25 May 2013
I was driving to the dermatologist's office on Wednesday when the song "Gloria" came on the mixed music station I was enjoying. My mom loved that song, but the quintessential song I think of when I think of my mom is this one, "Hey There, Georgie Girl," by The Seekers. It got me thinking about Mom, of course, and the fact that I've talked about her death but not too much more about her life or specifically about her as my mother. Since this blog will hopefully someday serve as a record of my thoughts and memories for the kids to read, I decided it was important to put those memories I do have of my mother down, here, to preserve for Chloë, Jack, and Sophia.
I don't have a ton of memories; my recollection is pretty sparse and jumps all around, so this recount will, too.
Oh, and last year, my dad gave me my mom's old jewelry box full of costume pieces. I can distinctly remember seeing some of the necklaces on her chest; going through that box was like opening the front door on a windy day. All the memories just kept rushing in.
Karen Joyce O. was born on February 17, 1951, to Arthur and Ruth. She was the middle child between two brothers. The older one, Arthur Nicholas, had died a week or so before his first birthday after suffocating in an apartment fire. Uncle Chris was the baby. They grew up in the Bronx, New York City.
Mom had very fair blond hair and bright blue eyes. I have the brown/brown combination of my dad, but my sister Stacey inherited the blond/blue genes. Stacey's older daughter, Karen Joyce after her grandmother, did as well, while Hanna Leigh has her dad's red hair. My kids have a blue-eyed parent (Rob) and a heterozygous dominant brown-eyed parent (moi), so they've all managed to end up with hazel eyes. They could each have blue-eyed kids, if they marry light-eyed spouses. Sophia and Jack are blondes, while Chloë has her parents' brown hair. I digress, but the genetics do interest me so.
I don't know very much at all about my mom's childhood. I know from pictures and my own memories that she always had a lot of freckles, like me. I don't know what her favorite color was or whether she was right- or left-handed. I don't know what she studied in college for the brief time she was there, and so I don't know what her favorite subject in school was. Simple things like that don't really matter much until you don't get the chance to ask.
My parents met when Mom was 19 and Dad was a 28-year-old divorcée (did I spell that right?) with a daughter, Pamela. They were introduced through a dating service and married exactly one year later, on June 19th, 1971. Stacey was born in April, 1975, and I came along 17 months later in September, 1976. I know my father was always disappointed he never had a son, but my mother doted on her daughters. In my dad's words, "She made it fun for me to be a parent."
My earliest memory is from when I was three years old. I was a happy kid then (my dad's nickname for me was "Joyous"), and I always wanted to say something but could never think of what to say. I'm still like that. It would go, "Mom?" "Yes?" "I love you!" over and over throughout the day. They never hushed me. So the memory - I was running, screaming with joy and laughter, with my arms stretched high over my head, down the hall from the kitchen to my shared bedroom with Stacey. I was smiling broadly and screaming with happiness. I don't know what spurred on that moment, but I can see me doing it vividly, as from a high corner on the opposite end of the room.
Soon after that, I started having these traumatic episodes. If I was sitting on the bed in my room looking up at the place where the walls met the ceiling, I could literally "see" the walls falling in on me. It was terrifying. I would sleep with one leg standing on the floor, so that I could run when the bed collapsed underneath me. This happened often; I remember at least a dozen episodes. When it happened at night, I'd run into my parents' room, screaming with fright. Dad would try to shush me and take me into the bed with them, but I would refuse. I knew it would just collapse. Mom understood; she took me out into the living room, sat Indian-style with me in her lap on the floor, and rocked me while singing hymns to me. It was the only thing that ever calmed me.
