“You know that you have really grown-up when you see your parents as
people instead of providers.”
– Wolfgang Michel
But she wasn’t around, and that’s the thing when your parents die, you feel like instead of going in to every fight with backup, you are going into every fight alone.
―Mitch Albom, For One More Day
On June 5, 2016, it will have been five years since my mother died. Somehow I feel like I never really grew up until she was gone. I feel now like I am walking a highwire without the net that I had always sensed beneath me, always took for granted without really noticing it was there. My father died when I was in my twenties and that was hard enough but my mother was there. Always. We fought, we bitched and sometimes I felt like she was the biggest pain – but she was always there.
I have to admit, I didn’t appreciate all she did for me when she was alive. I was too wrapped up in my own drama and my own story about what she “didn’t do” or “hadn’t done”. Now that she is gone, I think of so many things and I realize every day what my responsibility was in our relationship. I would so like to apologize for what I did, what I said, to tell her I am sorry I was such an ingrate, so unfeeling sometimes to the point where she said once that she was afraid of me. But I have only realized those things now because that net is gone and that feeling of vertigo is what makes me look in the first place.
My neighbor above me where I teach has a little boy, just under two years old. My neighbor is beautiful, intelligent and strong willed. She is over 30 and a therapist. She has always seemed to me to have everything going for her.-But I watch her struggle every day not to give in to her feelings of frustration, confusion and anger when her son doesn’t want to do what she would like him to do. He is a little ray of sunshine most of the time but she told me that last week he threw himself down in the middle of street screaming and beating his hands on the pavement. She wasn’t even sure why he did it. She had a look on her face I will never forget.
And I think of my mother, beautiful, intelligent and strong-willed and the mother of three children before she was 25 in an era where women were supposed to function regardless of what they were going through or how overwhelmed they felt. When I was five, my mother pushed my father to support her to finish her degree so that she could teach school. It was unusual at the time and I really see myself in that bull-headedness. I know that she “felt” better after she started teaching, more herself, more in control. And the money she made was used for us. It helped pay for all of our schooling and got everyone of us out of a financial disaster or two. Funny enough, I never saw that as an expression of her love. Not until she was gone. I never understood what money might mean to a depression baby, who had lived on the road during World War II because her father was a colonel in the army and they moved a lot. Now I know and it is too late to tell her.
I think of her every day. I miss her every day. For some things, there a no second chances. Take every chance you get to say I love you. Don’t wait.
I knew my father had done the best he could, and I had no regrets about the way I’d turned out. Regrets about journey, maybe, but not the destination.
― Nicholas Sparks
This is a shout out to Kathy Kingston Gordy whose family was our neighbors for many years. Our parents were friends, our brothers played sandlot football and we hung out together when we were young. Kathy’s dad, Clayton, was an ex-marine (Kathy tells me now he was a captain in the army). I believe he fought at Guadalcanal, one of the fiercest battles in the Pacific in World War II. He never spoke to us about his war memories but I think his time as a marine shaped him. I believe he was a strong but loving father and I know the whole neighborhood missed him when he died.
My fondest memory of Clayton Kingston is when he was up on his roof across the street. He seemed to need some help and he wanted his youngest son, Bill, to help. I think Bill was around 15 or 16 at the time and he was a big guy even then but he had no experience walking on a roof. At any rate, I couldn’t see them but I could hear them from across the street and I heard Clayton yell, “Get up on the roof, Bill!” and Bill yelled, “I can’t Dad, I can’t.” This exchange went on for a couple of minutes and then came this marine bark, “BULLSHIT BILL, BULLSHIT!” Apparently, that inspired Bill to get up on the roof because I didn’t hear anymore out of them.
The only problem about writing about this story is you can’t hear me imitate Clayton. I have told it many times to my colleagues in rehearsals and everyone has laughed, recognizing the power of that command.
There are people in Europe who have never been to America, who remember Clayton Kingston and repeat his words.