Saturday, December 08, 2012

Well, that's done

Today was hard. It would have been my mother's birthday. And I was back in my hometown for the occasion, getting my hair cut and saying goodbye to the house I grew up in.

My maternal grandparents built that house on what had been an empty lot almost 60 years ago. They lived there with my mother (newly graduated from high school) and my uncle (junior high). It's the house my mother left when she got married, and returned to as a wife and mother of 2, when my grandparents chose to downsize to an apartment and my mom and dad bought it from them.

The house meant a lot to my mother. Even more, the yard meant a lot to her -- she took such pleasure and pride in her birds and trees and lawn. She reminded my sisters and I often that only her family had ever lived there and she hoped one of us would take it and keep it. I know my niece, away at college and feeling very melancholy that she can't spend more time in the house before we relinquish it, feels the same way.

Only I don't want a four bedroom ranch house. I don't want a big yard. And most of all, I don't want to live in my hometown. It's too WASPy and too far away from the city. So while I know my mother is disappointed, this daughter isn't interested in maintaining the family home.

Plus, I can't help remembering how unhappy I was in that house. My father was very hard on me, verbally. It's where I lived when the family patriarch molested me. And my older sister beat me for the entire time I lived there. I'm not talking fierce arguments like sisters normally have. It was violent and incessant. My sister would regularly knock me down, stand on my hair and kick me in the back. When we were in high school, she threw me into the stove with such force that I dislocated the range from the wall, causing a gas leak and the fire dept. had to come out. My oldest friend, my playmate since kindergarten, can still recall with wide-eyed astonishment watching my sister strike me with a hairbrush ("pink with black bristles!") until there were welts up and down my bare arms -- all because she caught us in her room looking at her Barbies. Nothing was done about my sister's tendency toward violence until she was a 20 year old college student who -- in a fit of rage over losing access to the family car -- went after my mother with fists and a broom. I was very bitter that I could receive that treatment on a regular basis but it happens to my mother once and suddenly we're all in a therapist's office.

I know my mother loved me, but I remain angry at her for not protecting me. From my dad's constant haranguing, from my sister's beatings, from our exalted relative's sexual abuse. Mothers are supposed to protect their children.

But my mother wasn't a strong woman. And she was a product of her time -- the 1950s. She simply didn't know how to stand up to the forces she was facing within our family. The adult child of alcoholics, back in the days when the disease wasn't spoken of, my mother was desperate to maintain the illusion of Father Knows Best. It was as important to her that the village -- the town she lived in for more than 70 of her 77 years -- believe her family was happy and "normal" as it was for us to be happy and "normal."

She loved me and she did the best she could. It wasn't what I needed, but it was all she could give. That is what I have.

Walking through the house one last time -- the estate sale is January 11 through 13 and the sales organizer doesn't want us in there so he can do the work he has to -- all of this washed over me. And yes, it was her birthday, so that didn't help.

These issues were never resolved between us. It was too painful and confusing for my mother to face them. And that's OK. I made the conscious decision these past few years to overlook the more painful aspects of our lives so that we could enjoy our time together in peace. I don't regret that decision. I did it because I loved her.

She was my mommy. She gave me saltines and 7Up when I had a bad tummy. She made sure I got Blaze the Christmas I was 5 and she stayed with me during and immediately after my surgery last September. I got one of my best qualities -- my love of and patience with animals -- from her.

I was her daughter. I am not as pretty nor as conventionally feminine as she would have liked or understood. But she was proud of independence, intellect and verbal gifts. She always loved how drawn I was to Scarlett O'Hara and Jo March. I was touched today to find she had hung on to the Madame Alexander "Jo" doll I bought with my own money -- my winnings from the local newspaper's writing contest -- when I was in third grade.

Jo rode home with me in the cab today. I don't know how much she would have fetched in the estate sale. But while I can't and won't keep the house in the family, Jo stays.


2 comments:

  1. That was such a lovely portrait of your life as you knew it. All our parents were a product of their time as we are. That you can see it and share that perspective with us is a blessing.

    I could feel the warmth and love in this post. It was really sweet.

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  2. Such a touching tribute to your mother on her birthday. It's clear you loved her dearly, despite her flaws, and that she had good in her and loved you as well. The Jo doll should stay. It's a testament to the love and pride you described.

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