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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remembering Mom & November '63


by Bill Holmes

November 22, 2012 was Thanksgiving. It was also the 49th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Those two events don't go together. Being that I'm a little over 49 years old, I remember it very well. It happened down the road in Dallas. He last spoke even closer in Fort Worth. Anniversary doesn't seem like the right word to remember that kind of event. Anniversary to me usually means a more joyous event. Your parent's 50th wedding anniversary, the anniversary of a school graduation or any other happy milestone event.

I have many memories of the day JFK was killed and the following few weeks. It was a sad and tragic time in my life. I think I'll save the details for next year which will be the 50th year since that event occurred. If I'm lucky, I'll still be around and cognizant and able to write my thoughts.

I am a big fan of Thanksgiving. Except for the mass quantities of food, there are no expectations other than getting together with friends and family to enjoy the day. It didn't seem appropriate to remember or discuss that day 49 years ago on a day we celebrate and are thankful for all we have and enjoy. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends, as it should be. No negative vibes.

The other event occurring around this time of year is the 100th anniversary of my Mother's birth, November 25, 1912. Obviously that was a much more important event in my life (pre-life) although I was oblivious of it at the time. Mom was born at home, none of that hospital nonsense needed. Home was a duplex in Winchester, Massachusetts. I wrote a blog in August about 100 years ago. That was more generic, this one is about my Mom. Besides Mom and Dad being born, 1912 was the year the Titanic sunk, the Olympic games in Stockholm and apparently when we discovered Antarctica.

If you knew my Mom, you loved my Mom. She was a gentle, proper, kind, caring, cultured and giving person. Like anyone born in 1912, she had some beliefs and ideas that probably wouldn't be considered modern or progressive now. She and I butted heads many times, but I always knew she loved me unconditionally and was on my side. I always loved her unconditionally too but was too young and too stupid to always show or articulate that love. I often disappointed my Mom and I regret that. She certainly didn't deserve a sometimes ungrateful son. Looking back, it wouldn't have been that hard to have reduced those disappointments.

I've always been thankful that my two sons got to know their Nana. She got to see her oldest grandson become a very successful adult and husband. He was the apple of her eye from the day he was born. When my youngest son came along, twenty years later, it was obvious that there was room for at least two apples in Nana's life. The younger son was in elementary school when Nana died but he was still devastated. The older son was devastated too since he had 30 years of her love. They both loved their Nana.

Mom lived until 2002 and was a few months shy of 90 years old. This is absolutely amazing. I know people live to be 90 but not many who went through what she did.  She had metastasized melanoma and lymphoma at a time in the late 1940's when people didn't survive any cancer. She went through experimental surgery, her choice, to save her leg when I was an infant. She wanted to be a two legged Mom. Remember, they didn't have computerized prosthetic limbs 60 years ago. She had radiation therapy before the medical profession knew how to do it. That caused radiation burns and who knows what other damage. Her leg was saved and obviously she survived the procedure. For the next 60 years she lived with the limitations, pain and a severely scarred body from that and other surgery. She didn't complain about that, she was thankful to be alive and have two legs. She pushed herself to the limit and refused to yield to a damaged leg and body. That caused problems but she powered through them. Because she was in almost constant pain she ate aspirin like candy. That eventually led to an ulcer and major hemorrhage when she was in her 70's. The only change was that she lost some weight because they removed 2/3rds of her stomach. There were other challenges along the way too. I think she had about 10 major operations. Then her eyes started to go but either the doctors screwed up or she just couldn't heal any more so she got to be half blind for years. No complaints at least about her health. If she could move and get out of bed, she was ready to go.

Way before the grandkids came along I got to be the apple of her eye. I consider myself a Florida guy, but I was born in New Jersey and lived there for six years. I went to kindergarten there but luckily spent the rest of my scholastic career and formative years in Florida. The reason I bring up the New Jersey connections is that after Mom recovered from her first cancer, she used to take me to New York City. We'd ride the bus from Kearny/North Arlington, probably a bus stop on the Belleville Turnpike into New York City. Maybe into the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a lovely place. I remember standing on the bus seat and looking out the window, not the least bit safe. I remember being curious about every thing we saw on the way to the big city. I remember the stink from the pig farms when we rode through Secaucus.

