(My uncle and my Mom.)
My Mom hated having her picture taken.
The truth of the matter? She was terribly self conscious of severe scarring on her face caused by acne. Her acne was so bad that she was a member of a study at UCLA in the 50’s to treat severe acne – they’d do prolonged radiation exposure to the affected area (i.e., the face/neck) – to the point that they’d actually burn the skin, then when it blistered – they’d scrape the skin and acne away. If the acne came back – they’d repeat. My Uncle told me once that she would lay in her bed after these treatments and whimper – afraid to cry because the tears would feel like rivers of fire going down her face.
It would be lovely to say that she grew out of that self-consciousness as a young lady – but it wouldn’t be true. As a woman in her 50’s she was still as self-conscious of her complexion.
It’s sad – because she was truly beautiful.
Her most pronounced feature?
A smile that could outshine the sun.
She loved to laugh.
She loved to love.
She loved Jesus with all of her heart – and that kinda spilled out into every pore of her body.
But she went through a long period of rebellion before she came to peace with God. Nothing wild or shocking – just open opposition to the things of God. Probably not wise to say “just” – that’s a pretty profound stance to take if you have any understanding of Who God is – and who we aren’t.
While still in her years of rebellion – much to her parents’ dismay, she met a young man from Mississippi at a New Year’s Eve party. He was charming, unassuming, kind, and genuine.
They eloped 21 days later.
My Grandparents were outraged!
(Serving as Best Man and Matron of Honor at a friend’s wedding, with my cousin who served as the flower girl.)
One of the first things Mom and Dad decided was that they loved kids and wanted some! They went through five miscarriages, and they lost twins at delivery before I was born. The doctor told my Mom that if she got pregnant again, they would schedule her for abortion – it was obvious to him that she was incapable of carrying a baby to term.
Very unexpectedly Mom realized some months later that she was pregnant again. She reluctantly scheduled the appointment with the doctor for the abortion. As she was driving there she began weeping uncontrollably. She found she couldn’t drive safely any longer, pulled over to the side of the road, looked up, and realized she was in front of a church. She got out of the car, went into the church, and finding it empty, approached the altar and poured out her heart to a God she’d rejected up until that time.
The only Bible story she could remember was the one of Hannah who desperately longed for a child and promised to dedicate her child to God if she be blessed with one. Mom made that same pledge, humbled her heart before God, and knowing peace for the first time in her lifetime, she left the church.
One more stop on the way to the doctor’s office was at a toy store – where a stuffed teddy bear was purchased for this baby that she believed she would carry to term. His name is Ted, by the way. Ted E. Bear. Got it?
When she arrived at the appointment she informed the doctor that she disagreed, she WOULD carry this baby to term, and she would be finding a different doctor.
You gotta remember this was 1963 – that was pretty unheard of. And she was kind of a wimp when it came to confrontation – so it was, she reported, Power that didn’t come in or of herself.
So… I was born. At 10 months gestation. They put my poor Mother in the hospital for the whole last month of her pregnancy because they were so afraid something would go wrong. She said it nearly drove her nuts!
I was born on New Year’s Eve at 11:59 am.
I was born to two parents who couldn’t love me more. I have NEVER doubted that at any point in my life. I had four doting Grandparents, and one doting Uncle on one side of the family, and one doting Aunt other side of the family.
Interestingly enough – after I was born – it seemed the baby making capacity was fixed or something. Just two and a half years later my brother was born, then two years after that my sister, and then two years after that my other brother.
(My Mom and my Grammy – about 1964, I think.)
(Mom, Gram, and me!)
(A watermelon eating contest with the cousins.)
I have a lot of cousins – and my Mom loved that. My Dad had an aunt who was 2 years older than he – and she had her husband had four children – the eldest of whom is about ten years older than I. My Mom’s Aunt was only 5 years older than she was, and that aunt had three kids – the oldest of whom is about 8 years older than I am. Then my Aunt had four kids – the oldest of whom was 7 years older than I. There were always kids around. That so floated my parents’ boat.
