There was a newcomer at last night’s meeting who talked about forgiving her mother. She got me thinking about my own mother.
My mother had a strong personality, and she followed the bent of her father and brother into engineering. She graduated as the first woman architectural engineer from the University of Michigan following her brother, a naval engineer, and her father, an electrical engineer. As a woman, she also followed the expectations of society and married right out of college. She wanted children; he didn’t want children. I have a photograph of her wearing riding gear while waiting for her Reno divorce to become final.
The depression slowed her down. She sold encyclopedias door to door until her mother died in 1928. Moving to California with her father in the 1930’s, she found a job as a draftsman in an architectural office.
She met and married what looked like a good prospect in 1939. Gunny, as he was called, had a LLD and wanted children. WWII intervened, and Gunny came home an alcoholic.
“Why did you drink with him,” I asked her many years later.
She answered, “So he wouldn’t drink alone.”
Once, sitting in a cool, safe booth in back of them at the Silver Dollar Cafe, I counted their lunch drinks. Eleven martinis that day. Then they went back to work at the little print shop mother had started in our basement so they would have income coming in. Mother was one of those responsible drunks, a mean, in control drunk.
She had family that cared. She had a daughter….only one. With severe learning disabilities that no one understood in the 1940’s. Also in the 40’s, she had colon cancer and was told she was going to die.
“I was hard on you because I had to make you self-sufficient,” she told me years later.
Her father died in the early sixties.
With scotch dripping into an IV so he wouldn’t have the DT's, in 1966 Gunny’s pipe smoking metastasized into a cancer that killed him in a particularly awful death. Just about the same time, his mother died, and my mother was left rattling around in the big house very overweight and unhappy. She went on a diet, switched from martini’s to scotch, sold the house, and drank herself happier on an around the world cruise. Or two. She loved cruising. Loved taking her hotel with her. She had so isolated herself that she had no friends left.
She found an apartment near the bay in San Diego, and she drove to a favorite near-by bar to write letters and schmoose over scotch in the afternoons. She met a charming charter boat captain there, and not long afterward they moved in together. She was older. He drank just as much as she did. He had a yacht. He was gay….but that didn’t matter to mother. He bought a bigger yacht to make her happy. I’m sure she paid for it. They cruised the coast of the California’s in company with many of his friends.
Once two miles off the coast, her eldest granddaughter dropped a piece of chewing gum on the deck. An angry mother tried to kick the granddaughter overboard. She gave her daughter a car then took it back. She said she would pay college tuition but tried to back out. She was good in the mornings, and mean at night. She was mean, and she was cruel in every phone call.
She faded away her way with diabetes caused renal failure, and her husband had her cremated. For a year or more, there she sat in a box on her chair. One day the box was gone. Where? We don’t know for sure. My husband thinks she is in the landfill. I think she was thrown overboard at the dock.
I spent years working through her meanness with therapists and other caring experts. I grew to forgive her and realize she did the best she could do with who she was. I was freed when I realized I didn’t have to like her…and I was able to let her go at last.