Today is the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. In November 2003, I lost my dad to lung cancer, ironically, years after he had quit smoking. In November 2005, I became a widow. I think I will rip the month of November out of all my future calendars and simply spend the month in bed, dodging potential incoming cosmic bricks.
I’ve recently noticed an eerie and recurring theme in my life and that of friends around my age; many of us no longer have parents alive on this planet. Like hurricanes, fire ants, toothless and tattooed people, and really bad TV shows, I’m sure it’s something you eventually adjust to, but man, what a kick in the pants. Holidays are the worst, naturally. Didn’t bake my Dad’s favorite pumpkin pie this year, or my mom’s favorite bourbon pecan. Didn’t fix his candied yams with the little white marshmallows on top and browned just right under the broiler. Didn’t make that silly, yet absolutely essential, ambrosia salad my mom insisted on every Thanksgiving since President Kennedy was killed. I never understood that connection; perhaps she felt that eating ambrosia salad with our totally traditional dinner would keep her loved ones safe from an assassin’s bullets; who knows? She never explained, and now it’s too late to ask.
There’s an other-worldly sense of being untethered and disconnected when there’s no longer a parent on the scene. As though you are no longer quite so strongly grounded in your own certainties as you once were. The earth is less solid; the world tends to tip. I certainly have no reason for whining; my parents lived well into my fifties, a blessing and a gift. I can’t imagine being a teenager or 20-something and not having that safety net, that support, of having your biggest fans rooting for you through those college years and finding your first place, your first job, planning your wedding.
Instead of major holidays revolving around your family, now it seems that we are forming loose affiliations with others who are also orphans. Sadly, it’s a club whose numbers are growing by leaps. My friend Marilyn has deemed us The Orphans Club.
Mary Ann Havelka Ryan Ballew Moore was born three years into the Great Depression. She was a stubborn imp and tomboy, a curly-topped Tom Sawyer.
Harvest Festival Queen Bartlett TX 1950
She was a ravishing blonde high school beauty queen who erroneously tried to marry her way into happiness.
High School 1948
Seven years later, after spousal battering and beatings, and multiple affairs by straying husbands, things were not looking too rosy. Fate stepped in as she often does, and she met my stepfather in February 1959 and married him 10 days later, just before he deployed to Korea.
Looking at photos of them together, you are struck by their sheer glee at having found each other, at having beaten the odds. They were all each other ever needed. They were blissfully married for 44 years. Technically, my mom lived for six more years after my Dad passed away, but those who knew her understood that she was just a whisper of her former raucous, up-for-anything spirit. She slowly and quietly retreated from her soap operas, her books, her church, and her friends until they stopped calling or visiting. I believe she wished so hard to be reunited with my Dad that her frail, tiny body and mind simply caved in to her will and stopped functioning. My Mom never called anyone a bad name to their face, but she did refer to everyone who crossed her as either a Beau Hunk
or alternatively, a Hahn Yak.
Goodness knows what the actual translations mean, but it sounded pretty hysterical with her slight trace of German accent and her Texas drawl.
I miss you, my wonderful, funny, beer-drinking, chain-smoking, cussing mamasita. You were truly one of a kind and I will never stop picking up the phone a dozen times a week to tell you a funny story. Remember that time we were in Charlotte and I’d just had surgery, was just coming out of the anesthesia, and you decided you couldn’t drive because it was pouring buckets of torrential rain? If we wanted to get back to our hotel I would have to drive, no matter my condition and grogginess. Well, of course, we got soaked to the skin leaving the hospital and realized we had no warm, fleecy PJs to change into, so off we went to find a Target or Walmart. We soon got hopelessly lost and turned around and found ourselves in a very chi-chi Huntersville neighborhood, the kind where even the maids wear mink, and their pets get front row tickets to Billy Joel concerts. We were bent over double laughing because, in my anesthesia-laced brain, I had come to the conclusion (since we couldn’t find a Target) that the only way to procure said fleecy PJs was to steal them off someone’s clothesline (yes, there actually were some in this upscale neighborhood; maybe they were green before their time or possibly only Al Gore supporters lived there?). After several close calls with security alarms, and slipping and sliding in and out of various backyards, and once being chased by one of those fur-clad cleaning ladies, we amazingly found ourselves still pajama free. At least we stumbled across a wine market on the way back to the hotel!
And who could forget the time you and your best friend Melba came to NYC to visit for a week and drank pitcherfuls of Bloody Marys 24/7? Oh, and wanted “to try a little of that pot if you have some, but not a word to your dad!”. And your friend asking if I had any of those porno cable shows y’all could watch later, and by the way, had I ever been to a peepshow in Times Square? So much for my plans to take them to two Broadway shows, The Rainbow Room, and the Russian Tea Room! They just wanted to get away from their husbands and their farms and be very naughty 50-year old girls. I felt like the sorority mom for a couple of hormone-crazed, middle-aged gremlins.
Adios, my Mom, my great friend. I love you.
Say goodnight Gracie.