Happy Mother’s Day

I post this every year.

This is the picture I write about in the post. My mother is the little blonde girl sitting on her mother’s lap. The boy is my Uncle Robert (AKA Uncle Pump because he got a penile implant when he was in his 70’s. Medicare paid for it. My tax dollars at work. It must have been good for him since he lived to be 92.) The girl is my Aunt Ginny. She died in her 60’s. Mom lived to be 85.

Have you ever looked at an old person and imagined what that person was like as a child? With some people it is inconceivable that they were ever children. With my mother, you could easily tell what she was like as a child, because she never lost her childlike love of parades, circuses, parties, and holidays.

I have a picture of my mother sitting on her mother’s lap. She looks to be around three years old. As a child she was blond and had rosy cheeks and a sunny disposition. So, she was nicknamed Peachy. To the day she died, everyone in the family called her Peachy.

She was the youngest of three children and the most adventuresome. I always thought my Aunt Ginny and my Uncle Robert were exceptionally dull. Not so my mother.

She was a Girl Scout. I don’t know if my aunt was, but I doubt it. There is no way I could ever picture her camping in the woods. When Amelia Ehrhart made a stop in St. Louis, Mom was the Girl Scout selected to present her with a bouquet of flowers.

High school cheerleaders used to be all male. The first year that Roosevelt High School, in St. Louis, had female cheerleaders, my mother was one of them. She showed me the article in the newspaper she had saved.

She had a friend, Janie, who loved to travel as much as Mom did. When they were around twenty years old, since this was the Depression and they had no money, they hitchhiked from St. Louis to the Grand Canyon. These were two young girls. No way they could do this today. They hiked to the bottom of the Canyon and spent Christmas with the CCC workers building Phantom Ranch. Think they had a good time? They were the only two girls there. Mom and Janie also thumbed their way down to Georgia. My sister has two little notebooks that my mother used to record expenses on these trips.

My mother met my father when she and a friend were canoeing on the Meramec River in Missouri. My father was canoeing with one of his friends. He got her number and the rest is history. They got married in 1939. Since my father worked for the railroad he got free travel privileges (like airline employees do today), and they went west for their honeymoon. I have a movie they took going through the Rockies.

My sister was born in 1942. My father went off to war, and when he returned in 1946, they had me.

In 1952, my father had a bad accident at work and sued the railroad company. He won. As a result, he lost his job. He used the settlement money to buy a new car and a bunch of camping equipment. This was before RV’s. Everyone used tents or, if they had money, they bought trailers. They were nothing like the trailers of today. In the summer of 1953, we took off for five weeks and hit every state east of the Mississippi and two states west of the Mississippi. We also went as far north as Quebec City in Canada. Even though it was summer it was still cold at night in New England and Canada. I don’t know how she did it but she managed to pack all the clothes we needed for the different climates we experienced.

We never had much money, but since both my parents liked to travel and liked to camp, almost every summer we would take off for two weeks and see the country. My dad drove, my sister navigated, and my mother thought of games to keep us occupied. I had been in 47 states by the time I was sixteen years old.

My mother always wanted to go to places outside of the country. My father, having spent WW II in Europe, had no desire to go back. After my sister moved to California, and I joined the Navy, she started her overseas trips. Still loving adventurous things, she went rafting on the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon when she was in her sixties. When she retired, she, my sister, and my sister’s husband hiked the Grand Canyon. Here was this little, sixty-five year old woman with a backpack hiking the Canyon. At the end of the trip, when she reached the top, there were a bunch of hikers at the top who applauded.

But she wasn’t finished. Two days later all of us went sailing in the British Virgin Islands. It was a bareboat charter which means we sailed it ourselves. She went on three more sailing trips with us: Greece, the Grenadines, and the Florida Keys.

