Tell us about your mother.
My mother was a very complicated person. I loved her very much, but sometimes our relationship was very difficult.
My mother grew up in a family of nine children in rural south central Virginia, the the third daughter and the fourth child. She was an active, outgoing child. When she was about 7 years old, her older brother accidentally chopped off the end of her index figure with an axe but it never seemed to affect her. She went on to become a legal secretary in the days of manual typewriters. She attended a small rural school and played basketball and ran track and was an average student. She loved to bake and her job in the family was to bake the cake for Sunday dinner each week. She had a stubborn streak and showed it in school in the subjects she had to take. Apparently she had to take chemistry and Latin against her wishes and she told the principal she wouldn’t do well in them and she didn’t, but did well in her other subjects. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and then attended business college in a city about 100 miles away from home. From there, she got a job in that town as a legal secretary and lived in a boarding house. It was a university town and she had plenty of dates and enjoyed herself there.
She met my father through her best friend, who had married my father’s brother. She came to New York to visit her friend and and met her friend’s brother-in-law. They began a long-distance romance, writing letters and visiting several times, and married about 18 months later. My mother moved 700 miles from her family to live in New York State with my father, a school teacher. She worked as a secretary until she became pregnant with me, and I was born a little over a year after my parents were married.
My mother felt very isolated with a small infant in a flat in New York as my father went off to school and she was left home with me. She went through a depression. I remember her saying, “Your father went off to school and you would cry and I would cry.” A year and 16 months after I was born, my brother Patrick was born. By then my father had built our house on land that we owned. In fact my mother was painting the back hall when she went into labor. He was a good baby and much loved. But 10 months later, my sister Joanne came long. Babies born less than a year apart were referred to as “Irish twins.” Three small children under the age of three was a bit much for my mother to handle. We lived in the country and had only one car so my mother was pretty isolated with us children unless she bundled us up and took us with her to take my father to school in the morning so she could have the car to go grocery shopping. Then shopping with the three of us was a nightmare. So my father did most of the grocery shopping on his way home from school and most weeks my mother didn’t leave the house except to go to church on Sunday or to see my grandparents. She had no friends except for my aunt, her friend, whom she saw at my grandparents. Our early years were difficult for her. We had a vegetable garden and she canned the vegetables from the garden so we had vegetables from the garden all winter long. I didn’t know that you could buy green beans or carrots at the store until I was in high school. I thought they came from the garden or from the cans in the root cellar.
When we went to school, we got second car and my mother joined the Mother’s Club at school (like the PTA) and the Women’s Club at church and began to make friends. She was my Girl Scout troop leader and took me to piano lessons and took my sister and brother to lessons and scouts, too. She was very busy but we always had a hot family meal every night for dinner. She also sewed many of our clothes. We wore uniforms for school but she made our dresses for Sunday. My mother was very outgoing, as was my brother and they were very close, but I was very shy and introverted and she was always pushing me to be more outgoing and so we clashed quite a bit on that issue. My sister was outgoing, too, but was my father’s favorite. I was content to sit in my room and read. That was always a thorn in my mother’s side. I also liked to draw and paint. When I was 5, my father enrolled me in a children’s art class at the art institute. I loved it. I got yo draw and paint and loved the small of the room. But my mother wouldn’t let me go back after the semester was over because she said I could draw and paint at home.
I was a very good student and studied very hard to be at the top of my class. My brother was also a good student but didn’t have to study. My sister was a terrible student and wouldn’t study. My mother was constantly at school fighting with the teachers, trying to get them not to compare my sister to my brother and me. When it came time to go to high school, I went to a Catholic girls’ school on scholarship and my sister went to the local public school. That helped the competition part, but my sister was still a terrible student and caused my mother a lot of worry. My mother had a terrible temper and during high school and my college years we clashed about many things.
I went away to university on scholarship and my mother said she never worried about me because she couldn’t do anything about me anyway. My brother went to university in town, and my sister went to community college about an hour away. I got married right after college and moved about 100 miles away. I tried to see my parents every 6 weeks or so. My mother would have liked to see me more frequently, especially after I had my daughter, but she and my husband did not get along. After my divorce, I went to see them once a month. We still clashed about a lot of things but after my father died, and she developed rheumatoid arthritis, I came up once a month to help her with her bills and medical expenses and sort them out. I know she appreciated it. My brother still lived with her but he was always busy and my sister was busy with her four children and didn’t have much time for her. My relationship with my mother was much better as she aged. I understood how hard it was for her that she couldn’t get around because of her illness and it really upset her and she was in pain most of the time. I wish I could have done more to help her but I did all I could.
My mother wrote a letter before she died and gave it to me to read. She said that she had doen the best she could as a mother and that she was sorry for the mistakes she made and asked us to forgive us. I told her the letter wasn’t necessary, that we knew that. I think she tore the letter up because we didn’t find it after she died rather suddenly after Christmas in 1991.
There are still times when I’d love to talk to my mother. I’d like for her to know her great-grandchildren. She would be so proud of them. And I hope she’d be proud of me. I’m proud to be her daughter.