Daddy

Daddy

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and perhaps an alternative.

However, when he died, I saw this tendency to save and how far reaching its depth.  When Daddy passed away we found many souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of mementos of his life.   

My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out.  Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” in hopes that he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ seven years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought these were all things I would go through right away and look at often.  But, seven years had gone by and I had just found the strength to open the box.

Inside of this box were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essay’s, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, 8 ½ by 11, sealed with a piece of tape.  Enclosed, were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him and behind those were a clump of letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

As I unfolded this one pristine piece of notebook paper, I was transported, as I read my childish handwriting proclaiming my goodness all year and a love for a certain red cowgirl outfit.  Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, but a few were obviously chosen to be put away and remembered.

My Dad wasn’t always good at saying he loved us.  He wasn’t the sentimental, huggy, mushy type.  But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.

There were cards and notes his children had sent and precious letters to Santa that must have touched his heart.  Suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I love you.  I always loved you.”  And my heart sang back, “I know.  Happy Father’s Day, daddy.   I love you, too.”

Good Girls

Good Girls

 

For most of my life, my only parent was my Dad.  My whole viewpoint came from a male perspective and yet, instinctively I knew there was undoubtedly another way.

My dad, although his male view was domineering, tried to teach me what being a woman meant, particularly as he thought my mother might have wanted.

Mostly he guided me with a firm hand and lots of rules, some spoken…some unspoken.  On one hand, his rules protected me and on the other hand, they stifled me.  I was always led by what “good girls” did or didn’t do and by what my mother would have wanted, according to my dad.

Did he really know what she would have wanted for me?  Did he even want to know what she would have thought?  He always assumed he knew best, but would she have thought so, too?  I wonder.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, girls were given fewer choices or options for their lives.  It was always an unspoken rule that I would go to college.  It was acceptable to be a teacher or a nurse or a stay-at-home mother.  My dad always said two things about college:  1. You need to go to college so you can find an intelligent, hardworking husband.  2.  You need to go to college in case your husband dies and you have to work someday.

Marriage was the main goal for all “good girls” because of course, we could not be expected to take care of ourselves.  We needed a man.

Good girls wore a white wedding dress and meant it.

Good girls went to Church,

Cooked dinner every night,

Were well read,

Could dance,

Play tennis,

Played a musical instrument,

Held intelligent conversations,

Always looked attractive,

Were frugal with money,

Sewed,

Were good mothers,

And had some outside activity ie.  bridge, church groups or volunteering

 

Some of these rules have served me well.  In fact, all of these rules, in and of themselves, are wholesome and commendable.  But, what about life outside of the rules?  What about the un rules?

Follow your heart.

Dare to dream big.

Take a risk.

Think for yourself.

Say yes.

Try something new.

 

I know my dad did the best he knew how.  I know that now.   I didn’t think so for many years; in fact, my anger at him would sometimes squelch all attempts to understand him.  My anger believed he was stubborn, selfish and unyielding.

I’ve come full circle.  I can live by my own rules now and yet still be appreciative of his.  I can be compassionate instead of angry and see that his rules were just his way of showing me love and structure.  I realize he might have been frightened beyond measure to raise a daughter without my mother.  I can finally let him be himself and I can be me.  I can dare to dream big, take a risk or follow my heart.  After all, I know the rules…all of the rules and I am peaceful in that knowledge.  Once a good girl always a good girl?  Maybe.

 

Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

It’s almost Mother’s Day and for as long as I can remember, it has been a day occupied with countless emotions.

At times, I have approached this day with utter dread.  I dread the Hallmark card commercials and florist advertisements.  I scoff at those happy mother and child clichés, thinking how out of touch with reality they are.  Don’t they know that’s not the way it really is for some of us?

At other times, when my self-pity is at bay, I have so much joy and contentment.  I vividly remember my first Mother’s Day with my oldest daughter.  I recall opening the gift she and her dad had given me, an orange-flowered nightgown and robe.  We had a late big breakfast and later napped together on the couch.  I will always remember that feeling and have since had many, many lovely days with my girls.  I am amazed and proud and grateful to be a mother.

