Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Tribute to My Mother

If we want to be honest, no woman has ever had a perfect relationship with their mother.  The mother/daughter bond changes as we go through life.  Eventually the roles we are used to playing are reversed and the parent becomes the child and vice versa.  Some relationships see the roles change back and forth over and over again.
But in the end, no matter how we feel about our mothers and what kind of relationship we end up having(whether a fulfilling one or a "not so much" one), there is the inescapable fact that we are bonded to this woman.  Her presence or lack of a presence shapes us in untold ways over our entire lives for better or for worse.

The following are some thoughts with a pictorial of my mother and how I saw her through my eyes and experiences.
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My mom.
Carole Frances Harper Bowman.
She was an only child who grew up during the depression.
Her parents doted on her.
I would chance to say that she was spoiled and didn't want for anything despite the family's humble beginnings.  My grandmother had been a career woman back when women only worked if life circumstances required it(no spouse, the death of a spouse, etc.).  Back in the 1940's/1950's these woman were the exception.
My mom had a very large extended family of 11 aunts and uncles and their spouses and more cousins than you could count on half a dozen sets of hands, so she was never lonely growing up.

She was your typical teenager.
She joined the high school majorettes.  That's her on the right......


 

Here's her Junior Class picture from 1950-51.....

I don't have a Senior photo because like many girls of 16 or 17 or 18, she feel deeply in love with a boy and left school to get married.  Because back in 1951 and thereabouts, that was the ultimate goal for a "normal" woman.....to be a wife and subsequently a mother. 

Because of the "timing" of events in my mother's life, there wasn't a year or two to wait, finish school and plan a big elaborate wedding.
It had to be soon.....before she began to show.  ;-)

But that was ok because Mom was in a big hurry to grow up and be an adult.  She left school and married my father when she was 16.
Here she is on her wedding day with her parents.....

(She did eventually get her GED years later.)

By Dec. 1951 mom had a baby.
By Jan. 1953 mom had another baby.

6 more years passed before I arrived and we were a family of 5.
My mom was the mother of 3 children before her 25th birthday.
Here we are on Easter of 1959 all dressed up.....



The shot below was taken in 1962.  IT is one of my favorites.
It's 4 generations of the women in my family, on my maternal side.
I have always considered both my great grandmother and my grandmother very strong woman.  Even as a young child, I sensed that these two women in my life were insurmountable forces of nature.  They possessed an energy, a life force and a presence.  They had overcome great odds in life and were survivors.

My mother, on the other hand, never seemed to me to be a whole person.  Looking back on my childhood, I don't recall my mom as a strong presence in my life.  I know she was physically there because I was taken care of, and I had food, clean clothes, an immaculate home to live in and the usual trappings a middle class child possesses.
I knew my mother loved me but we really didn't have much one on one time together.  Though she didn't work outside the home, her life was filled with housekeeping, coffee klatches with her best girl friends and my father.  My father was the Sun around which she orbited.  She was a whole person with him and her moods were merely the reflection of what aura he was giving off at the moment.
To me, as a child, she seemed more of an extension on my father, rather than a person unto herself.

He was also very controlling.  I sometimes think that this is why she was drawn to him.  Her mother was a very strong woman, strong because her life circumstances demanded that she be strong, not out of any desire to be the family's leader and head.  My mother was use to the subservient role so she chose a mate in life who was similar in constitution to her mother.
But my father was also the most controlling person I've ever met.
But I digress......

 
back row l to r--Carole(28), Lillian(48)
sitting, Lucy(73), me(3)

My mother lost her mother in Sept. 1967 and 6 months later, her father also passed away.
Though she was an adult of 33/34 years I don't think she ever fully recovered from these losses.
I remember her being so distraught at the funerals that she sobbed for days and had to be sedated.
I don't think she was ever the same after that.  At least it seemed so to me.

The picture below is 8 years later, taken on my 11th birthday.  My mother was 35 years old.
I look at this picture and remember this being a good time in my mother's life.  My brothers were mostly self-sufficient teens so her workload was less at home.  Mom had a close circle of friends and neighbors who got together on weekends to drink and socialize and my father even joined in and approved.   She seemed happy.  My father had finally gotten his college diploma(going at night for many years)and was then able to make advances in his career so there was more money for the niceties of life, of which my mother had a fondness.  She loved to plan parties and she got to indulge in this hobby since my father's business required him to wine and dine clients.  Mom got to spend on clothes and shopped at the upscale stores we had like Smith & Welton's, Miller & Rhodes, Ames & Brownley and the PH Rose Shoppes.

Around this time my mother began changing her hair color.  She went through many styles and colors, never satisfied with any one for very long.  I see this as a symptom of her trying to find herself.  She was a wife and mother but who "was she"?




The next shot is of mom at Christmastime in 1973.  It was taken shortly before we moved to a new home in a nearby town.  I can see a marked change in my mother's expression in this photo.

