Because of my advanced age, I have been thinking more lately about my mother. I have to admit that I didn’t know her very well. This was, I thought, her choice because she seemed to favor my older sister over me and my outspoken nature sometimes embarrassed her.
Shortly after I was born, my sister Judy was ripped from the only home she had known where, being the only child, she was treated like a princess. Our father had already relocated to California, and my mother either wished to or was ordered by her doctor to wait in New York until after my birth.
She wisely hired a nurse from the hospital who became my nanny. Mother had no idea how to care for a newborn infant so my care rested on the ample shoulders of Ellen, this German woman who never married. I loved her because she seemed to love me and Mother didn’t seem to care.
I didn’t realize until adulthood how upsetting this all was for Judy. But I realized that she hated our father, blaming him for the move to California. Mother had been raised by Irish immigrant parents who sent her off to boarding school at a young age. There she learned to polish and shape her own nails and iron her uniforms. For those who could afford it, that’s what was done in those days.
I knew Judy valued things more than people but I didn’t know why. When I learned of her uprooting from the home of her grandparents it was probably too late. All I knew was that she was supremely self-centered and I didn’t want to be anything like her.
She, like our mother, was perfect; she got straight As in school, had gorgeous handwriting and was always beautifully turned out. I was a parent myself before I realized she was afraid to be less than perfect.
As was the fashion in the heyday of Hollywood, Mother had platinum blond hair, a slender figure, wore beautiful clothes and smoked incessantly. When the Surgeon General told us that smoking could kill a person, she blithely announced that, while she would die someday of something, it probably wouldn’t be smoking. Well, she died of emphysema and spent her last years dragging a portable oxygen tank everywhere she went.
At a time in my life when I faced difficulties, Mother offered to help me. However, I was too obstinate to allow her to do that. If I had accepted her help, it may have made a difference in her life. Instead, we both suffered needlessly.
But now, with the wisdom of advanced age, I realize I sold Mother short. It turns out my father told her in no uncertain terms that she was to leave my upbringing to him. So it wasn’t that she favored Judy over me; she was just following orders.
When I was young and rebellious, I believed that the only reason people didn’t say what they really thought was that they were chicken. I guess I didn’t notice that Mother had many friends and I had none. I learned the hard way that “telling it like it is” just doesn’t endear one to others.
Judy and I had a younger sister who definitely turned out better than we did. At 11-plus years younger than I, she grew up in an entirely different situation than we did. Same gene pool, very different dynamic. She’s plenty bright but without the hang-ups. A high school teacher, now retired, she has an unfailing sense of humor and a very pragmatic view of life.
Through her, I’ve come to realize that having strange parents need not condemn one to an unhappy life. I also learned to appreciate both for their strong points and not condemn them for their foibles.
I often wish Mother was still with us so I could apologize for the way I ignored her efforts, belated though they might have been, to help me grow into a loving, caring person. Did we all make some mistakes? I know I did. But I’ve quit beating myself up over them.
When I became a parent, I learned to talk less and listen more. Even if it’s late in the game, I’ll say it now: Thanks, Mom.