“Let’s all get up and dance to a song that was a hit before your mother was born. Though she was born a long, long time ago, your mother should know.” –The Beatles
Of all the relationships in one’s life, none are more connected to the heart than the relationship to one’s mother. No matter what kind of mother you may have (or had), it seems to be the one that goes the deepest. Today, dear Readers, I wish to wax a bit about my mother. Her name is Joyce. And it is certainly true that she is a character.
Joyce was born and raised in New York City, just in time for the Great Depression. She was an only child, close to her parents, and stayed close to them, especially her own mother, her whole life until their respective deaths. When not yet a teen, their family moved upstate to a town called Kingston, along the Hudson River. There she finished growing up during World War II, took a brief business school education, worked for the telephone company (think one, ring-a-dingy), met and after a few short months, married my father who was handsome, charming, hardworking (and working for her father’s clothing company) and had fallen completely in love with her. They married in 1949. She was twenty-one, he was twenty-six, America had emerged victorious from the War, and the future was bright.
They lived in a nice section of NYC for the first several years, enjoying all the pleasures of sophisticated city life in those years. My mother, though never an intellectual, was a sophisticated lady. She dressed immaculately, her hair and nails were always coiffed, red lipstick perfectly applied, she was perfumed and well-heeled, always. This was what she had learned as a very young woman, and remained so ever after. As a small child I remember being fascinated by watching her at her boudoir in the mornings as she ‘put on her face.’ She was very methodical, applying first pancake foundation, then rouge, eyeliner, color and mascara, eyebrow pencil, and finally the famous lipstick applied, first with a tiny brush to outline her shapely lips, then filling in with the stick. Rose red, cherry red, sensual, deep, gorgeous red. Red lips, red nails, black full hair. A shapely, beautiful, sophisticated woman was my mother during my entire childhood.
When I was seven years old, my father got a better position at a different clothing manufacturer and we moved to North Carolina for a couple of years. My mother tried to make the best of it, and decorated our brand-new, colonial style split-level house with her immaculate taste. The house was spacious and elegant, my parents were becoming well-off, and when my grandfather passed on during that first year there, my father did the right thing and gathered up my grandmother Rose and her things, and brought her down to North Carolina to live with our family. There she remained ever after, a third and beloved parent to me and my brother. A couple of years later my dad got an even better offer, and we all packed up and moved away to Denver, Colorado. It was 1972.
They ordered a new house from a brand-new housing development in the suburbs, and all that first summer we made the journey across the city from our rental home over to watch the progress as the workmen built our new house. It was fascinating to see. I remember one exciting Sunday afternoon, the Colorado sun blazing hotly down outside, in contrast to the white coolness of the house’s interior. It had been freshly spackled and painted, still smelling of new paint, the floors bare wood, our footsteps echoing as we walked through the rooms. What a miraculous thing, to watch your new home being created from the ground up! Finally the carpet (wall-to-wall, light green in proper early 70’s style) was laid, the finishing touches were done, and in mid-September we moved proudly into our shiny, pretty new house, and my mom made us a home.
The seventies went by, and Joyce did her best to adapt to the times. During the years in North Carolina, I remember her having some stylish clothing of the day, including thigh-high boots and even a fall (a kind of wig that adds length to one’s hair-do.) My mother has always enjoyed being fashionable. During the 70’s she took to wearing pant suits that were in fashion, always with the proper accessories and, of course, shoes. She certainly was a clothes horse and especially loved high-heeled shoes, which her small and dainty feet had no problem slipping into, unlike her daughter, whose feet grew larger, wider and certainly less dainty than hers.
Ah, the things one recalls about one’s mother! She smoked cigarettes throughout my childhood, in the house of course, like everyone did in those days. She was mad about crossword puzzles and pistachios in the shell. She was an avid reader, especially of spy and crime novels. She had a great sense of humor and the absurdities of life. She owned a gorgeous silver fox stole, which hung in the cedar-lined closets in the ever-cool basement, and which I was simply fascinated by as a girl. She also owned, and often wore when I was very young, a special grey fur coat (maybe some kind of special curly-haired sheep fur?) that was very beautiful. She kept most of her party dresses, along with the furs and many pairs of shoes, in those basement closets, and many times, for fun, as I grew old enough to nearly fit into them, I gazed at them, fingering the fine cloth, and with permission, tried some on for fun. Joyce also loved music, during those years my parents listened to all the popular singers from their generation, such as Frank Sinatra and those types, but my mom’s most favorite singer of all was Barbara Streisand. She could go into a kind of reverie as she listened to Barbara sing. Later on my parents became very fond of opera arias and listened to them together in their formal living room at certain times of the evening, especially after my father finally retired and they had lots of free time together.
After my father passed away, my mother was inconsolable. They were married for fifty years, and had loved each other truly. My grandmother was still alive, in her mid-nineties by then. For the next three years it was just the two of them still living in the same house we had all moved into all those years before. Finally, the summer before she would turn 99, my grandmother Rose passed on. Then my mother was all alone in that big house. When I suggested that perhaps she ought to downsize, and wasn’t she uncomfortable to be there all alone, she became offended. No, she shook her head, she would not leave that house, it had been her home for all those years, and Ralph (my father) had loved it, she was comfortable there, why move? My brother took to flying back and forth from his home in San Diego to visit her and keep an eye on the house. I had long moved away, had many adventures, moved around a hundred times, had three children and moved out of state. The neighbors, a very nice family with children, adopted my mother as their ‘other’ grandma. They invite her to all the holiday meals and family celebrations so she isn’t so lonely. Still, once my father died my mom stopped listening to the opera music, saying it was too much for her, reminded her too much of how much she misses him.
Now my mother Joyce is an old lady in her middle 80’s. She says she no longer recognizes ‘that old bag’ whom she sees in the mirror, and that inside she still feels like she always did when she was young and carefree. Her eyes give her trouble now, she had laser cataract surgery last fall which helped with her eyesight but now they feel uncomfortable all the time. She has taken up Bette Davis’ adage that ‘old age is not for sissies,’ and rather hates being old, but what can one do? Most of the old friends and relatives she once knew are long-passed on. Yet she remains; for whatever reasons Fate has decreed that she would be the remaining living parent in my family. I have not been back to Denver to visit her for some years, but we still write letters. I know that were I to visit again, it would be just like it always was, sitting at her round kitchen table still in the dining nook from 1972, I would feel again just like I always did as a child growing up in that house. People grow up, change, do a thousand different things, yet when it comes to one’s mother, very little ever really changes, especially on the inside. And yes, my mother does know all those old hits from before she was born, and still remembers most of them!
- What Made You? (#340) (sweetmotherlover.wordpress.com)