We had Easter Egg Dying parties at Easter time. We had watermelon eating contests when melons were in season. We had picnics in the yard. We went to Disneyland – a lot! We went to the beach – a lot! We had water fights galore. We blew more bubbles than one could begin to fathom. We played together – seemingly all the time. I kid you not when I say that those days are tinged with gold, laughter, and the sweet smell of my Mom’s Shalimar perfume, and her infectious smile.
(My Mom and my Aunt – with me. Doing what they did OFTEN – laugh! Aren’t they beautiful?)
(Mom with my baby sister. How’s that for a pink room?!)
(Mom, my brother, and I – he and I having never tried out snow before. I was HORRIFIED it was so pretty but so STINKING cold!)
My Mom and Dad moved us to Oregon when I was 4. My Aunt and Uncle had moved shortly before we did – so there was family. Other family followed eventually. It was pretty cool. I have the most amazing memories of the crazy costumes that Mom and my Aunt would put together for us at Halloween. Mom was so imaginative – and so NOT crafty.
Over the years our home was the place where all of the kids wanted to come and hang out. My parents were a major draw – they just had this knack of loving unconditionally. I have great memories of Vacation Bible School in the back yard, neighborhood hide and seek with as many as 50 kids from the neighborhood playing, day trips to the beach or Multnomah Falls or Champoeg Park.
Mom had this crazy little book – I wonder if I might have it stashed away somewhere – that had off the beaten path trips to take throughout Oregon. I think it was published in 1960 something. She planned – scrimping and saving along the way – amazing fun outings for us and as many cousins as we could cram in the car to go along with us.
(Mom with some of her grandchildren.)
From the time her first grandchild was born, Mom started planning the trips she was going to take – with a boatload of grandchildren in tow (but they had to be potty trained first) each year.
She’d pack as many as seven kids in the car – and drive from Oregon to Yosemite.
Or she’d take them on a cruise to Alaska.
Or she’d taken them to Disney World.
Or she’d take them to the Grand Canyon.
She was a really cool Grandma.
She was also my best friend, when it comes right down to it.
It wasn’t always that way. We had our teenage angst kind of issues. But when my Dad was diagnosed as terminal, we went through a refining of sorts – becoming pals.
I believed that my Mom would live – well – pretty much until she was about 100. My Grandmother was certainly working toward that mark! I was convinced Grandma would live to 100 and then die of food poisoning – UGH! – the stuff she’d eat!
I never in a million years dreamed that they’d die just shy of a year of one another – or that the last months of Mom’s life would be marked by two debilitating forms of dementia – Lewy Body Dementia and Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementia. The FTLD is known to be associated with prolonged radiation exposure that occurred anywhere between 40 and 60 years prior to onset. Remember that acne treatment? Yeah.
But it also has its moments of absolute hilarity.
One of these days I’ll share some of the hilarity. There are stories… LOTS of stories.
I really consider myself privileged to have been my Mom’s primary care giver. What a gift every single stinking moment was – even the sucky ones.
Cause you know what? I even miss the dementia version of Mom – not the real Mom. There were still glimpses of her – maybe shadows of who she had been – and I loved God more for each and every one of them.
I could go on and on – oh wait! – I’ve already done that! But let me close with one of my favorite dementia interchanges with Mom.
Toward the end when it was no longer safe to keep her at home with us, she lived in an assisted living memory care facility. I would go and visit her at least daily, sometimes more. One day she wasn’t feeling so great, she was lying in her bed, and when I walked in she held her hand out to me. I took her hand in mine and said, “Hi Mommy, how are you?”
“Not so good today.” She answered in her dementia sort of way.
“Oh yeah? How come?” I asked.
“Don’t know…” she answered – obviously distracted.
For a while she stared at me with quite a lot of concentration and consternation and I finally asked her, “Do you know who I am?”
She looked at me for a while, then took her index finger, tapped her lips, scrunched up her face a bit (which, if you know dementia patients – those facial muscles are not always so responsive!), and then said, “I’m not sure, but I think you must be a really, really good friend of mine.”
And then she smiled her famous smile.
And I said, “Yes, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.”
I miss my Mommy.
But I’m so glad she’s in Heaven!