I can't specifically remember my mother's voice, but she was musically talented. She sang, and she played the electric organ. I want to say she did both at church, but I'm not positive. I remember that on Christmases, my grandparents would come to where we lived in Monroe, NY, from New Jersey, and my dad's Aunt Amy would come from Manhattan, and we'd celebrate in our little yellow house at 16 Cooper Drive. Mom would play the organ, and we would all gather 'round the organ and sing along. My dad, sister, and I, along with my grandfather, all sing well. My grandma and Aunt Amy did not have such talents, but who cared? We'd all belt out the Christmas carols Mom played, both religious and secular, and I can still hear it. Grandpa had a rich tenor - like my father - and his favorite was "Gloria." The other Gloria, not the one on the radio on Wednesday. I can hear the timbre of his voice colliding with my mother's tune on the keyboard, and it makes me wistful for those days.
The organ was a favorite plaything for Stacey and me. We used to fight over it. My mom, surely out of frustration from the constant bickering, used to set the timer for one or five minutes, and we'd take turns playing while she worked in the kitchen. One minute always seemed like an eternity when it was Stacey's turn, but my five minutes ended in the blink of an eye.
Mom put us in the corner a lot when we misbehaved. She didn't watch us in the corner, though. I can remember Stacey coming in to taunt me when I was in the corner, in our bedroom away from Mom's eyes, teasing me for being punished. Of course, there was no talking in the corner, so I couldn't tell!
My mother spanked us only one time that I can remember. I know Stacey and I were especially naughty that day, but I can't remember exactly what we did to deserve the smacks on the tush. Mom spanked us while we both lay in our beds, first Stacey and then me. I remember the feeling of her hand on my butt. She was an emotional mother like I am, and I remember Stace and I taking advantage of that: after the punishment was dispensed, we jumped up and down on our beds, fake-crying, "You don't love us anymore...!!!" I must have been about five then. I remember her apologizing and telling us that she certainly did so love us! And you can bet we never doubted it.
One Thanksgiving, my mother - an excellent cook - made a couple of pumpkin pies. It was Stacey's favorite, and while the pies cooled, she asked for a taste. My mother agreed to it, so while she cooked the dinner, I took a forkful of pumpkin pie to Stacey on the couch in the adjacent living room. I can't remember whether Mom was aware of it, but I ended up feeding my sister about half the pie in one sitting! She wasn't a big girl, either.
One time, my mom took us roller skating with some friends. I remember it was during a weekday, and Mom wasn't particularly skilled on wheels. I was scared, so she took me around the edge of the rink, holding my hand. A large woman came skating toward us, and the three of us smashed into each other and fell in a heap, with me on the bottom. I was fine, though disgruntled! Later in that outing, all the skaters held hands and got in a big circle on the rink to do the hokey-pokey. I don't recall anything else about it other than the fun we had.
Mom used to take us to the park to feed the ducks by a pond in town. I absolutely adored this activity. Now that I know how bad it is to feed birds breadcrumbs, I'm completely conflicted about letting my kids do it. I don't, but it bothers me they won't get those warm fuzzies from remembering doing it with me like I do with my mom.
For special occasions, like school pictures, my mother used to put my hair in curlers and make me sleep with them in, with a net around them. I hated that! I remember the rollers pressing into my head while I tried to find a comfy sleeping position. In the morning, my mother would style my hair, and this was the reason I let her put the curlers in in the first place: she did such a great job, and I thought I looked so cute. I was pretty fond of my own countenance in my young childhood; I always thought I resembled Molly from the musical Annie.
My Uncle Chris, mom's younger brother by four years, has always been a computer geek. He brought us Atari before anyone else had it, when it first became available. My mother's favorite game was Frogger. She was addicted to it! I was always so pleased for her when she got to the first level with the snakes on it.
All of us loved to play games. I grew up playing Uno with my grandmother and watching her and Grandpa have their nightly Skip-Bo matches during Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Grandma tried teaching me Bridge, but I never could catch on. So we played Gin Rummy instead, all the time, and you can bet we kept score. Grandma never let me win; I had to beat her fair and square. (I often did, about half the time.) I remember her playing Backgammon with my mom. When I thought of that, after she died, I'd ask Grandma to play Backgammon with me, too.
