Friday, 15 August 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

43 Things about Mom

1. She was born on August 15, 1918 in Lehigh, Oklahoma (Coal County).

2. Her birth certificate says her name was Catherine Abbegail (weird spelling, I’m not sure about the people who filled out birth certificates) but all her life she went by Kathryn and denied having any middle name at all. In fact, I never knew she had one until I got a copy of her birth certificate after she had died. Everyone called her Kay.

3. She was 5’4” and told me once she felt as tall as anyone she’d ever met. The most she ever weighed was when she was pregnant with me, and that was all of 110 pounds.

4. She had auburn hair (from a bottle by the time I remember her) and grey-blue eyes. She had a dimple when she smiled.

5. Mom used to tell me that their ‘coloured’ maid Gussie spoiled her rotten, bringing her chocolate bars and Cokes for her breakfast in bed. Mom thought of Gussie as part of the family and was distraught when she wouldn't go with them to New Orleans, having 'taken up' with a man she didn't want to leave. Mom occasionally made 'Gussie' stew for us, which was basically beef and vegetable soup with spaghetti.

6. Mom's parents divorced before she was 18. She told me once about going on a ‘double date’ with her mom about that age, when Grandmother would have been about 36.

7. In 1942, when she was 24, her step-father moved their family to New Orleans. She wrote in her diary, which I still have, that she was loath to leave Oklahoma City because she was crazy about a boy named Higgenbotham. I understand her first husband’s name was Linxweiler. My Dad had a difficult German name, but I guess my maiden name could have been a lot worse.

8. She married my Dad rather impetuously, I think, in the week before he was due to be sent to Italy during World War II.

9. She wrote him a letter nearly every day for the year he was in Italy. He brought them all back with him. She sometimes sent him little photos that she took. This one is 'Just So Mom’ – writing implements, a Coke and a cigarette – all she needed to be content.

10. She worked as a photographer during the war. First, when she met Daddy, in a studio laboratory in Muskogee. Soon after he went to Italy she and a girlfriend, Edwina, quit the lab and started their own business. They travelled by bus from town to town (presumably where there were military bases) in Oklahoma and surrounding states, including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. She would talk to a prospective client (usually a soldier, with or without a girlfriend) while Eddie snapped the pictures. They would rent a hotel room and set up a film developing station if possible, filling the orders and sending the photos to the addresses Mom collected. They apparently made great money – about $75 a day – in spite of all the hitches she wrote Daddy about. They worked hard, but obviously had a great time.

11. After Daddy returned from Italy they went to live up in Madison, Wisconsin for about 5 years, to be near his parents. She worked with her in-laws in the photography department of Barons Department store. She still had her Oklahoma-Louisiana southern drawl and this was popular with the customers. She said sometimes they would stand around and wait to hear her talk. She found this embarrassing.

12. Mom was very nearsighted, as was Daddy, and of course I’ve inherited this. She always wore glasses – except in her younger days when her photo was being taken. Most of the photos I have of Mom were taken before I was born, which I’m rather sorry about. I think she was happier being photographed when she was younger.

13. Mom’s mother’s family was Baptist; her Dad’s were Irish Catholic. I never knew her to attend either church. I remember her telling me she felt religion was a private matter and she wasn’t fond of the evangelical approach that Grandmother seemed to like. She and Daddy sent me to a wide variety of churches with all the kids on the block, wanting me to make up my own mind on the subject.

14. She loved children. Her letters to Daddy talk about having tea parties with a little girl who lived nearby. She and Daddy had been married for 12 years when I came along. I grew up believing I was the best thing that ever happened to her, unless I was maybe second after Daddy. (The baby in the picture isn't me, she's too young there. It's possibly her cousin's son, Jimmy).

15. She liked to dance. She did exhibition ballroom dancing in her youth, partnered by her brother, Bernard. When I was little she sometimes would put on the record Little Grass Shack and a hula outfit and dance for me.

16. I think Mom’s main characteristic was that she loved people and was good at showing it. Later in her life when I would take her to the shopping mall, she would tire and I would leave her in a sitting area and go run errands. Invariably when I returned she was having a great conversation with any and all of the others seated there and would introduce me to them as though they were her oldest friends.

