Welcome to Finish the Sentence Friday. I must admit that when I saw this week’s prompt, “Dear Mom…,” I felt some trepidation. Last Friday was my first time joining the group. I loved participating and getting to know some new bloggers and I didn’t want to miss out – but this prompt is an emotional one for me. My mother passed away twenty-six years ago. Last year I wrote about her on Mother’s Day. I was so touched by all the Mother’s Day posts I read that weekend and felt compelled to join the crowd. I was a new blogger at the time and writing about my mother was the first truly personal piece that I put out there. I was proud of it. Later that same day, I found out my younger brother died. Mother’s Day is now complicated and I’m taking the coward’s way out by reworking last year’s post into a letter. For friends and family, it may sound a bit repetitive and I apologize – but I did add some new thoughts. The letter format actually opened me up a bit. For my new readers, I’m honored to share with you one of the loves of my life, the very fascinating and lovely Carol Geneva Smith.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I’ve come to really love this holiday. I’m a mom now, and it requires no planning or execution on my part. I get to just sit back and receive the love, praise and spoils from my babies, while Dad does the heavy lifting. For many years, Mother’s Day was tough and lonely. For so long, I was the only one I knew who didn’t have a mom. I’d be invited to celebrate with other families, but I just wasn’t comfortable. I thought that being alone was sort of a penance, because when you died I was just a teenager and not always very kind. Those last few years were tough on our relationship, weren’t they? I was so selfish and you were so sick. I’m sorry I didn’t participate more in your care. I’m sorry I was a brat.
You died too soon, too young. I wish I’d been there, I wish you and Dad hadn’t insisted that I start my freshman year. I only stayed at school in New Orleans for one more semester after you died. I feel like that whole year was a waste, it would have been better to have spent the time with my mom.
You still have a hold on me. I wish you hadn’t been such a private person, but I’m sure that added to your allure. Guess what? All those years I watched Charlie’s Angles paid off. Turns out, I’m quite the little investigator – I solved some of your mysteries. Over the years I’ve reached out to your estranged family members and long lost friends, in a desperate quest to know everything I could about you. My tenacious inquisitiveness has been rewarded several times. I’ve taken pilgrimages to your childhood home (where the new owners actually let me in!), family’s gravesite, boarding school and college. I’ve reached out to your fellow alumni and former students for any tidbits I could get to complete the story. And what story it is! I just always knew that there was something there, hiding beneath the surface of “Mom.” Many of my questions have been answered and I’ve achieved some peace and closure. It’s just that the loss of Edmund has led me to spend more time than usual thinking about the past.
It’s been so long since you were alive, that I know I’ve forgotten a lot about you. I can’t remember the sound of your voice, which makes me sad. Yet when I smell Shalimar perfume, it’s as if you’re right there beside me again. Audrey, your granddaughter, has started to ask questions about what you were like. It breaks my heart that she’ll never know you. I wanted to let you know some of what I will share with her.
You were named Carol, because you were a December baby. Your middle name, Geneva, was the first name of both your mother and your grandmother. I love that you gave the name to me and I gave it to Audrey.
You were brilliant and had an Ivy League degree from Brown University, but I found some letters that indicted you weren’t always thrilled about being there!
God, you were pretty. I loved your red hair and green eyes. Want to know something weird? I have lots of red headed friends, I’m drawn to them.
You are still the most well-traveled person I know. I’m envious of your travel resume.
When Audrey complains about me telling her to “go read a book,” I will share that you made your high school students read US News and World Report, Newsweek & Time magazines every week, cover-to-cover. (By the way, I hate to disappoint you, but some of those magazines went bye-bye). Oh, you would have hated the internet!
You were a staunch republican, but a non-believer in organized religion. I’m not sure how to explain the dichotomy of this to Audrey. I wonder what would you have done in today’s political world?
You loved all things Italian – everything: the country, the men, the clothes, the language, the food, the music, the wine.
Although you were raised in a well-to-do family, summered at the Cape, wintered in Palm Beach, you couldn’t stand the Kennedys. Oh boy, things only got worse for that family after you died! I know you were none too pleased with my Kennedy obsession, except for John Jr. – because who didn’t have the hots for him? (Things ended sadly for him as well.)
