FROM THE DOWNHILL SLOPE

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

I blog a lot about my mother, the things my mother said, and the fact that our relationship was a difficult one.  As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, she gave me her name, but with the name went her fears and hopes, not just for me, but for what remained of her life.  My father was never a successful business man.  He had married into a wealthy family that traced its roots back to William Penn and had only moved upward from the time the first Broomall set foot on American soil.  A town had been named for them.  One had become a confidant of President Lincoln, his son and grandson were landowners, successful businessmen, lawyers, and judges.  The town knew all the Broomalls and that Kitty Broomall had married down.

Marrying down  might had been accepted had Dad become monied, but that never happened. He kept us clothed and fed and housed.  He somehow saw that I went to college, but the rent and utility bills were often late, as were my college bills, but all was eventually paid.  Life also might have been different if my grandfather had not died unexpectedly.  I have mentioned else where that he had promised to deed over one of the houses he owned to my parents when they fixed it up, but died without doing so. Owning their own house would probably have enabled them to live comfortably if not richly instead it went to the estate which was badly managed by the executors.  The house was sold and turned into a parking lot.

We moved four times before I was nine and each move was a downward move.  So life for my mother was a hard life of penny pinching, making her own clothes, denying herself pleasures she had grown up to expect, pulling away from the friends she once had because they had money and she had little or none.

Eventually she began  working by my father’s side as he tried to earn a living publishing a weekly newspaper.  He wanted to be a writer and one of the saddest moments of my life was seeing Mom throw a copy of his last effort to write a novel in to the trash can as she cleaned out his office.  My brother and I watched in horror but said nothing, Mom was in one of her  “Don’t cross me anger mood.”  Anger is part of mourning.  I knew that then, but I also I knew  and still feared her anger.  Still feel a pang that I didn’t object and claim the novel for my own.

Mom was strong, she ran the news paper’s office, she learned how to set type, take pictures, collate the printed pages and  run the addessograph machine.  The more she worked with my father, the less  time she had for cooking, cleaning.  Our living room became the newspaper’s office.  Home was not pleasant and from the time I was a teenager, I tried never to bring friends there.

Then as noted above there was her temper.  It was cyclical–hormonal as I figured out eventually when struggling with my own temper tantrums.  My brothers were not her target, I was; most likely,  because I represented her failed dreams.   She was sociable, out-going, graceful, and charming. As a child,  I was shy, had few friends, was awkward.  She was a beautiful woman.  At my wedding, when she was in her sixties, she out shone the bride and I by then I was relatively attractive but not beautful.  She found me disappointing and at the same time competition.  My father adored me.  Those might be the reasons I was the one she verbally abused.  It could also just be that I was around more than my brothers.  But at least once a month she would scream at me that I was ruining her life, making her a slave and always when I had being doing something I usually did.  I always fled to my room as soon as I could  and would not come out until my father came home.  He would come to my room, dry my tears and carry me down stairs to dinner.

Always everyone, my father included,  acted as if Mom never did anything wrong, let along have a temper tantrum.   That was probably just as bad as her yelling, but my father would tolerate no criticism of his beloved.  He loved me, but she was first in his heart.  So for most of my youth, I felt I was problem, for no matter how hard I tried to figure out how to avoid the tirades, I never could.  I also knew that no matter what I did, I would not please her.  She loved me, I knew that, but I did not please her and I knew that as well.

She was both abusive and nurturing.  She loved fun, she loved nature, she taught each of her children to stand tall and not worry about what others thought, it was what you did that mattered.  She taught us to care and share.  The house was full of animals, we raised a baby hoot owl and set him free, we had flying squirrels, birds, cats, kittens, dogs.  If a relative or friend needed help she was there.  She was a wonder at making her nieces and grandchildren feel special.  She never forgot a birthday, she celebrated un-birthdays as well.  My friends loved her, my boy friends loved her. I loved and feared her.

I have spoken before about how she would take us out to watch the setting sun almost every night.  And by being grateful when the sky was pink and purple and lovely, she taught us gratitude; and when the sky  was only grey, she taught us to hope for a better day.   Her favorite motto was “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  She didn’t complain if you failed, she didn’t like it if you didn’t try.  That motto helped me overcome shyness and bred a stubborn persistence into my being.

I know she had been abused by her older sister.  She spoke of being tied to a tree in a wood when the sister was in charge of her and didn’t want a little kid following behind.  She was at least threatened with beatings and probably was beaten.  She did better by us than was done by her.  And I have done a bit better by my sons.  I think that is all we can strive to do.  I had my hormonal related temper tantrums,  I remember with a chill of pain the first time I recognized my mother’s anger and words jumping out of my mouth and frightening my sons.  To my credit I  was the one to make the amends and own I had misbehaved.

My mother and  I lived like sandpaper, rubbing each other the wrong way.  We were both happy when I moved out on my own.  Distance helped, but what really changed was what happened after her death.  I believe she chose to die.  She was in a nursing home, in a coma.  You should know that was part of her life plan–to end up in this particular nursing home and have people wait on her.  She did just that and was almost happy most of her days there.  She had a bed by a big window that looked out toward the west and the setting sun.  When she slipped into a coma, she was to be moved to a higher level of care.  She died the night before she was to be moved. I had visited her a week before, fed her some chocolate ice cream–she seemed asleep but was enough conscious to eat soft foods if fed.  When I was getting ready to leave, she roused opened her eyes and looked straight in mine and gave me the most genuine smile of love and joy I have ever witnessed.

She died in her bed by the window a week later.  Her goodby smile and her death brought peace between us.  For three days,  her spirit seemed to wrap itself around me acknowledging  that she had hurt me, that she had done the best she could given who she was, but she knew it hadn’t been enough.  She wanted me to know that, so I would remember her with love and I do.

I hope the same for you.  I hope you can feel the love and forgive the hurt.  And yes I know if the abuse was far worse than what I felt, I am asking too much.

Most of the posts today have been thank you Mom kind of posts.  Sadly yesterday,  that was not the case.  Bishop Tutu said “Forgiveness is not taking revenge.”  So those of you badly abused and estranged, you don’t have to be with, love, forget.  You just have to try to go on and to not do what was done to you.  If you can reconcile, it will only strengthen you.  Anger is a weapon that stabs you more than those you are angry at. If you cannot reconcile, that is the best you can do. My mother’s death taught me that  every one of us does what we can with the life we have been given.  Often it is not enough, but it is our best.

Stay strong, share and care.

Image:  By my father, I think. Taken at the house that would have been theirs had my grandfather not died.  I must have been about two in the picture.

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