But, sometimes at the end of my Mother’s Day, I am suddenly taken aback.  I forgot her, I scold.  I forgot to remember that I am motherless.

I wish I could hire an investigator to find her, like the television show, Long Lost Family.  I fantasize that someone would locate her and we would have a wonderful reunion.  But alas, all inquiries stop short for the dead.

“Come on,” you may say, “It’s time to get over it…let her go.”  The reality is, this is “me” after more than sixty years of letting go.  I had no choice, except to do so, and now I can honestly say I feel contentment and even happiness despite the fact of her vacancy.  But, still….I miss her.  I miss not having a mother.  I feel cheated sometimes.

Every year I make a decision to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I do so by honoring her memory and acknowledging there is a glorious piece of her in me and in my girls.  She is with me, I know.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me.  They have clung to me all of my life.”  I certainly believe this to be true.  I may not remember my mother’s prayers, but I know she breathed them as she said her goodbyes; I know she whispered into God’s ear to especially watch over my brother and me.  I have felt her prayers all of my life.

Mother’s Day is unique for everyone.  Many of us honor the memory of our mothers.  Some of us are fortunate enough to have our mothers nearby and able to celebrate a day and a lifetime of love.

However this Mother’s Day looks for you, I pray that there are peaceful, loving thoughts and heart connections.  I encourage you to be the last to let go of a long, tight hug.  Whether your celebration is lavish and boisterous, or a quiet, respectful chat at the grave site, I applaud you.  Happy Mother’s Day to all mother’s everywhere.

Ode To A Motherless Daughter

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Ode to a Motherless Daughter:

It comes over me like a heavy wool blanket..it feels warm at first but then the denseness feels like an overpowering pressure that stops me in mid-breath.

This doesn’t happen every day, every week or month, but it will happen and when it does, it takes me by surprise, some 59 years later.  I walk by a mirror and glance up into my eyes and for a moment, I see that little girl whose mother is dead.  She didn’t go missing, or get lost or move away.  She left me in the most permanent of ways.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.

No one wants to be that girl without a mother.  No one wants to be singled out in such a brazen way, with pitying glances and pats on the head.  No one.

“She’s in a better place now”, they said.  “She’s out of pain”. I try never to say those phrases to anyone who is hurting, but I’m sure I have.  They slipped out of me because I didn’t know what else to say.  Me, not know what to say?  This is my area of expertise, but still….  My words are silent.

I remember hearing, “She’s in a better place”, but inside  I was screaming, “isn’t her better place with me?..wouldn’t she rather be with me”?

Me

Us

I’ve been saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, but in reality, there was an us.  My Dad, my brother, and I.  I was four and my brother was eight when our mother died.   I know my brother still feels the effects of growing up without a mother.  I will have to let him have his own story, but I wanted to acknowledge ‘us’, even though no matter how many are affected, it always comes down to one.  The ‘me’ in all of us.

Pink spongy rollers and pin curls

My Dad tried.  He tried to keep me clean, dressed and my hair looking presentable.  There’s evidence of this through photographs with my bangs trimmed unevenly, a homemade dress from my Grandma and a fake smile on my face.

The truth is, I looked motherless.

I felt motherless.

And I knew everyone could tell.  I hated that.

Enter, my first bout of shame.

As a female child without a mother, I felt such shame that actually I could feel it throughout my body.  I was ashamed.  Ashamed of how I looked, how we lived and who I was.  It makes no sense to me now, as an adult.  Why should I have been ashamed?  I did nothing wrong.  But as a small child with so many fears and doubts about everything, I felt shame.  I had no one who stepped in to help me grieve or question me as to what I was thinking or feeling.  We were all in this together….alone.