I remember this as the beginning of the "bad times" for my mother.
One of my brothers was done with college and off on his own in another city and the other was almost finished earning his degree.
With my brothers grown or almost grown, she was feeling abandoned again, like when her parents died.  We lived in an old huge Victorian era home and I was the only child left at home at 14 years old.  I had just started high school.
Both my parents were drinking to excess by this point and socializing every weekend with father's business associates.  My father liked to throw money around to impress people.  He wanted a wife to show off so mom was always dieting to stay thin but she smoked and drank trying to keep up with dad.  He often belittled her in front of  his clients.  I saw that when he brought them into our home for dinner or parties.
Though she was a voracious reader during her life, my father looked down on my mother since she never went beyond her high school diploma.

The parties and drinking continues and there were trips combining business and pleasure.  The Kentucky Derby, a National Convention in Dallas, a Junket to Hawai'i, etc.  These were all just a way for my father to avoid dealing with his crumbling marriage and the fact that he no longer wished to be married to my mother.  He kept her busy taking her on trips, shopping and kept her drunk.  Mom, wanting to please my father, would do anything he asked.

My parents weren't around much during this time.  I was left to fend for myself, alone with our family dog.  Neighbors would check in sometimes and my brother stayed with me for a time.  My childhood ended in 1973.

This was the era of Women's Lib.  Woman were told they could "have it all" and they could do it all; have careers, make their own money and decisions and raise a family if they wanted.  Women of my mother's generation had not been groomed from a young age to make a life for themselves out in the world independent of a spouse or partner.  My mother had no job skills really other than cooking and cleaning.  She had no support system had she tried to venture out into the world on her own
My mother had no way to support herself and my father, being the financial head of the family, had spent all the inheritance money from her parent's estate on his business ventures and bad investments.
Even if she had had financial resources I doubt my mother was strong enough to leave my father.
She stayed because deep down inside, she believed she couldn't live without him and she loved him.

Around the time this photo was taken, mom had become paranoid as well.  At least that is what I was told.  That was the year she checked into a private psychiatric hospital for her drinking.  That was the beginning of a very dark chapter in my mother's life that continued on and off for the next 9 years until my parents finally divorced.



Once my mother was legally free of my father(with serious misgivings on her part) it took quite a few years until she was able to "let go" of the bad stuff in her past and carve out a new life for herself.

The next photo was taken in 1983 after she had reconnected with one of her old friends from when we children were very young. (Mom is on the left.)
Mom had some financial securities now thanks to the alimony and was enjoying life; buying a townhouse and decorating it, going out with friends, pursuing hobbies, etc.  All her children were back in her life which made her even happier.

I married in 1982.  It was about this time that I started having a "real" relationship with my mother. 
There had been a lot of hurt feelings and resentments over the last 9 years but once I married and was out from under the thumb of my father, our relationship changed for the better.

Mom eventually got herself a "fella" and lived with him as she needed a man around to take care of to feel whole.  It gave her a purpose in life and it was what she was use to doing.  I don't think he treated her very well and eventually he broke it off and sent her away because she got sick.  I will never forgive  him for that.  You wouldn't discard a dog like that....


Even her health problems couldn't keep her down once she became a grandmother.
She so loved being "Grandma".   Mom had an old friend...they had been pregnant at the same time.
In later years when her friend's daughter made her a grandmother, the friend bristled at the thought of being called grandmother.  My mother was the total opposite, she couldn't wait for the day she got to be called that!  Finally, a month before she turned 57, she was granted her wish when my oldest son was born.  The first time she saw her grandson I swear I saw a spark ignite in her eyes that I had never seen before.


My mother suffered from COPD among other serious ailments.  She had to have oxygen therapy 24/7.  That didn't keep her from traveling and exploring with her grandchildren.  I think she kept going a few extra years because of those kids even though her body was ready to check out.  Here she is with her "precious babies", as she called them, during the Summer of 1997.
She had 3 more years with her grandkids before passing away suddenly from something no one saw coming in 2000.


 
I never thought of my mother as a strong woman.  She wasn't born with that strength at the core of her being like I had seen in my Grandmother and Great Grandmother as a child.  She was born a helpless Southern flower.
She grew strong instead, over time.  A strength born of surviving the tribulations of her life.
She overcame what would have done in a woman with less intestinal fortitude.  With each challenge her spirit grew and she survived.

Perhaps my grand and great grandmother were not born strong women after all.
Perhaps we are all helpless creatures who each need to overcome the trials of life to find our inner fire. 


Though I'm 54 years old, I miss you every day Mom.
You weren't perfect but who among us is?
I just wish we had had more time to really know each other better.

Sluggy
 

6 comments:

  1. That was a good explanation of gaining strength as women age. You are brave to put all that in your blog. Can you see how your mother's experiences and attitudes have affected your attitudes towards men and a husband? I ask this because I realized one day that all my mother experienced in her life in relation to her father and her husband were responsible for my attitudes and expectations. It was too late, but I changed my attitudes, I think. Okay, I slightly adjusted the ones I should have adjusted.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your mom's story. It's never easy for anyone when a mother passes away. Sorry for your loss.

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  3. That was a very moving tribute to your Mother. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  4. Very nice post. I can't/won't say much else from my end, but I enjoyed reading your side of the story. I'm glad she found joy and got together with you even if for a short while.

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  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing her with us! I'm glad too that she was able to find joy in her life finally.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your mom with us, Sluggy.

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