You broke your parents’ heart when you married Dad, a bartender, and gave it all up for love. I loved my dad, and I’m of course damned grateful you did it, but a part of me thinks it was most likely your undoing. Given what I know now, I also have to wonder if you did it to get back at your parents for not letting you marry your first love?
.You were so stubborn. I hated to make you mad, because earning your forgiveness was not easy.
Your handwriting was atrocious, and it freaks me out that my once pretty penmanship is now just as bad – and is eerily similar to yours!
You were fiercely loyal to Boston sports teams, constantly bemoaning, again and again, about the Red Sox breaking your heart. Guess what Mom? They’ve redeemed themselves! Three World Series Championships in the last decade! Woot-woot! By the way, the Patriots are awesome, too! And for the record, your love for Larry Bird was a bit disturbing.
I can’t wait to tell Audrey about your crushes (she’s just starting to get them) on Mark Spitz, John McEnroe, John Kennedy Jr., Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Tom Jones and various news anchors.
You definitely had a fetish for the news anchors! Frank Reynolds, Sam Donaldson, and Ted Koppel. But you constantly complained about the left winged liberal media. I remember that Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather were at the top of your hit list.
You were not a fan of Jane Fonda.
You never walked past a Salvation Army bucket, without putting money in it.
You slammed doors in the faces of door-to-door salesmen. That was kind of mean, Mom.
You thought Ronald Reagan walked on water.
You loved the beach and somehow successfully managed to sunbathe your fair, freckled skin to a golden brown.
You loved history, music and books.
You were a bit of a prude, at least with your children.
You loved to dress up, but then you baffled me in your later years by becoming a fan of house dresses and muumuus. For the record, I was horrified.
You rarely lost your temper, but man you could level people with an icy look and the silent treatment.
You were so graceful and a good dancer – so is Audrey (but she isn’t graceful).
You loved dogs. Actually, she’s been begging for a dog, so I probably won’t offer this tidbit up anytime soon.
Lordy, you were a terrible housekeeper and a marginal cook.
You didn’t do mom things. No crafts, baking, baby books or the PTA. Homework was my problem, not yours.
You were selfish with your time, which wasn’t cool for kids’ extracurricular activities. I think of this whenever I get overwhelmed by our after-school schedule – and it gets me off my butt.
You loved ABC soap operas. I don’t think Aud knows what a soap opera is – and Mom, General Hospital is the last man standing! But from what I hear, Luke’s hanging in there.
You detested cold weather.
You were rarely on time.
You refused to pump gas – and if you were here today, you’d be in big trouble momma!
Sometimes your sarcasm could be funny, sometimes it was hurtful.
You kept your opinion to yourself, but if anyone asked for it, they’d better have been prepared to listen.
You were really shy – and snobby.
Like me, you did not camp. You did not drink beer. You did not wear jeans (I live in Georgia now, so I do wear jeans in the winter).
You had impeccable manners, which I mention all the time – and it falls on deaf ears. You would be appalled by the kids’ dinner time behavior.
You came into my room to kiss me goodnight, every night, and always smelled like Nivea cold cream. I can sometimes still feel those kisses on my cheek.
You were one complicated lady, with scars that didn’t show. You were far from perfect, but I sure did love you unconditionally.
Your favorite colors were the same as mine, purple and green. Your wardrobe was filled with those colors, which are now staples in mine.
I loved how you wrapped our Christmas presents extravagantly and with care.
I’ve told the kids the story about how you wouldn’t let us eat peanut butter during the Carter Administration. I wasn’t happy at the time, but it cracks me up now. I loved how you made a special Valentine’s box of candy for me each year, because you knew I didn’t like chocolate mixed with anything. I really, really appreciated that. I hope I told you.
Audrey doesn’t like to watch football, so I told her how you insisted that I needed to understand and like football, if I wanted boys like me (btw, that was very anti-feminist!). Do you remember that one Sunday when you sat me down in front of a game, with a chalkboard and chalk – and literally drew X’s and O’s? I’m glad I remember that – Audrey’s day is coming!
