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A couple of Sundays ago was Mother’s Day and I had a happy one. In the afternoon, family members came over for dinner, which they brought with them. They had gone to my favorite Italian restaurant and picked up some take-out. As per my request, I received a bowl of minestrone and a platter of good, old fashioned spaghetti. I was one happy Mama, I can tell you.
Sometimes I feel very Italian, despite the fact that, to my knowledge, it’s not one of my blood strains. After all, it wasn’t until last year that I learned that my mother’s father was Irish. He wasn’t born in Ireland, but his parents were. My mother’s mother was pure Welsh, and Mama was very proud of the fact. They were all Vermonters too, another fact Mama relished.
For reasons best known to her, she never acknowledged her Irish heritage. My grandfather might never have existed as far as she was concerned and questions about him were discouraged. We were warned never to bring up his name when around our grandmother. I can’t say I was ever even mildly interested or curious. We had one grandmother in our lives and that was fine. We knew we had another grandmother and grandfather, but they lived in Maine and my father was estranged from his family, so our chances of ever meeting his mother and father were pretty remote.
I guess I was a strange kid. Being number five in a family of seven siblings with eight years separating me from my predecessor, I was almost alone on Center Stage until my brother came along five years later. He and I were close, and I adored my older brothers and sisters, but my parents did not hold the primary position they would have held if I had been born in a different sequence.
I had a lot of living and fussing from everyone, and, best of all, a lot of teaching. By the time I reached kindergarten I could read and write and spell. Of course, when my older brothers started leaving home I was devastated. There went half my mentors.
Talking with my son on Sunday was a time of revelation and some long past the time insights. He started asking me questions about my mother. I realized that I knew more about her before she was my mother than I did when I was her child.
I left home when I was seventeen, so we didn’t have the normal mother-daughter relationship during my teen to twenty years. My teens were never normal, anyway. I graduated from high school at age fifteen and went to work in a steamship company. The war was on, all the men in the family were away fighting it, and I didn’t feel it right to go immediately into college.
When I was working in New York, I naturally lived at home, but I never really participated in what was left of the family scene. I actually was secretly saving every penny I could, so that, when I felt ready, I could leave and go to California, which I did at seventeen.
My mother never questioned my decision. Maybe she was happy to see me leave, who knows? No, that’s unfair. Now I can fully realize that she was doing me a wonderful favor. She knew how long I had dreamed of heading west on my own, and she was allowing me to live the dream. She also was giving me the feeling that I had nothing to fear and I would be successful.
Talking with Bruce, I realized that I had never given my mother the proper respect or even understanding. He made me see what a living, kind person she was. If my fierce demand, from an early age, for independence of action and thought ever worried her, she never let me see it.
I look back now, on Mama, with a degree of sadness and regret. Not guilt, because she taught me that guilt was ineffectual. I’m glad she had my sister, Susie, who was more like her and with whom she could be close. I know she had trouble understanding me, but it was okay – she loved me anyway. I’ve had trouble understanding her, but thanks to one of my own children, I’ve finally reached a better point and can say it really was, in the best sense, Happy Mother’s Day.
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