DISCLAIMER: She wasn’t awful every minute. There were good days and good times. She taught me a lot and we had several common interests. I didn’t live in Hell. One day I’ll feel led to write about the good parts of having her for my Mother. But for whatever reason, tonight I’m sad and empty, thinking of her.
I remember being afraid of her, when I was little. I don’t have many very early memories, but I remember one night, awakening from the recurring dream about the large monkeys (I later learned they were called macaques – the ones with the blue rings around their bottoms) who had commandeered our swing set and would not let us play. My dad was deployed somewhere, so she was in bed alone. I tiptoed in and asked timidly if I could sleep with her.
She said okay, but she was mad and she totally turned her back on me. I remember looking at her backside and being glad she was big enough to keep the blue-bottomed monkeys away. But there was no warmth. She would save me because it was her job; that’s all.
I remember another day when I feared her. My dad had recently been deployed (probably the same deployment; I don’t know) and had had some man-to-man talk with my brother Mike, who was the oldest, about helping Mother take care of all of us (five in all).
I don’t remember what the particular infraction was, but we were all in the kitchen of the little house at 4016 Evergreen Street in Columbus, Georgia. Mother and Mike were holding court, it seemed, and Mother had come in from outside and still had on her prescription sunglasses. It terrified me that I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me or not. That’s really all I remember about that day. I was afraid of her – of her anger, of her coldness, of her eyes that might be looking at me.
I think I was the first sensitive child she had. My older brother and sister have very similar personalities to each other, but both are very unlike me. They are brave and loud and come out fighting when they think it’s needed, or even if they think it might be needed. Okay, sometimes when it’s totally not needed.
I wasn’t like that. I was timid and quiet. I think she assumed I’d be like them and didn’t really pay enough attention to realize I wasn’t.
I recall one day a lady friend of hers was at our house. Mother was standing there ironing (everything had to be ironed back in the 1950s; that’s why it was called the Iron Age) and chatting. My younger brother and sister and I were watching them. I remember her saying to her friend, “I always said when I grew up I was going to have five children two years apart, and they’re all going to have black hair and blue eyes.” She looked over at us. “And there stand three kids with brown hair and brown eyes.”
I thought, “I’m sorry.” Mickey and Joan were too young to understand, but I wasn’t. I’d been shamed; I’d been born with the wrong features, and there was nothing I could do to make it right. To make her love me.
She wouldn’t let us call her Mama. It had to be Mother. If we called her Mama, we got reprimanded. We had to call her Mother. And the grandmothers had to be called Grandmother. We were the only cousins who did that. I wonder what that was about.
Once, years later, she was teaching Bible School at our little Baptist church, and I was in her class of pre-teens. Some of the other kids were asking her questions about her life, and they ascertained that when she and my dad got married, they wanted their first child to be a boy, and he was, and they wanted their second child to be a girl, and she was. Then someone asked, “What did you want LaDoane to be?” Her answer: “We already had one of each, so we didn’t really care what she was.” I reacted, and the room filled with laughter.
I actually confronted her about it later. Looking back, it’s a little hard to believe I had the courage. Why would you say you didn’t care what I was? I demanded. Her response was “Well, what should I have said?” “You should have said you wanted ME,” I cried. She tossed her head dismissively and said her usual throw-away comment. “Oh, posh tish! Don’t be silly!”
I was eleven years old and I knew what she should have said. She was thirty-seven, and she didn’t.
I know it wasn’t my fault she didn’t love me. I don’t think she loved any of us, not really. She loved the idea of a houseful of children, I guess, but after she got us, she didn’t enjoy us. I think she liked babies a lot more than she liked children or teenagers.
I’m sure it was hard to raise us with my dad gone so much in the Army, and things were even worse when he was home, because they didn’t really seem to like each other very much, or agree on how to do things. But still. She could have liked us.
Mother had three daughters, and we were taught from a very early age that Simone, the oldest, was The Pretty One; I, in the middle, was The Smart One; and Joan, the youngest, was The Artistic One. I remember standing in a very short line of three girls and being told that on numerous occasions.
I never felt pretty for one minute until I was thirty years old. I look at pictures of myself as a young woman, and I can see that I was quite pretty, possibly even bordering on beautiful. I should have had that title, darn it.
I asked Mother when I was in my forties why she did that. First she tried to deny it, but I wouldn’t let her get away with that. Then, lamely, she said she just wanted each of us to feel like there was something special about us. Good intentions? Maybe. Good results? Absolutely not.
She didn’t hug us. We didn’t touch. I can remember once she rubbed Vicks on my chest when I was little. And I remember she hugged me when I joined the church and when I graduated from high school. Maybe there were others, but that’s all I remember.
So I’m not filled with warm fuzzy feelings on Mother’s Day. I’m glad some people are. I hope beyond hope that my children are.
Maybe I’ll get a warm, loving mama in my next life. One who will always say I was exactly what she wanted.
I hope so.