Tag Archives: Mom

A New Pair of Specs

Twenty-nine years ago I lost my mom, and not a day has gone by that I have not thought of her. My life was forever changed, in some ways for the worse, and I suppose in others for the better. This is worthy of re-posting in memory of her.

jenerationwhy.me

On January 19, 1986 I got a new pair of specs.  Things have never looked the same since.

The almost seventeen years of my life leading up to this day could hardly be described as normal, and yet our family had achieved its own unique brand of normal.  With my dad’s forever compromised health, there were ample and regular doses of worry and angst.  Even so, like any family we laughed, we fought, we played and we laughed some more.  We kind of had it figured out, in our own weird way.  It worked.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, what started out as an annoying cough for my mom was then diagnosed as bronchitis, then pneumonia and finally mesothelioma – a deadly and rapid growing cancer from exposure to asbestos.  Three days from this diagnosis to her departure – that was all we had.  Three days!  In what felt like…

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A Real Turkey

About two weeks before Thanksgiving, Mom started concocting a plan. She had that twinkle in her eye – the one that heeded warning:  “Watch out, everybody.”  She and Dad put their heads together and with each exchanged idea, the laughter became more uproarious.  They were working up quite a scheme, those two.

I heard more laughs and hushed talk of logistics in the days leading up to the big holiday.  I didn’t pay much attention to any of it – I was only 11, after all.  Those two were always up to something, and I needn’t bother with it.  Besides, I had matters of my own to attend to.  You know, cutting Barbie’s hair, playing games of Sorry with my imaginary friend, setting up a barbershop for the cats in the hay loft.  Important stuff.

The night before Thanksgiving, Mom sat me down and carefully reviewed the next day’s plans.  We’d be spending the holiday with Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat – this much I already knew.  That was standard fare.
This time, cautioned Mom, we’d be spending the night.  I was down with that – more time to play with my cousins.  But there was one more thing Mom wanted me to know, and I had to promise to keep a secret. My interest piqued, and my eyes grew wide.  Mom paused, looked me in the eye, and told me all the details behind her cockamamie scheme.

Thanksgiving Day arrived and we didn’t miss a beat.  We packed up the van and headed to the “big city” – bearing in mind that any city seems big when you live on a farm outside a town of 700 people.  An hour later, we were at the door of Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat’s house – their big, gargantuan, larger-than-life house complete with seven bathrooms.  We cousins promptly made our way to the basement where the rec room awaited us.  The grown-ups did their grown up things, whatever those were.

And then the moment came.  The moment I had been warned about, and the moment that would be locked deep in family history forever more. Early in the afternoon, the mansion’s doorbell rang, and Uncle Alan went to see who might be there.  There before him in the circle drive was a yellow taxi cab idling, its driver standing at the door to explain he had a most unusual delivery for the family.  Uncle Alan arched an eyebrow, and more of us gathered in the foyer to see what was going on.  The cab driver returned to his car, pulled out a crate and headed straight to the door.  The Dr. Alan Swearingen family had just become the unexpected recipient of a live turkey.

The crate with the turkey bore no message and the cab driver was unable to offer any explanation about its sender.  Not knowing what else to do, Uncle Alan accepted the crate and the turkey was placed in the garage. Hours of debate followed about who would do such a thing.  Why on earth would anyone think they wanted a live turkey?  And whatever would they do with it?  Mom, Dad and I kept a poker face.  It was the first time in my life I had been given permission to tell a lie.  My cousins tried to divide and conquer, cornering me to ask if my family – known country bumpkins – had arranged for this strange turkey delivery.  I assured them with a very straight face that we had not.

And so, with no other choice before us, we sat down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner and partake in our usual traditions.  It wasn’t until the next morning – long after the colossal feast and even after every last piece of crystal had been carefully placed back in the china cabinet – that my parents ‘fessed up.  Yes, indeed, the whole turkey hoax was us.  And aren’t we funny?  I must admit, I think Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat thought a little bit yes, and a little bit no.  But you had to appreciate Mom and Dad’s chutzpah, there was no disputing that.

The hour ride home seemed long because – let’s be honest – this time we had a live turkey in a crate in the back of the van.  We played the events over and over again among each other, laughing harder each time. It was officially the first time I had been let in on the joke.  I was grateful to be right there with them, too.  I truly was.

So all of that is to say…Happy Birthday, Mom.  You left us way too soon. But know this – I carry you in my heart every day.  And that twinkle in your eye?  It found its way to me.

Dear Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I am sharing a letter I wrote to my mom for Mother’s Day four years ago. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who have the hardest job on the planet.

Dear Mom,

This weekend marks the 20th year that I have endured a motherless Mother’s Day. Twenty years is a long time –more than half my life–and a lot has changed since I last saw you and you assured me that everything was going to be all right. I think there are some things you should hear from me.

First of all, I want to say you picked a really shitty time to leave me. Granted, you didn’t have a lot of say in the matter, and I know it’s not how you expected things to turn out either. But the time you left this earth was shitty because I was in the midst of what was perhaps my most imperfect state. Sixteen, and had it all figured out. Sixteen, and full hormones and stupidity and false confidence. Sixteen, and angry that you had the audacity to criticize my foolish ways. Sixteen, and unable to see that I was turning out to be you.

But I have turned out to be you, in the strangest and most unexpected way, and I think you would either be immensely proud or completely annoyed. I have your wicked and sometimes bizarre sense of humor. I have your thick, stubborn head (unfortunately topped with Dad’s fine, lifeless hair). I have your big brain filled with big ideas. I am sometimes misunderstood just as you often were. Like you, I believe in all things just and right, and like you I am painfully aware that life rarely offers hearty helpings of either.

I know there are a lot of things about my life that would make you proud. I’ve made a life for myself that is filled with laughter and selectively chosen loyal friends. I have been called and have risen to a life’s work that is more meaningful than almost any other I can imagine, and have made an immense difference in my corner of the world. I am responsible in ways you would have never thought possible. Really and truly, I am.

And one of my proudest accomplishments, one that I know would warm that sometimes steely heart of yours, is that your baby–my baby sister–has become one of my most trusted, cherished and sacred friends in life. The same baby sister I loved the first day she was born, and by the second day figured out she shamelessly stole my spotlight. The same baby sister who I resented for choosing the same cereal as me every morning, and the same baby sister who was the inspiration for the limited-time, one-act melodrama, “Stop Playing With My Makeup You Fucking Little Brat!” The same baby sister I couldn’t comfortably relate to until I could safely assume she’d had her first beer. The same baby sister I look at now and think, “Damn, how did she get here from there?”

You have every right to look me in the eye and confidently state, “I told you so.”

Even if your sudden departure wasn’t expected, it turns out the cosmos were right. Right in the wrong sort of way, right in the way that makes you say, “What the fuck?” and then strap on your cajones and confidently trudge forward to unknowing greener pastures. Right in that, I was afforded the lesson early on that I have the capacity to rise above even the most miserable of circumstances triumphantly. I’ve carried that lesson with me everywhere, and have used it over, and over, and over again.

The truth is, Mom, you may have left the party too early, but before leaving you left many gifts behind. Trust that each gift has been accepted and used in the spirit with which it was intended. And know that even though your stay at the party was too short, it was really great that you were able to show up at all.

Love,

Jen