Happy Mother’s Day, my friends! I love this day. It’s become my favorite holiday. One, because I am a mom. Two, because it requires no planning or execution from me. I just sit back and received the love, praise and spoils from my babies, while Dad does the heavy lifting. But for many years, fourteen to be exact, Mother’s Day was tough. It was lonely. I lost my mother when I was eighteen and was the only one of my friends in that position. 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 she died I was just getting over the teenage years and I wasn’t always very kind. Those last few years were tough on our relationship. She was sick and I was incredibly selfish. I vacillated between being her champion and caregiver and being a resentful brat.
Mom died while I was at school. Too soon, too young. I’ve always been fascinated by my mother. In my eyes, she was mysterious and enchanting. She was very private. Most of my (adult) life I’ve been searching for clues about her past. Over the years I’ve reached out to her estranged family members and long lost friends, in a desperate need to know everything I could. My tenacious inquisitiveness has been rewarded many times. I’ve taken pilgrimages to her childhood home, family gravesite, boarding school and college. I’ve reached out to her fellow alumni and her former students for any tidbits I could get to complete her story. And what story it is! I just always knew that there was something there, beneath her surface. My quest has answered many questions and given me peace and closure.
I want to tell you about my mother. I don’t trust myself or my emotions to write a traditional blog, and I’m afraid I would just write and write and write – and lose you! Here are some random facts, opinions and musings:
Her name was Carol, because she was a December baby. Her middle name, Geneva, was for her mother and grandmother. It also belongs to me and to my daughter.
She was beautiful. A tall, green-eyed redhead, with a gorgeous figure that I sadly did not inherit.
She was the most well-traveled person I know. Her travel itineraries would make anyone turn green with envy.
She was an “opsie baby” who was born to parents in their forties (when being forty was OLD). She complained that she was raised by grandparents.
She was a Political Science major who read US News and World Report, Newsweek & Time magazines, every week, cover-to-cover, throughout her life.
She was a staunch Republican.
She loved all things Italian – everything: the country, the men, the clothes, the language, the food, the music, the wine.
She was raised in a well-to-do family, summered at the Cape, wintered in Palm Beach, yet couldn’t stand the Kennedys. She was none too pleased with my Kennedy obsession, except for John Jr. Because who didn’t have the hots for him?
She broke her parents’ heart, when she married a bartender and gave it all up for love. I loved my dad, and I’m of course damned grateful she did, but it was most likely her undoing.
She was stubborn. You didn’t piss her off, because getting her forgiveness was not easy.
Her handwriting was atrocious.
She was fiercely loyal to Boston sports teams, constantly bemoaning, again and again, about the Red Sox breaking her heart. She’d shake her head, in dismay, at the Patriots (this was pre-Bob Kraft era). She loved Larry Bird with a passion that was a bit disturbing.
She had crushes on Mark Spitz, John McEnroe, John Kennedy Jr., Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Tom Jones and various news anchors.
Her news anchor crushes: Frank Reynolds, Sam Donaldson, and Ted Koppel. Yet she’d constantly complain about the left winged liberal media. On her hit list: Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.
Also on her hit list: Jane Fonda.
She never walked past a Salvation Army bucket, without putting money in it.
She slammed doors in the faces of door-to-door salesmen.
She thought Ronald Reagan walked on water.
She loved the beach and somehow successfully managed to sunbathe her fair, freckled skin to a golden brown.
She was a bit of a prude, at least to her children.
She loved to dress up.
Conversely, in later years, she became a fan of house dresses and muumuus, much to my horror.
She rarely lost her temper, preferring to level you with an icy look (think Medusa) and the silent treatment.
She was graceful. She was a good dancer.
She didn’t believe in organized religion.
She loved dogs.
She was a terrible housekeeper and a so-so cook.
She didn’t do mom things. No crafts, baking, baby books or the PTA. Homework was my problem, not hers.
She was selfish with her time, which wasn’t cool for kids’ extracurricular activities.
She loved ABC soap operas.
She detested cold weather.
She was rarely on time.
She refused to pump gas
She liked to drink – too much.
Her sarcasm could be funny and hurtful.
She kept her opinion to herself. But if you asked her for it, you’d better have been prepared to listen.
She was shy and snobby.
She did not camp. She did not wear jeans. She did not drink beer.
She had impeccable manners.
She was complicated and had scars that she didn’t show.
She was far from perfect, but I loved her unconditionally.
Things I remember:
She wouldn’t let me eat peanut butter when Jimmy Carter was president.
She wasn’t a crier, so when she did, I remembered. She cried when Reagan was shot; when I came home in tears after my last day of school on Cape Cod (we were moving to Florida, because she hated the cold); when the USA hockey team won Olympic Gold in 1980; when I discovered a home movie featuring a child who was obviously disabled, and she confessed it was her brother (who died at fourteen); when I graduated from high school – she was actually hystericalL.
