Monday, April 30, 2007
My mother's birthday
Today is my mother's birthday. I can't help but think of her with a mixture of happiness and sadness. She was certainly a woman of many contradictions.
She was my best friend when I was a child. We always had a number of interesting things to do. Every summer there would be a project for me to work on that involved biology. I would hatch out insects and study the life stages. I would grow tadpoles into frogs. I had my own microscope and would make slides from my blood, onion skin, algae, etc. We went into the woods and along ponds and streams to collect and study various things. This was what she taught me.
She was a Latin and English teacher who loved science. She also loved history and wrote a book on history of our county. She graduated from college and took graduate courses, all things that women of her generation hardly ever did. She was an elected official and was in all sorts of clubs. My mother was one of the most interesting people that I ever met. She was also one of the most frustrating.
From an early age, I can remember my mother having a very closed view of our little world. She was a proper lady when she needed to be and could be very haughty and judgmental if she was put on the defensive. She was always in denial about our family. She always told me to "remember who you are and where you came from". This was very confusing to me since I didn't think that we lived any better than anyone else. I liked just about everybody and to this day have an affinity for the people who aren't loved because they aren't pretty or rich or powerful. I am a friend to the underdog, I guess.
Anyway, my mother always wanted me to be the best. I had to have the best grades and succeed academically. She didn't have to push me much because it was what I wanted also. I know that she was proud of my accomplishments.
Mother could be very vain and put on great airs. In later life, those kinds of things could be excused but they still bothered me. She suffered from severe depression from age 70 on. I made sure that she got treatments, and she had hundreds of electoconvulsive shock treatments over the course of her depression. She was hospitalized many times, and each time she was admitted, she would come out more fragile than before. Anything could trigger a major depression such as getting a cold or not knowing how to work a microwave. But, when she wasn't depressed, she could have so much fun. Everything seemed to be a treat for her. It was as if life was a big candy store.
In her last years, she lived in a nursing center where she was the "social director". She always dressed beautifully and had a lot of friends among staff and residents. If she approved of you, she could be charming. If she didn't, well, you never knew whether she would be cold or just neutral. I think that her depression had a lot to do with her attitude. Most times when I would visit her or bring her home, she would be busily writing or reading. She loved to make inventories of all the antiques and delighted in genealogy. I guess that the inventory I'm making on myself is probably one that she never thought about.
Mother died peacefully at age 96 in 2005. I know that she was an exceptionally bright woman who had inherited a terrible illness. Depression robbed her of a lot because the ECT treatments wipe out short term memory. I'm just glad that her last years were spent being cared for well and being around those who loved her. Happy birthday Elizabeth. I still love you.