It’s hard to explain.  As Rosie O’Donnell said once, “it’s the dead mothers club.  You’re initiated, you get the tattoo and it’s not going away.”  And sadly I might add… You are a lifetime member.

I don’t want to end this story on such a sad note, for you see, that is not totally who I am.

Oh, I still have the fear and the overshadowing feeling that everyone else knows the secrets to life, except me.  

But, through the years, I believe my God and my mother have sent me guardian angels to light my way.   I’ve had a grandmother, my best friends’ mother, a favorite aunt, even sometimes a loving stranger who stepped in with a kind word or encouraging hug.  I’ve been blessed with daughters of my own and the best girlfriends in the world.

I have a posse of women who nurture me and love me and help me to know I am enough.  And finally now, at 63 years old, I am able to look up into the heavens and not question why, but with a smile in my heart, I am grateful for this life and all I have been given, all I have learned.

Sometimes, my little grandson will look up at me, eyes searching for mine, and smile and kiss my hand.  I just melt inside and wish my mother could see him.

I think she does.

Martha Margaretha

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Martha Margaretha

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from my Grandma.  She was also my source of information on becoming a woman, wife, and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my Dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

My Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were very poor and she grew up working hard and only completing the 3rd grade.  Martha Margaretha, (her given name) although coming from humble beginnings, always wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes, and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out while working tirelessly to make it come together.

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Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In my Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using, and she had the most fabulous face powder in a box.  I think it was Coty Airspun loose face powder or maybe Lady Esther, I’m not sure.  But, what I am sure of is the sweet fragrance and the way my Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged her or kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

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The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces, and broaches, most of which, came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little Cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet oh so glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories!

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once while visiting her in ‘the home’, someone gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After they left, she turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

Yes, Grandma, it is.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  Most of you that know me, know I usually adhere to Grandma’s two main beauty rules:  lipstick and earbobs!  Martha was true to herself and lived her life by her own rules, that’s for sure.  As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.

 

 

My First Lie

 

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I remember distinctly the day I told my first lie.  I was in first grade and Miss Hooper had let my friend and me go down the hall to get a drink at the water fountain.  We held hands and our ponytails swung back and forth as we made our way down the hall.  We were quietly chatting and my friend suddenly turned to me and said, “You always talk about your Daddy; don’t you have a mother?”

 

I will never forget that moment.  I absolutely froze inside and panicked.  I blurted out, “Of course, I do!” and quickly changed the subject.  You see, I didn’t want to be different.  I didn’t want to be that girl without a mother.  I was living a double life already….painfully motherless in most of my life and in denial with made-up stories in the other.

 

I knew deep in my soul that someday I would have to tell the world, my little world, the truth.  My mother was gone and she wasn’t coming back.

 

No, I didn’t tell my friend the truth that day and it would be years before I could actually say the words out loud.  But something changed within me that day and I was never the same.

Hand Over Heart

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After my mother died, my Dad needed help raising my brother and I.  It was the 1950’s and we did not use the term “Nanny”.  My Dad hired Mrs. Fish as our housekeeper.  

 

Mrs. Fish, or ‘Fishie’ as we called her, lived with us during the week and was off on weekends.  She cooked, cleaned, washed, got us off to school and was there when we got home.  She was there when I lost a tooth, learned to ride a bike and sold Girl Scout cookies.  She cared for us and we grew to depend on and care for her.

 

This picture was taken soon after Fishie came to live with us.  I am struck by the timidness and uncertainty I felt…my shyness still palatable.  But, I see something else, something special. This woman, who came to work for an overwrought widower with two small children, put her hand over my heart.  This simple gesture said so much.  It was a promise that made me feel safe and cared for.  It was an outward sign of a caring soul.

 

Fishie lived with us for six years.  Although we lost touch through the years and she has long since passed away, I would very much wish for her to feel my gratitude.  I want her to know how much I appreciated her protection…her hand over my heart.  In her simple and kind ways she guided me and guarded me and for that,  I will always be grateful.