Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tomorrow is my mom's 83rd birthday. Unfortunately, this is the 11th birthday that she has not spent with us. She died two days before her 73rd birthday of metastisized breast cancer. It seems like 10 years would be a long time, but it really doesn't feel like it. It is still fresh enough in my memory to bring tears to my eyes, but maybe that's because my mom was such a special person, and I still miss her a lot, as I believe most of her family probably does, too.
Mom was a child of the Great Depression, born to a mother who had immigrated from Germany as a child and a father who was also of German descent. Her family was poor, and both parents worked, so my mom was a main caregiver for her little brother. She had a lot of responsibility as a child, but she handled it well, and she enjoyed life. She was a good student and popular girl in high school, where she met my dad. After graduating, she worked as a bookkeeper for a year until she and my dad got married on June 10, 1943. She quit her job to be a homemaker while my dad worked at GE. However, this was wartime, and before long, my dad was in the Navy, leaving his young, pregnant wife in the care of his parents. By the time she was married a year, Mom was living in a small place with a baby son and in-laws. My grandmother was nice, but she was a very dominant personality and tended to be critical of mom's abilities as a mother. But mom persevered and kept her sense of humor for the next few years until my dad returned from the war in January, 1946. They moved to their own place, and Dad returned to GE.
My brother, Bob, was born in 1944, during World War II, as I said, and I was born in 1948. My sister, Peggy, followed in 1952. Things were going well, and my parents had bought their first house, and then Dad was transferred from Erie, PA, to Louisville, KY, in 1953, and we all moved. It was a big transition for mom, who knew nobody in this area and couldn't drive. You can bet that she learned to drive pretty quick, and that she made friends even faster. She was the kind of person who attracted friends because she was happy and she was a sympathetic listener.
Once settled in KY, Mom was the quintessential 50's wife and mother. She kept a clean house, cooked nutritious and tasty meals, and generally lived to serve her family. She didn't wear pearls and heels around the house like Harriet Nelson or June Cleaver, but she did usually wear a dress of some sort. And every day, without fail, before it was time for my dad to come home from work, she freshened up and put on lipstick and met my dad at the door with a kiss. She saw him off to work in the morning, too, but sans the lipstick.
As we all grew up, she made sure that we had responsibilities around the house and that we took school seriously. Friday was cleaning day, and while we were at school, she would clean the house. If we had stuff lying around, we came home to find everything we had left out piled in the middle of the bed so that she could dust the furniture and the floors. That was pretty clever of her because we had to put it all away before we could get into the bed at night! (It worked for her, but it didn't work for me. My kids just slept on the floor rather than put the stuff away.)
As I grew up and got married, my mom shifted roles subtly from authority figure to confidante and friend. She was fun to shop with and talk to, and this was a side that seemed to be new to me. She was a tremendous help when my kids were born and gave calm advice when I was frazzled, which of course was often. All of her grandchildren thought she was cool, and she willingly and patiently played games with them and entertained them. My parents were wonderful babysitters, although I didn't ask them too frequently so they didn't get tired of it. However, Terry and I were able to take several trips and leave the kids with my parents with complete confidence.
Of course, time passed, and my kids grew up, too, and then it was usually Mom and Peg and I who took the shopping and lunch trips. We always had fun, often at Mom's expense, as she danced down the aisles of stores and sang along with the Muzak. Even once she was sick, she would get in one of those little motorized carts and drive all over the store, often backing into displays along the way.
In July, 1989, Mom discovered that she had breast cancer. She had a single mastectomy, and the lymph nodes were clear, so the doctors declared her cured and sent her on her way. Little did anyone know that the cancer was already making inroads into her spine. It was two years before she began to feel it, and another year after that until she finally went to the doctor to find out what the problem was. By that time, it was firmly entrenched, and she had what the oncologist called "hot spots" in several places of her frame. They got the worst of it under control with radiation and chemotherapy, and Mom did well for several years. However, in 1995, she developed colon cancer, which they got right away, but had scar tissue, which required another surgery. At this point, the surgeries had taken a lot out of her, and by September of 1996, her bones were getting pretty fragile. She fell and broke her hip, and the cancer had a field day, finally claiming her on March 14, 1997. During all these travails, she never gave up hoping and fighting to stay well. She rarely complained and took every setback in stride, always working to maintain her health and her dignity. She wanted very much to live and see her grandchildren grow up. Copnsequently, I believe she went to her grave believing she would get past the latest setback and move on. She did, just not in the way she expected.
Mom was a very special person. She enjoyed life and laughed often. She had great fortitude. She liked music, reading, traveling, and painting. She was very artistic, and she encouraged all of us kids to develop our talents, too. She was my biggest muse and cheerleader in everything I endeavored. She was just a genuinely nice person. That seems like a trite word, but it wasn't in her case. She was a kind and generous and a friend to all. She was my biggest role model. My greatest ambition is to be the kind of person she was. I wish my children's spouses and my grandchildren could have known her. Happy Birthday, Mom.
(Sorry for the way the pictures are posted. I can't seem to get them anywhere but at the top, and they didn't load in the right order. You see pictures of Mom and Dad on her wedding day and my wedding day. The other picture is from about a year before Mom died, and my sister isn't nearly as ruddy as she appears in the picture.)


Susie said...

I think I can honestly say I understand most of the things you are feeling today. My Mom also died very closed to her birthday and Mother's Day and that is a very tough time for me. I totally believe you when you say even after ten years you get tears. I felt tears as I read this...
Your Mom sounds like such a wonderful lady and from what I've come to know about you, you have many of her characteristics.
Sending you lots of love and ((hugs))

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday to Grandma! She's listening to me sing it and cringing, I'm sure...

What you wrote is lovely. And all true. And you are much like her, in many ways.

Andy did meet her, just once. And even at that he thought she was great.

Natalie said...

That was a very sweet tribute to Grandma. :) She has definitely been in my thoughts these past few days. I really wish David had gotten to meet her, too. :)

psbeachnut said...

Thank you for the smile and the sniffle. She was one of a kind and the best we will ever be able to do is try our best to be the kind of person she was (and still is in our hearts). God was pretty great to give us the parents he gave us!

(And, perhaps I'm not ruddy, but sunburnt!)