Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Memories and Musings

Looking throuugh some old photos last week, I came across this page in a Photograph album from my late teens/early twenties, an album populated by photos taken with either the Brownie Hawkeye box camera I wielded from perhaps my tenth or eleventh birthday onward or with the Kodak Instamatic X-15 I bought when I was 18 or 19. These would have been snapped with the latter, judging by my siblings' apparent ages here.What struck me in these Instamatic snaps is that my mom looks happy, natural. I don't remember her often being, or looking, this way, and certainly there's little photographic evidence of it. But I remember priding myself for a few months on doing more candid photography, and silly as that project might have been, I've caught something that I'm grateful to have, so many decades later. The woman on the left in the photo above is my Aunt Eileen, eight years older than my mother. Last month, Mom visited Eileen for a few weeks, thrilled to have the time together with the "big sister"she still admires so much, Eileen still driving at 87, active, living independently in her house, gardening. (Reminded Mom again that she's still mad at having to give up her car, but that's another story). Mom always told us how fashionable Eileen was -- I think both women demonstrate here a shared family commitment to looking good, both busy mothers as they were then, Eileen moving towards her 50s with four teens at the time, my mother very early 40s.

And in her early 40s, my mother is pictured here with her 9th, 10th, and 11th children (my two foster sisters who we considered family as well). ADDED TO CLARIFY: MY baby sister, not shown here but about four or five at the time, was our family's 12th child. Stretching her naturally introverted nature to the requirements of caring for such a large family (even with my dad's solid support) resulted in the regular outbursts of anger I remember and the tight lips and the constant demands for our help in housework. All very understandable, and probably symptoms of a clinical depression she actually managed astoundingly well.

But it could be tough for us, as well as for her. Then a few years after these photos, my brother died suddenly at 19, and Mom descended into a long, long depression which, even after she eventually surfaced, has had its way with her cyclically ever since.
So these few photos are quite precious to me. They remind me of how good my mother was, as Pater has always remarked, with young children. Although I suspect she was dismayed at each new pregnancy after, let's guess, four or five, I remember her being quite wonderful with my last two sisters, taking them on picnics and library trips and various outings while the rest of us were in school.A schoolteacher before she reconciled herself to her largescale maternity, she taught each one of us to read and write before we got to school, haunted by memories of children she'd seen in various schools, still not reading by Grades 3, 4, or 5. I remember her setting up finger-painting sessions with my middle sibs, she taught several of us to knit, many of us our piano rudiments, and every one of us grew up with at-least-weekly visits to the library.
The Hallmark version of Mother's Day asserts that all mothers are warm, nurturing, nose-wiping, cookie-baking paragons of comfort and reassurance. Especially, they love, happily. Mine, I suppose, was most of that, but the warmth wasn't always easy to see, and while the love for her children was always there, she was not always, or even often, happy. Depression is a bitch, and so many mothers struggle with it that it obscures their personalities, makes it tough to see that mother-love. So as my mother's memory fades with the depredations of old age and Mild Cognitive Impairment, I'm pleased to have mine refreshed, to tease out some evidence of happiness from her difficult years.

One last photo, this one of myself as an infant/toddler in my mother's arms
She's 23, obviously proud to be a mother, looking into a future neither of us can imagine.

I love you, Mom -- Happy Mother's Day. . .