It’s been many years since I haven’t let an anniversary date of a loved one’s death upset me. Only a few years have gone by where I don’t hold a grudge against that certain day. Yet always, I recall the day with at least a twinge of an ache inside, astounded as each year passes, leaving an extreme gap between when I had my parents in my life and when I didn’t. I consider it to be two different lives really — the one in New York with both parents till age sixteen followed with the golden final five years I had with just my “Auggie Doggy Daddy” versus the other part of my life when I left NYC at twenty one to become the wife, mother and step grandmother I am today.
My mother’s been gone today for forty two years! That seems unfathomable until I think back to how young I was and how though I can still picture her and hear remnants of her voice, it’s very faded, like the blurred out pictures from Back to the Future. It’s sad but it’s also not. I’ve dealt with all the grief, and though I missed my mother terribly during those early years, it’s mostly my dad for whom tears will pour down on unexpected occasions.
I do have raveled strings to untangle from the way my mother parented. I mostly do forgive her, but sometimes some atrocity arises and digs at me. I don’t have the luxury of asking my mother why she did things a certain way since she’s obviously not around. This is why, if you have your mother or mothers in your life, ask her any questions or indignities you harbor now, before it’s too late.
I loved my mother dearly, and she was mostly a warm, affectionate mother. But there were the spankings and the good old yardstick that came out for minor league infractions. She nagged at me as to why I couldn’t get good grades like my best friend. She’d blatantly point out ad nauseum that said friend was nine months younger than me. As if this should have made all the difference. I know in my mother’s way it was meant to be a motivator. In fact I tried and failed epically to be more like P. For when I saw how P paid attention that September of sixth grade — with hands folded, listening intently — I copied her and was chosen nun teacher’s pet. And as a monitor, I tattled on someone and became the square root of 16 aka Goody Two Shoes aka Wetzel Pretzel*. The gut-wrenching psychological trauma of being bullied nearly every day for two years took away any determination to get better grades.
My mother was sympathetic and became my “soft place to fall” (1). Yet she didn’t try to boost up my self esteem in any way and neither for that matter did my older hip sister who lived in NYC and surely could have mentored me. I look at that twelve year old girl in the Catholic Confirmation outfit, with long stringy hair and acne who was subconsciously begging for someone to take her under their wings. Why didn’t my mother or my sister help me out? Mom was too frugal so haircuts were rare. My sister? I’m going to have to ask her.
As to mom’s frugality, it was so bad that this is where the latest dagger in my heart is coming from. When I was still in sixth grade, order forms were sent home for new uniforms! The colors would totally change from navy blue straight jumpers to red, gray and white pleated half jumpers. All my uniforms had been hand me downs from my mother’s friends daughters. Never once could I claim a brand new uniform. Here was my chance!
But mom had other ideas. The kids who had one or two years remaining at St. Anastasia** didn’t have to switch to the new uniforms. So guess who was one of only three in the entire grade to stand out like a sore thumb with an older old uniform while everyone else sported the brand new school uniforms? Oh yeah. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had no style and was already being bullied! It struck me recently as to how could my mother have done this to me? How could she have comforted me when I’d come home almost daily, rattled to the core, but not help me out a little bit by letting me feel normal? I want to make it clear that we weren’t destitute. We were a middle class family, albeit somewhat different what with my mother forty years older (which at the time was not very common) and my dad fifty three years older. Why couldn’t she have loosened her tight purse strings a little to help me out? How could she?
I’ll never know, and because I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure out some justification, I’ve decided that I today’s blog post is when I let go of the uniform issue. Maybe I should burst into “Let It Go” (2) but writing this will have to suffice. And most importantly, though I will never understand why my mother did what she did, I do forgive her. The uniform debacle doesn’t define the whole of our relationship.
So it’s fitting to let the issue rest along with my mother on this forty second anniversary of her death. I want to honor her also because today is International Women’s Day. Mom was a conservative Republican but with many Democratic tendencies. Though very much the traditional housewife of her times, she was also involved in helping others less fortunate, was a member of the League of Women Voters, and she had a strong empathy for people of other races and faiths. She had a healthy curiosity about gay people, who were mostly closeted back in those days. She knew of a gay man in our small town and never treated or thought of him any differently than any other man. And as a very strict Catholic, that speaks volumes for her character.
So here’s to you, Mom. I light a candle to honor you on this International Women’s Day. I know you loved me. You did your best. That’s all any daughter can really ask for. Wherever you are, I love you too and always will.
*Wetzel was my maiden name, and the term Wetzel Pretzel was a nickname I had early on in school. It does not refer to the pretzel chain. When bullied, the kids called out “Wetzel Pretzel” to me in a very taunting, sarcastic manner.
**I used the real name of the grade school I attended from K – 8 grade. I have moved on from the bullying days, and I hope the bullies grew up into better people. I should have never tattled, but the punishment the girl received was very trivial compared to two years of bullshit dumped all over my inner spirit. I was worth more than that and didn’t deserve to be harassed.
(1) This phrase was borrowed from Dr. Phil.
(2) “Let It Go” is a song title from the movie Frozen.