Today was my mother’s birthday, she would have been 89. She loved God, believed that God was with her all the time, but she also believed that God wanted her to be perfect. So, she spent much of her life miserable inside. She laughed, she played cards with family and later with friends, she cooked and fed half the world, she loved her family. But, in her eyes, whatever she did was never enough.
She was twice divorced, married three times, separated though never divorced from my father 20 years before he died. So she wasn’t a good wife. At least that’s what she thought. I grew up knowing her first husband because he was the father of my friends, although I did not know until just before her death that they had been married earlier. He was a strange critter, and I understand why she couldn’t be a wife to him. When my half brother David died, I spoke with his father, her second husband, and his voice was filled with nothing but love and caring for my mother. I have no doubt that she was a good wife to him. Unfortunately, he “chased the skirts.” But, my father, her Ditty (his name was Delayon), was her only true love. They dated when she was too young to leave the house alone with him. And, she flung him aside when he didn’t give her the promised watch for her high school graduation but a bracelet instead. Several years and two ex-husbands later, Lucy and Ditty did marry and eventually produced me right at the end of World War II. But, because they couldn’t live together, she thought she was a poor wife to him.
Her second goal in life was to be a good mother. My brother married his pregnant girlfriend at age 21 and died in an accident at age 22. I lived a dissolute life with two ex-husbands and a female partner. I had held too many jobs to be considered successful, and she worried that I would end my life as a bag lady. So, she thought she had failed at being a mother.
Her third goal in life was to be a good employee. She worked many years of her life as a faithful clerk in a 5 and 10 cent store making just enough to keep us alive. Then, she worked many more years in the office of a TV cable company. She began as bookkeeper and receptionist when the company only had two employees and the owner. The company grew until she was managing 10 office staff in a tiny open space with diverse work styles and no cubicles. She quelled arguments, dealt with irate customers, and occasionally just “lost it” with frustration. At those times she was convinced she was a poor employee.
So, she failed at the three things she considered to have meaning in her life.
But, I know differently. My dad was an alcoholic; no woman could have been a good wife for him, but he loved her all his life. She was his Lucy, his Sugar no matter what the state of his alcoholic brain.
My brother and I were blessed to have a warm kitchen filled with love and laughter. He and I struggled to find our way in the world without any role models that we could see. Mom taught me to love music about God, music about love, and to sing when I was happy and when I was sad. Mom taught me how to cook and I can make some of the best biscuits and cornbread you’ll ever eat. Mom taught me that God was always with me. Mom showed me that hard work wouldn’t kill you. And, when I burned the cabbage for the jillionth time, she still loved me even though we ate canned beans for supper. She laughed; she took us riding to see the places that had been important in her life. She introduced us to towns that were smaller than ours and people who loved her even though they hadn’t seen her in 20 or 30 years. Mom always wore good looking clothes. She stood on her stove and painted her ceiling in a dress and high heels, albeit with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
When she died, all the office staff of the cable company drove 70 miles to her funeral. They spoke to me of how she had taught them to get along with one another, of how she had taught them how to work with the public – and how she had taught them that it was okay to “lose it” sometimes. And, how they loved her.
In between all that, she welcomed all David’s friends and all my friends into her home. Boys whose parents were isolating or absent. Boys and girls a long way from home in college or the Air Force. She loved each one of them, listened to them, gave them a place to meet, fed them, rolled up her rugs and let them dance in her living room.
She could never understand why people were nice to her. She accepted my girlfriends even as she disapproved of my lifestyle. She did that with my husbands, too. She cried when she was hurt; she sang at all times; she laughed at the crazy turns of life, and she was willing to say at the end, “I’m afraid.”
She was not perfect as a wife, as a mother, or as an employee. She was a loving, caring, nagging, sarcastic, witty, woman who taught me to give people in need the shirt off my back and sometimes the shirt off her back, too.
I was relieved when she died – relieved for the bond between us to be broken for it was too tight, relieved for the release of her pain and fear, relieved that she didn’t outlive her money (with a little help from my partner). She loved me and I love her. I miss her at times, but I’m always grateful that she helped make me a person that I can love and I can say, “I’m the best Margaret that I can be.” Happy Birthday, Mom.