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Bike with Mom

It was April 1984, and my mother was dying, so I drove up from Southern California to spend time with her. She was at home, as she had no desire to live out her remaining days in a hospital.

She told me that she had hired an iridologist for a reading and had paid for a reading for me as well, as an early birthday present. She invited me to sit in on her session.

The iridologist told my mother that the cancer was a result of hanging on to other people’s problems. In wanting to help them, she had absorbed their issues, causing a fatal internal imbalance.

Then, the woman explained that one eye tells the history with the mother, and the other with the father. She “read” that my mother’s father had been abusive. “Wow, she is way off,” I thought. Much to my surprise, I watched my mother gently nod.

My mother passed away the following month, and I was told she had been determined to forgive her parents before she died. Needless to say, t was just as determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. Here’s what I learned.

When she was six years old, her ten-year-old brother Dirk died from a rare form of anemia. She was heartbroken. She had not only lost her big brother, but her best friend, whom she adored.

Instead of providing comfort, her grieving parents (my grandparents) ignored her; she ceased to exist. She tried everything to get their attention. Once, when they approached a movie theater, my great-aunt Earline walked behind them.

“Little Janice reached up to take her father’s hand,” said Earline. “He pushed her away.”

They made her sit by herself in that theater, so they could be alone in their grief. She was six-fucking-years-old. My heart cries for that little girl.

I know now that my grandfather was behind it, and that my grandmother just followed his lead. His sister Opal told me that a few years earlier, my grandfather had punished Dirk for wetting his bed by making him stand in a cold shower. That poor boy.

No one who ever met my mother would have guessed she had experienced a traumatic childhood. Her bright smile lit up any room she entered. She wouldn’t just rise from a chair, she leaped up. She was generous, outgoing, and loving.

I wish I had known her story during my churlish teenage years, when I felt claustrophobic by her hugs. I would have understood that she wanted to make sure that her children never experienced what she did.

After her memorial service, one of her friends introduced herself, looked deeply into my eyes, and told me that I had my mother’s “spirit.” I smiled noncommittally.

In the liner notes of Natalie Cole’s album, “Unforgettable, With Love,” she wrote how angry she was at her father for dying too soon. I knew exactly what she meant.

I’m angry at my mother for not telling me. I understand now that she wanted to protect me, but damn it, I could have been a better daughter. There could have been healing conversations – for both of us.

I’m angry that she isn’t here to enjoy her grandchildren, sharing her love and creativity, and I have felt my brother’s pain in not being able to ask her advice.

Having her spirit has been my saving grace. After stress melt downs, it has provided me a quick recovery to keep moving forward.

There’s so much I want to talk with her about; so much to share. I wish we could meet for a drink.

My grandparents were so cool. As a child, I knew they were the parents of my parents, but I couldn’t connect those dots. They were older people who made me feel special, and introduced me to different perspectives.

This poem resonates with me, so I wanted to share it with you.

My Grandparents’ Generation

They are taking so many things with them:
their sewing machines and fine china,

their ability to fold a newspaper
with one hand and swat a fly.

They are taking their rotary telephones,
and fat televisions, and knitting needles,

their cast iron frying pans, and Tupperware.
They are packing away the picnics

and perambulators, the wagons
and church socials. They are wrapped in

lipstick and big band music, dressed
in recipes. Buried with them: bathtubs

with feet, front porches, dogs without leashes.
These are the people who raised me

and now I am left behind in
a world without paper letters,

a place where the phone
has grown as eager as a weed.

I am going to miss their attics,
their ordinary coffee, their chicken

fried in lard. I would give anything
to be ten again, up late with them

in that cottage by the river, buying
Marvin Gardens and passing go,

collecting two hundred dollars.

julie-jan-2-yearsThat I couldn’t get away with much, because she had already done it.

Laugh much.

Sew my own clothes when on a tight budget.

Be adventurous.

Don’t let the sales clerk sell you something you don’t need.

Attend all family events.

Washing the dishes includes wiping down the sinks and countertops.

Love unconditionally.

Too much sun causes melanoma.

What did you learn from your mother?

You Are A Classic

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