A Century

Today is my mother’s 100th birthday. When that occurred to me this morning I was stunned that I’d forgotten.

It’s hard to write something in “honor” of my mom, but she was my mom, for better or worse, good or ill, and as I’m a fairly decent person she must’ve done OK.

So here are the good things I got from my mom.

Love of nature. Although she didn’t go outside and “get her head on straight” (her words) a often as she should have, the moments we shared at Barr Lake east of Denver or hunting rocks in some random Montana farmer’s field were among the best in our relationship.

The ability to look around. This was important to her. She seems to have valued the skill of observation, the ability to pay attention. If I DIDN’T look around I got slapped. Maybe not the favorite childrearing stragedy but it worked. I see things all the time that others miss.

A high regard for a place like Monte Vista. My mom came from farming roots and small towns in Montana. As a result, I got to see those things and to learn how much they matter. This includes rodeo, ranching, crops all of the things surrounding me here that I love and have made me feel at home even though in a way — and forever — I am a traveler here.

An appreciation for history. Whatever history was to be seen and experienced on a family road trip, we saw and experienced it. This would be tiny sod-house museums left from pioneer times in Northern Nebraska to the old, decrepit depot in Littleton, Colorado — and more. She loved history and somehow, from this, I developed the desire to find a context for the present moments of my life. This includes curiosity about family.

She taught me to love reading and to appreciate travel.

Sense of humor? Maybe, though my mom said I didn’t have one. No one I know would agree with her, but while hers tended to be caustic, mine is only sardonic. I think my sense of humor is also darker than my moms, probably a gift from my dad.

She had her faults — she was an alcoholic, moody, mean, violent and she didn’t really like me, but through all that, I wouldn’t be a lot of the good things that make me me without her influence even her teaching.

Mom from Hell, Literally?

“My mom, my mom, I know you’re sick of hearing about my mom…” Eminem “My Mom.”

I read a blog post this morning that has engendered this response. Since I don’t think it’s fair to write long self-confessions as comments on someone else’s blog because it’s THEIR blog I’m doing this instead.

Rebecca Wallick, a retired attorney, author of “Wild Sensibility” today wrote a post about something she learned from her first pro bono client. It’s a compelling post and a good story. Like me, Rebecca had a narcissistic mom, and if you have also been so blessed you’ll understand how incomprehensible, hurtful and indefatigable those bitches can be. Rebecca wrote about her mom’s death.

As the responsible, good child in my family, it fell upon me to head up to Montana in the dead of winter, leaving behind my jobs for however long it was going to take to sort out what to do with my mom. She’d become suddenly very confused, and my Aunt Jo had taken her to the hospital. Mom was admitted. I was called. The docs were still trying to figure out what had happened. Ultimately [this is (one of) the funny part(s)] my mom had OD’d on Tums. She’d poisoned herself with excessive calcium self-medicating an ulcer.

The afternoon/evening before I left California for Montana, my truck broke down, my washing machine broke, I tripped over the door of my dishwasher and it broke. Even pushing the button 10 times wouldn’t make it run. A stray dog we’d taken in showed up with scabies and ALL six of my dogs had to be treated. My roommate and I had to buy and treat ourselves with Quell or Rid or whatever, too. My purse was stolen from my truck while we were parked at the vet. Yep. All that after I got the call about my mom.

I got to Billings just after a major snow dump — more than a foot — and though my aunts managed to collect me at the airport, they didn’t want to drive. I had my mom’s car and chauffeured people around Billings’ frozen streets, back and forth to the hospital. After ten days, my mom had to be discharged into extended care. I had to find her a nursing home. It snowed again, 18 inches total on the ground and more in open spaces and drifts. All in all, it had been a cold MF winter, 40 below for two weeks (the theory is that’s what drove my mom crazy but I think THAT happened long ago).

My mom hadn’t signed a power of attorney which meant that, compos mentis or not, she had to sign herself out of the hospital and into “the home.” I had to “force” her to do it. I found her a place. I then went to the hospital with the papers not knowing how in hell I was going to accomplish this. She’d already asked me one morning as I was helping her out of the bathroom, pulling up her diapers, if I was going to stay and take care of her. That moment was my first inkling of my real feelings toward this person, “I’d rather die,” I thought and it was the truth.

She was holding court — meaning entertaining visitors. She’d turned on all of her immense charm for them, the funny, sweet person she was to my friends, to strangers, to my second husband. Seeing me arrive, they got up to leave. My Aunt Jo and my Aunt Martha were already there, knowing what was ahead for my mom and for me. My Aunt Jo was right behind me. “We’ll wait outside, sweetie,” she said.

I put the papers in front of my mom and set forth the facts. “Mom, you have recovered enough that the hospital has to discharge you, but you’re not OK enough to go home yet. I found a nursing home for you two blocks from Aunt Dickie. It’s really nice and you’ll have your own room until you’re ready to go home.”

Her face darkened, every nuance of evil settled into her features. “I knew you’d do this to me,” she said, and grabbed the pen from my hand, signed the paper and said, “Are you happy now? You should stay here and take care of me but no. So you’ve finally gotten rid of me. Now get out. I never want to see you again.” The nurses came and, as I recall, had to restrain her.

It hurt, but I was OK with that. I didn’t want to see her again, either. Never, ever, ever.

At that time I didn’t understand the underlying dynamic of our non-relationship. I just thought I wasn’t good enough, and she was complicated. Thankfully the next day I would return to California, to my students, to my life.