After some other buses and/or subways or very rarely a taxi, we'd be at the Museum of Natural History (my favorite) or the Guggenheim or the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or some other great place. We would also often stop by Macy's or Gimbels or Saks and on a few occasions FAO Schwarz. All those places were magical to a four or five year old. They were also huge. In later years I realized that those places were normal size (OK, a little bigger than normal) and I was small. Not that I'm big now, but not tiny. We also always had at least lunch and sometimes an early supper in an adult restaurant in NYC before the bus ride home. I was taught by my Mom how to behave in public and I did. It was understood that as long as I acted appropriately, I could do adult things and go to adult places. I can't remember her ever having to correct my behavior on those trips. Probably because I wanted to go to those places with her and I knew the rules. Those trips to NYC have stuck with me my whole life. I still love to go to museums and nice restaurants. I appreciate those finer things in life even though I can mostly only look from afar. I've been lucky to have lived or spent time in NYC, Atlanta, Chicago, DFW and other places that have great museums and other attractions. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at the Kimbell Museum (one of the great places) in Fort Worth with a dear friend. We both enjoyed the exhibition and each other's company but my overwhelming feeling was that I missed my Mom and wished she could share this with me. I knew why I was enjoying the museum. It was because my Mom exposed me to fine art at a very early age. One of the great regrets of my life is that Mom never got to came to visit us here in DFW. It wasn't her fault, that's another story. She would have absolutely loved the museum district in Fort Worth, I think the Kimbell would have been her favorite. We would have had to also go to Dallas Museum of Art and Sixth Floor Museum. Oh yes, lunch at the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus would have been on the agenda too.

I will be forever grateful to my Mother. She encouraged my curiosity and more importantly good manners and behavior. You can take a kid anywhere if they behave. That's not a common practice now days. Taking kids everywhere is common, it's the good behavior that is not.

After moving from the metropolitan New York City area to Florida our cultural outings were greatly reduced. That and as the little five year old grew into a little ten year old and then a little teenager there wasn't as much Mom time. We hit the museums, historical places and points of interest when we were on vacation but it wasn't the same. Mom kept up her cultural muscles by going to the symphony, ballet and touring plays.

Mom also instilled in me my love of reading. She was a stay at home mom until I was about 12. When I was very young she read to me every day. She's the one who taught me how to read and write which I knew how to do before kindergarten. She taught me all the other proper behavior, manners and etiquette that was so important to her. Of course I thought many of those things were old fashion and unnecessary. In fact many of those practices were from the nineteenth century, taught to my Mom by my Grandmother (born in the 1880's). My Grandmother was also a very gentle, proper, kind, caring, cultured and giving person. I had many great times with her too. She raised me when I was an infant and Mom was sick. Now I'm not saying all that training took. Most of my good behavior was limited to times I had to be well behaved but at least I knew the rules when I needed them.

Mom had another important job in my youth. She kept my Dad from killing me on several occasions. She would intervene when the punishment didn't fit the crime or better yet, keep my screwups a secret. She was also my cheerleader and supporter. She was in charge of giving me encouragement and Dad was in charge of the criticism.

She taught me to appreciate quality. It was better to have a few good quality items than several cheap things. A couple of good outfits were better than a closet full of inferior clothes. A solidly built piece of furniture was better than a house full of particle board. In fact I have much of the furniture that my parents bought in the 1940's. My oldest son has several of those pieces too. My modern flat screen TV is sitting on a small chest that was in my Mother's house when she was a child. I still have the desk and chair Mom bought me when I was about 10 or 12. The second part of buying quality was to take care of your stuff. Now buying quality things is easy when you have a lot of money. Mom had to squeeze her weekly household money until it squealed in order to buy nice things. She was a master at that. She always had a stash somewhere that Dad didn't know about. Even until the very end she squirreled away a few bucks.

During the last few weeks before her death, she was barely able to speak and was too weak and unsteady to write. Dad was almost deaf and also lacked the patience to figure out what Mom was trying to communicate. I wound up being the only one who could understand more than a simple yes or no or hand gesture. One day in the hospital she motioned me to her bed. I put my ear to her mouth, read he lips and eventually figured out what she was saying. She told me to look in the pocket off her white quilted coat that was at home in the closet and to keep what I found. What I found was a pill container that had a couple of hundred dollars rolled up in it. That was her mad money. She must have known she was near the end and didn't want that money going with the coat when we cleaned out the closets.

Even in the end, Mom was thinking of others. Her whole life she was giving her time or money to the church or some cause. She was embarrassed and apologetic whenever she was in the hospital or sick. She didn't like putting other people out. She reasoned that family and friends were spending their valuable time visiting and taking care of her. She was much more comfortable doing that for others.

Yes, like most people born in 1912, Mom was a little old fashioned. She was also overflowing with love for her family and fellow humans. There's nothing wrong with being a gentle, proper, kind, caring, cultured and giving person.

She was a wonderful Mom, Nana, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, in-law and friend. I regret that she didn't get to be a wonderful great-Nana also. She missed that by almost exactly two years. I think of her almost every day and I miss her every day.

If there is a heaven she is surely there. With a healthy body, endless museums to visit, Broadway shows and symphonies to attend, plants and flowers to tend to, shopping at the finest stores, attending an afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and a secret hiding place in a cloud for her mad money. She also has a perfect view of her beloved grandsons and those great-grandsons she never met.

Happy 100th Birthday Mom. I love you.

wjh

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