisters lucky to enjoy a wonderful childhood.

Linda Reeder said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. It will quiet my spirit as I engage in active mothering and grandmothering today.

Rian said...

Beautiful post, DJan.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Such loving memories you have of your Mother! Happy Mother's Day to you! If your boys were here they would shower you with affection! Instead I send you a hug on this Mother's Day:)

Gigi said...

What a stunningly beautiful post. Happy Mother's Day, DJan.

Have wonderful week! xo

Marty said...

What a lovely tribute.
What a loving thought, to be with your mother for her last breath as she was there for your first.

Trish MacGregor said...

A beautiful tribute!

Marie Smith said...

A wonderful Mom indeed and a great tribute to her!

Elephant's Child said...

That is a truly lovely tribute to your mother.
I too was with my mother when she slipped away. And part of me wonders whether me telling her that she didn't have to continue the fight helped her on her way.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Beautifully stated recollections of a super mom. I love the photo too.
Do you sometimes visit my photo blog?

Red said...

Well said. A great tribute to your Mom who lived through some trying times.

Rita said...

What a loving tribute. Happy Mother's Day to you. Once a mother always a mother. I hope you spread that love everywhere you went. You certainly spread it right here. :)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, What a wonderful tribute to your mother. After following your blog for years, I think I know you well enough, after reading this post, to see that your mother was the strong source of your kindness that I see in your writing week after week. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. John

Arkansas Patti said...

Your Mom had the best job ever and evidently did an amazing job of it. Very few careers will remember you after you leave like children do. What a wonderful way to celebrate Mother's Day.
BTW, I could have picked you out of a string of baby pictures. You haven't changed a whole lot.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this posting is simply lovely. A tender eulogy and remembrance of your beautiful mother who loved you into being. Your words captured the essence of her great love for her children and her ability to show that love to the end. Thank you for sharing these memories of her. Peace.

Sally Wessely said...

Thank you for this beautiful tribute to your mother. Times must have been hard for your mother as she made all of those moves with all of those kids. It must have helped that her oldest, you, adapted so well. Moving is hard on everyone, but the homemaker must have it especially hard. This speaks of her commitment to your father, his chosen work, her family, and to the role she played in life. It also speaks to her adaptability and determination to make home where home ended up being. I admire that trait so well. I think it also speaks to her ability to live in the present and create a future while not looking back with longing on the past. All of these traits are such great ones for any woman to have.

Anonymous said...

Lovely Mom! Happy to read about her and you are blessed with a beautiful and charming mom. Sweet memories of her:)

jorjorbeth said...

Beautiful image the building You chose well for the theme.
Your blog is very nice,Thanks for sharing good blog.