In 1988 I had a freak accident and broke my back which left me partially paralyzed from the waist down. I had been to Europe a few times with my mother but now in my condition I would be unable to travel. Wanna bet? After I had gotten out of a wheelchair and could walk with braces and crutches she suggested we go to England. It was a short flight and since there were a lot of old people on these tours I would be able to keep up. Previously, I had always taken care of the luggage. Now this little old lady in her seventies had to do it. My mother got me to Spain, England, Russia, Germany, Turkey, and Egypt. Europe, and especially places like Egypt and Turkey, are not very cripple friendly, but, with my mother’s assistance, I made it.

She hated to sit around with nothing to do. Before my accident, on a trip to Italy, we had a free day and, since Venice was not in our itinerary, we took a night train from Rome to Venice, spent the day sightseeing, and took an evening train back to Rome. When in Turkey, we had a free day and she talked the tour guide into setting up a day trip to Troy. Travelling with my mother was always an adventure. Thanks to her wanting to go to Troy I could now say that I had stood on the heights of Mycenae (on our Greece trip in 1985), the home of Agamemnon, and at the gates of Troy. I also have a picture of me standing in front of the largest pyramid at Giza. Had I not been a cripple, I would have climbed up and gone inside, but without my mother I would not have even been there in the first place.

My father was an alcoholic and would lose jobs so my mother had to work. My sister and I also had to work. She had babysitting jobs and I did yard work and worked in the school cafeteria. My mother really knew how to stretch a dollar. My mother taught us self reliance and the fact that actions had consequences. My sister, being smarter, did well in school and won a four year scholarship to college. I flunked out of junior college. My mother welcomed me to the real world and told me I would now have to start paying room and board so I better get a job. This was the 60’s. I was 1A, so I joined the Navy to learn electronics and stay out of Viet Nam. One out of two ain’t bad. I learned electronics, but both of the ships I served on went to Viet Nam. I went back to college after the Navy, but burned out in my junior year, quit, and got a job with IBM. I moved to Atlanta in 1985 to be a technical instructor with IBM teaching mainframes and Mass Storage (and early tape library). My mother never tired of telling her friends that her college dropout son was now a teacher.

My mother had an ulcer and had surgery to remove part of her stomach. She had had two heart attacks. She had had a tumor removed from one of her breasts and took chemo for that. I remember she was talking to my friend Cindy after the tumor was removed and told Cindy she was not going on chemo because her cousin Rosemary had gotten very sick when she was on chemo. When Cindy asked what medication she was taking and she told her Cindy didn’t tell her that that was chemo.

In her eighties, she developed macular degeneration. She could no longer drive at night and was worried that she might soon not be able to drive at all. This not only affected her, but all the other little old ladies she had to ferry around. The last time I saw her, she was blind in one eye.
My mother was the most active person I have ever met. She took aerobics, did line dancing, was in a hiking club called The Wild Side Walkers (which she joined to build up her endurance to hike the Grand Canyon), and went on lots of one and two day trips with various organizations. We were at a night club in Egypt and the band started playing the Macerena. Up jumped my mother to do the Macerena! My sister and I had to buy her an answering machine since she was never at home and her friends could never get in touch with her.

We talked once a week. We alternated calling. It used to be on a Saturday, but we had to change, because she couldn’t fit me in her schedule on a Saturday. We changed to Sunday morning. She only forgot to call once. So, one Sunday, when she didn’t call, and she didn’t answer when I called, I feared the worst. I had her cousins go to her condo and check and they found her dead. She had gone to a movie with friends on Saturday and returned home and died that night. She was active on the last day of her life. That’s how I want to go. She had dreaded going into a nursing or assisted living home so I’m glad that she was active to the very end. When my sister and I went to St. Louis to take care of affairs we found literature about activities for the blind. We also noted that her calendar was full of events for the next three months. Somehow I never thought that she would be able to ever fit dying into her busy schedule. She lived to be eighty five years old.

She died in 1999. Every Mother’s Day I regret that I never told her how much I loved her and what a wonderful mother she was. She was one hell of a mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, where ever you are!