Oh, I knew who she was. Her face, her voice. And that I missed her a great deal once my parents were divorced. Throughout the years I did not have the usual, baby boomer family life. In my grade school classes, I was the odd duck, the kid with the divorced parents. When classmates looked at me, their faces seemed to imply, "Are you okay?"
No, I was not. I didn't understand why I wasn't okay. I did understand something was missing. And there was nothing I could do about it, except live with it.
After awhile, my classmates accepted me as their friend. For this, I am eternally grateful. Children adapt to the unusual in circumstances. Children are resilient. Thank God. Even children who have suffered through their parents' divorce are resilient, can adapt to their crappy circumstances, and get on with their life. That happens in spite of the missing piece of their heart, along with that feeling in their gut that they did something wrong to cause their parents to tear their family asunder.
It wasn't until I was fully grown that I began to know my mother. It was when she was frightened because of her memory loss, and confusion about things, when she asked me to help her.
She asked me to help her. That was huge. It was also an opportunity writ large, for me, to come to know this woman. In the sense of that verse in the Bible that says, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding." Proverbs 4:7.
Ah, there is the rub. Because to know her meant I must understand her. I must gain some insight into her life, her heart, her soul.
She too had seen her family torn, by the death of her own mother in 1929. My grandmother, Elvira, died of TB. She was a young woman, a mother to six daughters. My mother was only five when her mother passed. Her youngest sister was a mere two. Before 90 days had passed, my grandfather had remarried and he had agreed to give away his two-year-old daughter to missionary friends of his. Before she turned six, my mother saw her life completely turned upside down. Nothing was safe and secure as it had been. Nothing would be safe and secure for the next 42 years. Not until she met the gentleman who would be her business partner, and the two of them created a successful company. Only then.
Mom had always been a hard worker. She supported herself for the majority of her adult life. Inside her own ravaged heart she rarely loved. When she did love, she tried her best to control it. She would spoil into submission those she wanted close to her. I saw her fall in love twice, and twice those men died on her. Is it any wonder she placed a ring of armed guards around her heart? There would be no more gentlemen in her life. Even her darling son would move away, to restart his life with another woman.
What Mom had was that stubborn daughter of hers who stood in her doorway, casting a long shadow across the threshold of the life they had shared. The daughter only wanted to pull the shadow up to look under it. For four years the shadow grew smaller, and the understanding grew larger.
So much of the storytelling I do is based on the insights gathered from my time with Mom. Lying my head next to hers as she slipped away into eternity she gave me the best gift she could. She endowed me with a renaissance. For something of her went inside my soul in a way I cannot explain. Except to say, she is forever with me. For in every insight of every story, there she is, a piece of her life understood.