She always made a special Valentines box of candy for me, because she knew I didn’t like chocolate mixed with anything. She’d make a special trip to the mall candy store and build me my own customized box.
She wrapped Christmas presents extravagantly and with care.
She insisted that I needed to understand and like football, if I was going to have boys like me. One Sunday she sat down, in front of the game, with a chalkboard and chalk – and literally drew X’s and O’s.
She wore Shalimar and to this day, when I smell it, I get goose bumps.
She’d come into my room every night and kiss me goodnight, with Noxzema cold cream on her face. I can still smell and feel those kisses.
She loved purple and green and her wardrobe was filled with those colors, which are now staples in mine.
She wasn’t big on doling out advice, but I remember the night before I left for my senior cruise, she sat me and my friends down for a crash course on all the do’s and don’ts of cruise etiquette. She was very serious, with notes and all. My poor friends. All we cared about was that there’d be no parents and that a mile out to sea, we’d be of legal drinking age!
Things I found out after she died:
In the 1960’s, post college graduation, she smoked cigarettes with a long cigarette holder and wore a fox stole – with real foxes, heads and all!
She dated and was engaged to the captain of the Brown hockey team, but her parents broke it up, because he was Catholic! Years later, she’d marry a Catholic.
When she was four, her special-needs, fourteen year-old brother died in front of her.
She spoke fluent Italian, played classical piano, and was an avid golfer. Who knew?!?!
She lived and worked – teaching English – in Italy.
She had some Bohemian habits that I can’t reveal on the internet, because if I did, I’m sure there’d be retribution in the afterlife!
She was the cool teacher on staff at Rogers Hall (the boarding school where she attended high school and later taught).
She was also the school librarian!
She had a baby that she gave up for adoption, to her friend and roommate from college. This was before she met my dad. I met my sister, twelve years after my mother died.
Things I wonder:
Would she have approved of the man I married? I am certain she would have, and they probably would have been thick as thieves!
What kind of grandmother would she have been? I’m not sure she could hang out for too long with my crazy crew.
Would she have thought of her brother Sonny, when she looked at Barrett? I’ve discovered some pictures of Sonny that have an eerie resemblance to Barrett.
Would she have reunited with her first born and had some sort of relationship? I’d like to think so.
What would she think about this crazy and sometimes scary world we now live in? I think she would have been appalled and scared to death.
Would she still be a Republican? Given her very liberal social thinking and her disdain for organized religion, I tend to think she would have bailed on the mother ship. But who knows? Perhaps that makes me feel better when I contemplate how she’d feel about my moving to the middle, and sometimes to the left.
These are just things I ponder, late at night. But most of all, I wonder if she’d like the woman I’ve become.
Things she instilled in me:
My love for reading, musicals, history, politics and news.
A respect for privacy, especially when mine is now so often invaded by my children, as like I so often invaded hers.
I always dress up when flying on a plane.
Wanderlust. There is not a trip I’ve planned without her in mind.
An appreciation for “the oldies.” I love the music and movies of her era. Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Fred & Ginger, Cary & Katherine, Doris & Rock.
My crazy, irrational need to know Hollywood gossip and the reservoir of Hollywood trivia that resides in my already over-crowded brain.
Fashion and dressing up.
That education is essential.
Freedom to make my own mistakes and figure out how to fix them and that my actions have consequences.
The wisdom to know that jealousy and hate will only hurt ME.
Thank you notes, always.
Life is short.
Of course there are so many. Among the obvious are not having mom when I graduated from college or moved into my first apartment.
She didn’t console me after my first heartbreak or celebrate my engagement.
Her absence at my wedding and the birth of her grandchildren.
I regret that she was so sad. She was. I knew it then and I know it now. I wish she’d gotten help. Who knows? Maybe, things could have been different.
I’ve now lived the majority of my life without her, and it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Although they’re not replacements, I have my mother-in-law and my Aunt Ginny and countless surrogate mothers I have collected over the years. I’m grateful for them all. What really freaks me out is the realization that I don’t ever want to miss these things in my children’s lives.
I wish we’d talked more and I’d gotten the chance to know her better. Most of what I know now, I’ve gathered from investigations into her past or from the little treasures she left behind, that she may or may not have intended for me to discover. 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.
It was the spring of 1986, my dad and bother were out of town for a Red Sox spring training game. On an idyllically beautiful south Florida Sunday, my mom and I hung 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, she 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 and it cast a luminous light on everything. It was magical, like an Instagram picture. 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. 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, 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 Cammy would say, “Best day ever!”
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.