1.17.2010

What My Mother has Seen, on her 80th Birthday

I can only begin to imagine what my mother has seen and lived through in her now 80 years on this planet. I know some it because of the part that I have lived through with her, since I am her first and eldest child.

I am nearly 60, so we've been together for a very long time. She had me when she was 8 months into her 20th year. I was unplanned. She was unmarried. I don't know how it happened except she used to joke about the back seat of a convertible. My arrival was something else that my father wouldn't talk about. He did the right thing and married her seven days before I was born, though.

Justice of the peace. Nothing fancy. Mom did say her mother in law was totally against the marriage. I'm not surprised, my grandmother never liked me either and I was an innocent.

I am blessed with having had two parents all of my life. I wondered many times if they loved each other or if it was duty and me, and then my sisters, that kept them together. My mom often said it was the later. Yet almost 60 years and they still share the same roof. The roles are now reversed. My mom the ultimate caretaker ,is the one needing care. My father, the provider, has become the caretaker all the while worrying about his own mortality. He is facing 82 years, later this year. He diligently
takes care of her now.

But my mom, lives vividly in my memories. My sisters never saw the baseball player. The one who played baseball, not softball. The one who taught me how to pitch softball, hours of practice in the backyard. My mother, who reveled in the company of women, and still managed to be the perfect wife for my very traditional father. She taught me tennis, too. We'd take wooden racquets and go up to Walnut Hills High School and practice weekly.

She never missed any of my games, no matter what sport I played She was always there and I could always hear her above the crowd noise. When we lost, which was rare, she
would tell me...”don't like losing....then don't lose....get better.” That's the way I approach everything....I don't like losing....so I strive to get better....always...still....

My sisters never saw the roller skater. The one who would load up her girlfriends in the car and drive to Indiana to a skating rink, on Tuesday nights, to spend the evening
dancing on skates, only to have to run home and be there by midnight. Midnight was her curfew time, set by my father. She had one. I knew this because I saw her miss it once. The girls wanted to stay longer and she said okay. I wonder if they ever found out what kind of trouble she got into for a few more minutes of fun.

Dad skated, too. He just never made the trips to Indiana, and he looked awkward on wheels when he did put them on.  I often wondered if he knew about those trips before she broke curfew. I did. His skates were black and kept in a purple metal case. My mom rolled on Chicago wheels, with white leather uppers, and she kept them in a light blue case. I always wanted skates like hers, and got them. They were my prized possession along with my left handed baseball glove, when I was a kid.

When mom got done with skating, she took up bowling, at Friscos Lanes on Pebbles Corner on McMillan. Thursday night ladies league. My mom was so good that she finished
second in a statewide amateur tournament. She rolled a high game 222, beaten by a 223. These women on her team were good. I wanted to grow up to bowl with them. I did one year after I turned 18. I was good, but never in their class. Dad rolled pretty good, too. Except he couldn't beat mom. Saw that at Princeton Bowl one Sunday. He stopped
bowling after that.

Nor could he out shoot her. He loves guns. He took her pheasant hunting at his private club one time with the guys. Mom was dead on, beat everybody, bagged her two birds which was the limit, in record time, and she was never allowed to outshine him
hunting again. “Women don't hunt,” dad said. She laughed. The memory of the look on his face that day was enough.

Bowling with my mom at 18, I found out she smoked cigarettes. At 18, can you imagine, not knowing your mother had the habit. She never smoked at home, or in my dad's car.
She came home smelling like smoke, but I knew all of her friends smoked, so I thought it was them. It was them, but it was her too. My father didn't approve, so we, the kids never saw it. Until one day it clicked and she got tired of hiding and she started smoking at home for a short time, until she quit. That was a surprise, too. She quit cold turkey for a year, before anyone realized. She used her cigarette money to buy Christmas presents for us on that one year anniversary. I know mom drank, too, but never around dad, the tee-totaler.

One thing they did do together was play bid whist. They were a good team. Mom talked plenty smack when playing. Dad talked too, just not as loud or flamboyantly as mom. She
had a woman's group for that too. Girls from bowling and some of our neighbors played. I remember one time, I walked through the family room when the girls were playing cards and our next door neighbor asked me, “Jo Anne, when you getting' married?” I didn't miss a beat and said..”hasn't my mother told you I'm gay, yet?” Kept walking. My mother was the first person that I came out to years before. All she said at the time was, “are you okay?” That was it. No drama.

Two different people and approaches to life in general. I wonder, if my mother would have chosen differently if she didn't have to worry about taking care of me? I wonder if she would have chosen to be more true to herself and natural nature. I can ask, but I don't think the answer would be truthful. I think she would tell me what she thinks I would want to hear, rather than what she really wants to say. Always looking out for her kids..no matter how old they are.

Her love for me is something I never ever wonder about, nor question.

Happy Birthday, Mom.
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