You sure didn’t cry very much, which still baffles me. Maybe you saved it for when we were asleep? Mom, I cry all the time, from happiness, frustration, exhaustion, grief and TV. I guess that’s where Audrey gets it (she’s rather dramatic; I don’t think you’d appreciate it). Anyway, you cried so rarely that I remember each and every time. You cried when Reagan was shot; when I came home in tears after my last day of school on Cape Cod (when we moved to Florida); when the USA hockey team won Olympic Gold in 1980; when I discovered a home movie featuring a child who was obviously disabled, and you confessed it was your brother Sonny, who died at fourteen (you really did have some serious secrets momma!); and when I graduated from high school. The high school one gets me when I think of it. I remember looking up in the stands and seeing you lose it and I was shocked. I would have thought at that point you’d have been eager to see me go. But I think you already knew your time was coming to an end. I wish I’d known.
Phew, let’s get back to happy stuff. Remember my Senior cruise? The night before I left you sat Marcie and Sandy Hand and me down for a crash course on all the dos and don’ts of cruise etiquette. You were so serious, with notes and all. My poor friends. All we cared about was that there’d be no parents and once we were a mile out to sea, we’d be of legal drinking age! I’ve since discovered all the pictures from your cruises and let me just share – we were in different cruise universes. We were on a redneck type of cruise ship – whereas you sailed the Queen Elizabeth. Worlds apart! And, I guarantee you wouldn’t get near a cruise ship today – so not your crowd!
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve nosed around in your past. When your sisters were still alive, they helped fill in some blanks. I’ve also reconnected with Barbara, but I think you wanted that to happen. She reminded me that I told her in phone call after your death, that you wanted me to stay in touch with her. Honestly, I don’t remember actually saying that – but I know that I did. I can’t explain it. That was quite a bombshell mom. I kind of suspected there was “something” hiding in your closet, an ex-husband, perhaps. But a child? Wow. I recall often telling you how badly I wanted an older sister. I must have broken your heart, over and over. I’m sorry.
Here are some other juicy tidbits I learned:
In the early 1960’s, after college graduation, you smoked cigarettes with a long cigarette holder and wore a fox stole – with real foxes, heads and all! How very Mad Men of you. You also spoke fluent Italian, played classical piano, and were an avid golfer. Who knew?!?! What would have been the harm in revealing those things?
Apparently you once dated and were engaged to the captain of the Brown hockey team, but your parents broke it up, because he was Catholic. Then you ended up marrying Dad, who was a Catholic!? Granted, he wasn’t exactly observant. Maybe this would be a good time to tell you I’m raising the kids Catholic? Probably not, so scratch that.
I wish I’d known that your brother Sonny had special needs. When I had to explain my family history to my OBGYN – all I could tell him, based on Dad’s knowledge, was that he’d been dropped on his head when he was born. Seriously? Is that really what you were told? Good God. When I saw that video, I was so shocked, and based on my current knowledge I’m guessing that he had some form of cerebral palsy. Edmund once told me you admitted that you were the one who found Sonny after he passed away – and that you were four at the time. You poor baby.
Okay, this was a big surprise for me – you lived in Italy? Had a job and an apartment? Who doesn’t tell her daughter that? I hope I don’t have any siblings over there, too. But on the other hand, that might be cool.
You were a bit of a wild child. I knew about the drinking, but the other Bohemian habit? I won’t reveal it on the internet, because if I did, I’m sure there’d be retribution in the afterlife! But Mother…
According to some of your former students you were the cool teacher on staff at Rogers Hall and the school librarian (the yearbooks I found confirm this).
Why all the secrecy? I guess we just ran out of time. I truly hope we would have been closer as adults and that you’d have been comfortable confiding in me. I would have relished telling you my secrets.
I wonder if you would have approved of the man I married. I’m fairly certain that you would have. He’s intelligent, funny, well-mannered and shy like you. You have similar views about many topics. He’s so thoughtful. He found all your old home movies and transferred them to CDs. Dad really liked my guy and they got along great – better than Dad and I did, which I now regret. I won’t burden you with that, but tell Dad I love him and I miss him, too.
I wish you could tell me what kind of grandmother you would have been. I’m not sure if you could hang out for too long with my crazy crew. There are four of them Mom – FOUR! I wonder how you would have been with Barrett. Would he have reminded you of your brother? Would that have scared you? Some of Sonny’s pictures show an eerie resemblance to Barrett. Honestly, it kind of freaks me out.
Would you still be a Republican? Given the very liberal opinions you had about social issues and your antipathy for organized religion, a part of me tends to think you’d have bailed on the mother ship. But who knows? Perhaps that makes me feel better when I contemplate how you’d feel about my moving to the middle, and sometimes to the left. Mom, it’s a crazy world we live in and I think much of it would scared you.