Outside my mom’s room, I found my Aunt Martha waiting. Jo had gone home and Martha had stayed so I wouldn’t be alone when the ordeal was finished. “Jo went home to cook dinner,” said Aunt Martha

We sat together on a bench in the hallway for a few minutes. I was emotionally shot, I wanted to cry, but those Montana cowboys don’t cry, so I didn’t. In a way, what could have been better than my two aunts making sure they had my back and I knew it? It wasn’t like my mom was easy for anyone.

My Aunt Martha and my mom were less than a year apart in age. They’d gone through school together, same grade. They’d been best friends their whole lives until, not so many years before, they’d had a falling out and my mom had ejected Aunt Martha from her life. It didn’t diminish my aunt’s loyalty or love for my mom, but Aunt Martha kept her distance. My Aunt Martha and I had always been very close. From the time I was a little kid, I adored her, liked her, appreciated her, enjoyed her and it was mutual. I am certain my mom was jealous because she envied anyone who had anything that she (felt? imagined?) she did not. She always saw herself as having been screwed over by life while other people hadn’t. The narcissist is always the center of the world and is incapable of empathy or perspective.

“I even gave you my family!” my mom said to my Aunt Martha in that fated fight. My aunt had remained single all her life.

I felt the turmoil of inchoate emotions and exhaustion. When I’d collected myself enough to go back out on the icy streets in February’s dim dusk, we went home for supper. My Aunt Jo had cooked the supper I liked best when I was a little kid and had stayed with them one summer.

My mom died a few weeks later, and I went back to Billings to deal with that. By then my brother (who was homeless) had arrived and was staying at my mom’s condo. The funeral ensued, I got pneumonia, yada yada and the day came to go to the attorney with the will. I drove my mom’s (new) car downtown to see the guy. Here’s the second funny part.

In her will my mom left my alcoholic brother her new car. The whole time my mom was in the hospital she’d said, to me, to my aunts, to everyone, “Don’t let that boy (my brother) drive that car! He’ll wreck it!” In her will she left me both of her televisions. Great except that for some 20 years we’d fought over the fact that I didn’t own a television and didn’t want one. When I told my Aunt Jo, she about died laughing. Everything else was divided logically down the middle…

Fast forward 20 some years to this past Friday and my fall (“Notes Smuggled from the Bunker”), my head bump, my black eye.

I have thought for a while that my mom is still doing things to me. I think that even as I think that’s a completely crazy idea. But it was only a few days after I arranged to read from the China Book at the bookstore in Alamosa that an insidious hiding rock on a soft, safe, dirt and grass trail, did a long-term number on my foot that put me out of walking commission for more than 2 months. Just a DAY before the reading, I reinjured the foot in my own living room on NOTHING. “Mom???”

Friday, my head-bump fall came more or less at the same time my Aunt Martha’s platter arrived at my door.

I think I need an exorcist.

P.S. This song by Eminem is great, and, for me, illuminating, but also a little “colorful.” You’ve been warned. 🙂

…Legacy

My mom — who was born 98.5 years ago — taught school on the Crow Indian reservation in Southern Montana. She grew up on a farm only a few miles away from the Little Big Horn River and went to high school in Hardin, Montana. She was from a generation that still memorized long poems and she won a prize as a kid for reciting something.

In those days in Montana, teachers spent a year at Normal School, a year in the classroom, a year in school, etc. The year before she’d been in school, the year before that was her second teaching year in the one-room school at Warman, a tiny outpost on the reservation. In the photo, it’s the first day of school at Crow Agency. She lived in an apartment behind the Baptist Church in Crow, and she is standing on the steps of her apartment. It was the late 1930s, early 1940s.

She taught poems to her kids, and I’m sure she decorated her classroom to correspond with the seasons. She taught these two Helen Hunt Jackson poems for fall. Both create gorgeous, perfect images.

September
Helen Hunt Jackson

The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.
From dewy lanes at morning
the grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.
But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.
‘T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

…and October

“October’s Bright Blue Weather”
Helen Hunt Jackson

O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

My mom and I had a “complicated” relationship. I thought she was amazing, but it was an unrequited love relationship and we weren’t even friends. She plain didn’t like me. Still, there are so many small things like these poems without which my life would be diminished. I cannot see a wild aster without thinking, “Asters by the brookside make asters in the brook.” Though my brook is the Rio Grande, I’ve seen the wild asters reflected there. The vivid blue skies of October in the San Luis Valley evoke “October’s bright blue weather.”

These poems are the lens through which I have always seen fall, and I guess that’s a pretty good legacy to get from a mom. I might not have grown up loving poetry, I might not even be a writer, without this background music from my childhood. Who knows?

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/29/rdp-saturday-fall/

2 + 2

Rat IThe House Might Eat Tommy’s Ice Cream

Got THAT out of the way. I’m not at all interested in mnemonics, frankly. But I do know one and there it is. 🙂

***

In OTHER news it snowed last night. Here’s a photo of Bear in the snow. One of my friends pointed out the shadow, calling it Bear’s “Inner Wolf.” ❤

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mnemonic/

Poem for My Mom

The process of sorting and packing uncovers many surprises. I found this poem (I hardly ever write poetry) I wrote in 1996 when my mom was in the hospital about a month from death. Our relationship was difficult — she was difficult and very messed up, much more than I knew when I wrote this poem. I spent as much time as I could with her in the hospital. Otherwise I was driving or slogging through the snowy and icy streets of Billings, MT, looking for a nursing home where she could live after she was discharged. I loved my mom — but, as with many loves, it was not unalloyed with sadness and even hatred.

Helen

Winter light fades,
Short days shorten, then are gone
The last beam of a dogged sun
Bends ’round the pines
And drops.
You press my hand against your lips
And drift into sleep.
The afternoon slips away.
Tulips on the windowsill and get-well cards can’t stop
Anything.