17. She was also very patient and extremely creative. She taught me my numbers by drawing them as cartoon characters and often entertained me by sketching fashion figures and designing elegant clothes on them. She taught me to crochet, to knit and to embroider; and as much as I would let her about dressmaking and cooking, which unfortunately wasn’t much. When she made a salad she often made flowers with the cherry tomatoes and bell pepper strips. She made my Halloween costumes and my school clothes when I was a child (from my Aunts' cast off circle skirts) and later formal dresses and wedding dresses.

There was a bust on top of one of the bookcases in the living room that she had sculpted in clay. She once made a bouquet of roses with the petals shaped from tin can lids. She had a green thumb, keeping the border of the back yard flowering. She planned the timing, colours and height of the flowers in a notebook that I still have. My baby book has poems that she wrote about learning she was pregnant after 12 years’ marriage, about how she chose my name and about my having chickenpox, among others.

18. Mom had beautiful handwriting; people often remarked on it, very often when she wrote checks at the grocery store.

19. When I was growing up, Mom did photographic colouring for a living. She mainly coloured the portrait photo’s my Dad took,but also worked for quite a few years for Bob Baird at Baird Studios, in Joplin, Missouri. My dad and I made frequent trips to the Union bus station picking up and sending boxes of pictures. Mom also did work for Curtis Studios and occasionally did portraits for the likes of Beverly’s Restaurant (Beverly & Rubye Osborne) and the Jesse Chisholm museum. A couple of years ago Bill and I walked into a car dealership in OKC and I discovered the founder’s portrait on the wall, with her signature. Daddy’s and her portrait work came be found all over the north side of Oklahoma City. They did direct colour photography each year for my dance school’s recital pictures. She occasionally did work retouching negatives and sometimes took pictures for friends’ weddings.

20. If it was artistic or creative, Mom could do it. What she didn’t do was a lot of housework. We always had the extended family over for Christmas and she managed to make the place more or less presentable for those occasions. I noticed that her best friends had a similar approach to housework. I grew up being fascinated by the order and attractiveness of my friends’ houses, and whilst my own housekeeping is a little better than Mom’s it has taken me years of effort to acquire better habits.

21. Mom’s Christmas trees were always a BIG deal. She collected ornaments for each year, starting with the ones dated 1944, the first Christmas after she married Daddy. She said she thought they were ugly when she got them – during WWII lots of things were hard to get – but of course they were her most treasured in the years that followed. I have several of them still.

22. Mom was good with money. She could squeeze a dollar ‘til it screamed. My Dad was always the primary breadwinner in the family, but Mom was the practical one with common sense and the range of skills needed to keep the household going. She made whatever sacrifices were necessary to ensure that Daddy and I had what we needed first. She was always the last to get new glasses or have new clothes.

23. Mom seemed to replace her love of clothes with wanting other things. I remember her carefully saving up a little at a time to collect her silver service for coffee and tea a piece at a time. She did the same to buy paving blocks to gradually build the patio in the back yard.

24. Mom was a night owl. She often worked all night developing pictures or colouring pictures. As the latter required working under a big hot light, she needed to work nights to avoid the heat of the day; we never had air conditioning when I was growing up. When I talk about enjoying being propped up with pillows and coffee, I know I take after her.

25. One of the subtle, unspoken, messages I got from Mom was that it was important to have a man, but that I should always be able to support myself and not be dependent. I’ve always taken that to heart.

26. She loved dogs and cats, but mostly cats. My Dad liked dogs, but hated cats. Mom would adopt a stray cat now and then and try to hide it in the garage, but any time my Dad found it he would generally take it out in the country and leave it, which of course would upset Mom. We always had a dog.

27. She used swear words very selectively. She said ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ but couldn’t go beyond “B-I-itchy witch”. That was it. When I tried saying ‘crap’ in front of her I got hauled to the bathroom and she scrubbed my tongue with a toothbrush coated with soap. Full marks for trying to keep my language clean.

