My mom, Maylou, died on the same day as my sister, her eldest daughter. Neither passing was unexpected, mom was 90 and failing and Nan, while only 68, had suffered for many years from early onset Parkinson’s and other body-slamming conditions. She knew it was time and said her goodbyes for several weeks and ended on a high note. But all the while she was taking her leave, her way, she kept insisting that she and mom were leaving on the same day. Now this from a woman who, when she was pregnant with her only child, swore to anyone who would listen that she was Going to have this baby ON her birthday. She did. The women in this family are legendarily strong-willed and probably possess a little bit of the witch in them coming from mom’s New Orleanian background. And so, while thunderstruck with loss, and comforted by coincidence now, as Paul Harvey would intone, Here, Is the Rest of the Story
Mom and Mim
I have always had the most unusual dilemma in trying to describe my “family” throughout the years. While having had the standard-issue mother and father (and I suppose, sister) that we are all given at birth, I had the great fortune to be provided with yet another complete set, well not complete to begin with in that this family, with all its complications and confusions, came later.
My mother, Miriam (Mim), was born in 1912, as was my father. That is an amazingly long time ago and was so even when I was born in 1952. Hence there was an immediate disconnect from the filament that was supposed to adhere and connect us for life. The sister, nameless for this tome and essentially inconsequential to this tale, was already around and positioned in the family as the elder child. I would forever be the interloper, scene-stealer, attention-getter, and all-around extraneous unit to this already warped and twisting mid-century defined family.
Mim tried the “stay at home mom” avenue but it was not an obvious choice for her, an educated and ambitious woman from the get-go. She went back to work when I was quite small and eventually founded and ran an elementary school which I attended through the 8th grade. As the principal’s son and the titular “head” of the highest grade class throughout my tenure there (she added a grade every year to keep me there, try that on for a smother-mother by definition), I had an unusual schooling, to say the least, but that’s fodder for another essay.
And then came the Freek Show next door. Down the lane, a family of French and Greek origins moved in, hence the term Freek, and life as I knew it would be forever altered. Living in the country, we had our small coterie of nearby friends, our animals, the fields to play in, the woods to roam the creeks to explore but now, WOW, there was a real honest to goodness zoo in the “hood”!
These people were great! I’m sure they were filled with as much shy gawky self-loathing as any of us children were but they had a cohesive unit that seemed to be everything that I longed for and didn’t have. Siblings of similar age to challenge and learn about life from, parents who seemed larger than life itself and who were willing to let their children run and scream and go wilding in the fields for hours on end.
For a shy inwardly directed child this was nirvana. Or hell. The jury was still out.
And heading up the roost was Maylou, mom as she was naturally know to her growing herd and the “mom” who I would eventually seek out and claim as my own as time and years passed by. Hence my dilemma.
I had a mother but I wanted a mom. What to do?
,As the years began to unfurl, the newly minted family down the lane kept growing. Helene was only 3 when they appeared but now there was another, Christopher, and then, surprise, another, Mimi. It seemed to me that mom had plenty of time, love and food to go around so why couldn’t I simply slip in, unnoticed, and claim a permanent spot in this fantastic menagerie?
I did just that. Somewhat consciously, but more with a desperate shy ambition to belong to something more than I had, something outside myself that would allow me to become more of myself than the stultified version that my last century oriented birth family seemed able to comprehend no less foster.
Thankfully my instincts were correct and mom had the grace and patience to allow me to slip in beside her own and take up surreptitious emotional, if not physical, residence in my family of choice. Through her example of loving affection and patient parenting, my pseudo-siblings and I learned about unconditional love, acceptance, change, growth, rebirth of the soul, and the continuity that creates history, place, and time.
Mim also had courage and love throughout this multi-decade ongoing saga of trial and error we call our lives. She allowed me to engage fully with this other side of my life and while technically providing the proper parental obligations she, in large part, ceded my emotional soul and its resultant growth to the “new kids on the block” and 60 years later we have the underpinnings of what is known as a family.
The many ensuing decades are filled with a tapestry of experiences that unfolds like a well-worn quilt to comfort us on chilly gray days.
But this is a tale of Mim and Mom.
Throughout the years “mom” and I had a quandary as to how I should refer to her. I think she secretly liked the mom moniker but she and Mim were friends and neighbors and there was a generational respect for each other’s territory that, in the use of the term “mom”, implicitly was crossed in some fashion.
One year, after the family had relocated yet again to Pennsylvania, I had come home from California to spend a holiday with family. After spending a week with the Mim family of birth, “mom” came to pick me up in Maryland and take me home with her. There was a most unusual gathering in the living room of Mim, “Mom”, and me. These two women who loved me, one who was sadly but graciously letting me go off with the other who excitedly but quietly wanted me all to herself for a while as well. I was thunderstruck by the good fortune I had to have these two extraordinary people as my mentors in my life.
I have carried that moment with me throughout the ensuing years knowing that it was as crucial in my maturation process as a disciplinary smack is to a toddler who is running into a street or playing with fire. More so, it came from a form of pure love and grace that few of us are privileged to witness no less comprehend and that it is the truest meaning love.
So mom and I worked out our nomenclature conundrum. In all her correspondence to me over the years she always signed off as “Love, Mrs. Mom”, a nod to the formality owed to the parents of playmates and a concession to the status we both knew she held.
Mim passed away many years ago now.
Mom’s letters all ended with; Love, Mom after that, as they should.