One time in Monroe, when we were about five and six years old, Stacey and I woke up in the middle of the night. I don't know what got us up, but we looked all over and could not find our parents anywhere in the house. Frantic, we were crying and screaming, looking all over the house for Mom and Dad. Then we heard their voices coming from their bedroom telephone, which was off the cradle. Picking it up, there they were on the other end, listening to us from down the road where they were playing cards with Fred and Lois O., our neighbors and their best friends. They had gone the few houses down after putting us to bed, to play games, and had left the phone off the hook in case we woke up. That was the 70s; I guess you could do that back then. I remember being pretty mad, though!
My mom worked as a secretary. One day in the summer, she was leaving for work. She was dressed to the nines from head to toe, with her hair done and her glasses and make-up on. For some reason (maybe it was her lunch hour, I don't know?), and Fred O. were outside in the backyard with Stacey and me. Fred picked my mother up and threw her - glasses, clothes and all - in our pool! Instead of getting angry, my mother thought this was hysterical, and we all laughed together for a long time about it.
Heather O., Fred and Lois' daughter, was Stacey's best friend. They had a younger son, too: Johnny. He was younger than I was. I was closer in age to Heather and Stacey, so the three of us would pal around in the neighborhood, running hill over dale all over the place, day in and day out. One day, we went to the construction site at the end of our road, and they built "pies" for me out of dog poop. I ate it. I don't remember how it tasted, but I remember eating their poop pies and thinking I was pretty dandy for doing so. We dug holes, deep enough for us to crawl into, in that site, too. And one time, outside in the middle of the road in front of our house, Heather and Stacey convinced me to pull down my pants and pee. As I did so, my mother came and looked out the front door at me. Oh, she shouted! She yelled! She had a fit!
We moved away from the O family when I was six, up to the Syracuse area. I don't remember a whole lot about that first year there. By the end of our first year, in April 1984, my mom wasn't well. We were Christian Scientists, so we didn't go to doctors. We had no idea what was really wrong with her. I wasn't ever aware of anything being wrong with her until that last weekend. She came home from work on Friday and went straight to bed.
I remember my mother calling out for me, repeatedly, to bring her water. After the third or fourth time of me putting the cup of water on her bedside table, I distinctly remember my dad telling me not to bring her anymore water; she didn't need it. (She did, though; the autopsy revealed she was an untreated diabetic.) I can remember her covered up, on the bed, with her pale arm reaching out for that water.
On April 9th, 1984, a Monday, my mom died. She was 33; I was 7½. She had come home from work, gone to bed, and never got up again. My father called the coroner's office, frantic, in the middle of the night. They whisked her out of the house in the dark; I never saw her again. I never got to say goodbye. When I woke up for school, a woman I knew from church walked into my room, pulled down the shades, and informed me that I did not need to go to school that day. She's the one who told us our mother had passed away. I can't remember if I saw my father at all that day.
It was an earth-shattering day for me. I'm still reeling, 29 years later. Oh, my God. She was a beautiful woman, a perfect mother, an angel on Earth. Remember that Billy Joel song, "Only the Good Die Young"? I can't hear it without thinking of her.
When things go wrong now with my own children, I think to myself what I want most for them to remember about their childhoods. And that thing, that thing I want them to hold most dear and precious to themselves, is that they grew up knowing how fervently Rob and I loved them. I want them to think happy thoughts about their youth; I want them to know they were loved; I want them to want to come and be with us as adults.
It's inevitable that there will be some unhappy times, some unhappy memories for them. I'm sure most kids have a few. The only happy memories I have from mine, save the holidays and summers I spent in NJ with my grandparents, were from those 7½ years between my birth and Mom's death. I cherish every single one; I crush it to my heart and hold tightly to it. I can remember her blond hair, so perfectly straight and soft. I can remember her crooked teeth. I can remember her sucking her thumb when playing house with us. I can remember her love.
I've mentally and emotionally put my mother up on this pedestal, which is not uncommon for bereaved kids according to my research. She is the anchor to my sanity; she is the reminder that I was born "Joyous." She is the mother I aspire to be like. I miss her so much. I miss her every day of my life.