28. Mom smoked menthol cigarettes, Salems, I think. After having the flu and barely being able to breath for two weeks, let alone smoke, she decided to quit about a year before she died. Strangely enough, she didn't seem to find it particularly hard to do.

29. She drank coffee with milk and sugar in the mornings, CocaCola all afternoon and often had beer in the evening.

30. One of her closest friends was our next-door neighbour, Chris. She and Chris each built patios on their respective sides of the chain link fence. They had a sliced rubber garden hose placed on top of the prongs and each side had a step ladder so that we could cross over when needed. Most of the time they sat in lawn chairs on their own patio and drank beer and chatted in the hot summer evenings after dinner.

31. Mom enjoyed food, but she ate to live and sometimes forgot to eat. Had she lived longer, I’m pretty certain she would have had trouble with osteoporosis.

32. Like my Dad, Mom read a lot of books. Amongst her favourite authors were A.J. Cronin, Agnes Keith, Pearl S. Buck and, later, Dick Francis. I think she and Daddy supported several book clubs over the years.

33. Mom had beautiful hands, with long slender fingers and long nails, which she sometimes painted red. There used to be a photograph that I loved of her hands holding a black and white puppy – probably Cookie – that had one of her fingers in its mouth. Sadly, I don’t seem to have that to share.

34. Mom liked to cook, almost as much as Daddy and I liked to eat. Sometimes she would make a Chinese meal from scratch that took hours to make: sweet and sour pork and garlic frittered chicken, though the rice and the chow mein and noodles were convenience foods. I remember being very impatient to eat those meals. She also did incredible fried chicken dinners. No matter how tight money was, we always ate well.

35. Mom’s mother-in-law never quite took to her, possibly because of the clandestine nature of their marriage. For some reason, they chose not to tell Daddy's parents that they had married until about 6 months after the fact. Also, Mom said Grandma liked Daddy’s first wife better; this person was always referred to as ‘Poor Ad’.

36. Fortunately, Mom’s father-in-law liked her a lot and she was very fond of him. Grandma & Grandpa came over most Sundays for a meal. This was a BBQ for most of the summer.

37. When Grandpa died suddenly of a heart attack and Grandma was too senile to live alone, Mom went over to care for her. This lasted almost a year until Grandma’s physical health required more care than Mom was able to supply. I thought Mom went way above and beyond the call of duty. She felt she could do no less. I think she did it in memory of Grandpa.

38. She was good at making friends with my friends and making them feel welcome at our house. They would sometimes come by to see her even when they knew I wasn’t there. This happened a number of times with old boyfriends; this annoyed me at times when I came home and found them hanging around. One time when she was over taking care of Grandma, I came home to find some of the tougher teenage boys from that neighbourhood sitting there playing penny-ante poker with Mom. I was never sure if that was a good idea or not, but she never had any trouble, so I guess it was alright.

39. Mom and Dad separated when I was 17 after he was involved with another woman. Though that relationship was short lived, Mom and Dad never re-united. However, they never divorced either, and remained supportive of each other until Daddy’s death, 15 years later.

40. The last 10 years of Mom’s life she had her mother living with her. Though they had much in common, they were opposite in temperament: Grandmother always enjoyed a good fight, whereas Mom really hated arguing. I’m like her in that respect as well.

41.After my Dad left, Mom always had a cat.

42. Mom never learned to drive. This meant that after Daddy left, various friends and family members went buy at least weekly to take her to the grocery store. I went through a period of being quite irked at this responsibility, but over time spent more and more of the weekends at her house. I feel very lucky that for at least the last 15 years of her life, Mom knew she was my very best friend.

43. Mom took out a small life insurance policy in late March or early April. She then made an appointment with a doctor. Within a few days of telling me she’d been diagnosed as having metastatic cancer, she was admitted to hospital and died the 1st of June, 1990, the day after my 34th birthday.

1 comment:

Rick Stone said...

What great memories you have of your parents. It is good that you have gotten them written down. My Dad has been writing his memoirs and I've been typing them up for him. We're up to about 75 pages. I've learned so much about him via this project.