Now that I know about my sister, I wonder if you would have ever reunited with her and built some sort of relationship. I hope so. She’s cool and she looks like you (and I’m jealous of that fact – sibling rivalry, I guess). She’s also very chill like you were – and again, jealous of that! I’m as high strung as ever, unfortunately.
These are just things I ponder, late at night. But most of all, I wonder if you’d like the woman I’ve become. I appreciate so many of the things I credit you for teaching me. My love of reading, musicals, history, politics and the news (when it’s fair and balanced). I always dress up when flying on a plane. I have an insatiable wanderlust and there’s not a trip I’ve planned without you on my mind. I have an odd appreciation for “the oldies.” I love the music and movies of your era. Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Fred & Ginger, Cary & Katherine, Doris & Rock. Oh, it drives the kids insane. Thanks to you, I have a crazy, irrational need to know Hollywood gossip and a reservoir of Hollywood trivia that resides in my already over-crowded brain. I love fashion and dressing up, and you’d be pleased that Audrey does too (although she is still developing her sense of style – I hope).
I’m passing some of your wisdom on to my kids. I tell them that education is essential. And I’m trying to allow them the freedom to make their own mistakes and to figure out how to fix them. The old familiar Mom mantra of “actions have consequences.” Thank you for doing that for me, because it’s so hard for me as a parent, but I know I must. I quote your advice about jealously all the time. I preach about the necessity of the handwritten than- you note, even though many think I’m old fashioned.
Your passing filled me with many regrets. I wish you’d been there when I graduated from college (three times Mom!) and helped me decorate my first apartment. I suffered a couple heartbreaks and really, really needed you. Thank God for Aunt Ginny, she suffered through many tearful phone calls. Fortunately, I did find many sweet surrogate moms over the years, but they were never you. There was my wedding and the birth of the kids, those were tough, but fortunately I’d reached a point where I could enjoy the experience, while still missing you.
My biggest regret is that you were always so sad. You were. I knew it then and I know it now. I wish you’d gotten help. Who knows? Maybe, things could have been different. I can’t even imagine going through life with some of the burdens you had to carry, without ever asking for help.
I’ve now lived the majority of my life without you, and it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. This year is tough because of Edmund and the reminder that life’s fleeting. I don’t ever want to miss the things in my children’s lives that you missed. I wish we’d talked more and I’d gotten the chance to know you better. As a consequence, I probably reveal way too much of myself to my children, because I don’t want them to ever wonder who I was. They’ll have you to thank when they’re in therapy with mother-over-sharing issues.
I will leave you with this, my favorite memory of our time together:
It was the spring of 1986, Dad and Edmund were out of town for a Red Sox spring training game. On an idyllically beautiful south Florida Sunday, we were hanging out by our pool – loaded with baby oil and tin foil (okay, aluminum foil), reading magazines and listening to our own music – each of us had a Walkman.
When it got too hot, you suggested a movie. We went to the Pavilion Shopping Center and saw Down and Out In Beverly Hills, with Bette Midler and Nick Nolte. After the movie, we stopped for ice cream cones and sat outside and talked. The temperature was perfect, with a warm tropical breeze. It was the time of day when the sun had started to fall, but it was still bright as it cast a luminous light on everything. It was magical, like a filtered Instagram picture (which I realize is a 21st century reference you will not understand – apologies). I remember thinking that all my friends were down at the beach, less than a mile away, partying it up. I was sixteen, a junior in high school with a crush on someone, I’m sure – but in that moment, on that day, there was no place on earth that I’d have rather been than with you. Pure happiness. Contentment. Love.
We walked to Publix to get steaks for dinner and later ate on the porch. Even at the time, I knew the day was special. I think I just assumed it was a preview of all the mother daughter moments to come. In retrospect, it probably stayed with me all these years, because things turned bad pretty quickly after that. Maybe my subconscious just knew to hang on to it. No matter, it is a memory that I have cherished for over twenty five years, one I will never let go. As my Cammy would say, “Best day ever!”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you, always.
This post is a Finish The Sentence Friday post on the topic “Dear Mom…”.
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Please forgive the length – I got a way from myself! Tell me about your mom – anything!