New Blog Series – Memories of Mom – Introduction

I've been tooling around the idea of capturing memories of my mother who passed away in 3/2014 in a blog series, mostly to capture them for later use and I've found as I get older, I tend to forget more and more details. I had considered just putting them down into a Word document journal fashion but this way I can share these memories (good and bad) with other people who loved my mom, like my daughters, other family and close friends. The posts won't be in any chronological order and I will probably be guessing at the general date of occurrence and honestly, our memories aren't the most reliable so it may not be exactly accurate but simply the way I remember things occurring.

My mom's name was Anita Marie and she was born on Christmas Day 1941. After 8 years of bravely fighting cancer, she went to Jesus as they say, at age 72 just shortly after my daughters, husband and I's birthdays in February 2014. In 1970 she gave birth to me, the fabulous oldest child and in 1972, to my sister who ruined my only child gig (just kidding). My parents were married in Washington DC, the city in which they met, on February 18, 1966, and they split up in early 1983 following years of abuse due to my father's raging alcoholism and what I believe was mental illness stemming into paranoia schizophrenia later in his life. My father passed away in 2002. The divorce was final in 1984 and my mother never received any child support from Dad. So she ended up working long, long hours to barely support us.

Her parents helped us out from time to time financially and such, but only when my mother was desperate because she hated asking them for help. I'm sure knowing my grandmother, it was held over her for marrying such a worthless piece of trash (my grandmother's words) not realizing my mother had been more than punished for her choice. My mom wouldn't have had any idea my dad would end up being an alcoholic when they got married. He was handsome and very charming. The thing was, when the pressure of life came down on him, he couldn't cope and turned to alcohol. Maybe this was part of his growing mental illness.

Back in the 1970's, you didn't get a divorce, it was shameful and against her faith. Though had she divorced him early on when the drinking and abuse started, I think maybe she wouldn't have killed herself working so hard and maybe met another man who treated her better. By the time she got away from him, she was done with marriage and close romantic relationships. If she dated, she kept it quiet for the most part. She was just too afraid that she'd make a wrong choice and someone else would make her life a living hell. She never deserved what my father did to her regardless of the reason.

I get some religions' idea of the sanctity of marriage and you should stay married since this was done in the eyes of God, but I don't get why it would be upheld in the face of physical, mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Why weren't these men (and women in some cases) held accountable for their actions instead of excused back then? I have a hard time believing God would condone that kind of treatment of anyone and I'd think he'd given my mom a pass. As I think back, people excused my father's alcoholism, trying to hide it because it was embarrassing as if they didn't call attention to it, then it would go away but it only got worse. Using religion to trap women into horrific marriages was criminal.

Oh, poor, Larry, he struggles so much. Oh bullshit, he should have been held accountable for his actions. I loved my dad but I think he should have been in jail for the physical violence and domestic abuse to my mom and also to my sister and I on a smaller level. Unfortunately, this all happened before the domestic violence laws were established. Even today, it happens all the time. Don't stay, get the hell out and get safe. This person may love you and you love them but you don't deserve that kind of terror, pain and abuse. It is their responsibility for getting well and if they refuse to do it, then you don't have to stay with them and be a victim. Stop this shit! And honestly, some people just can't get well or we don't have the ability yet to treat whatever is going on with them which I believe many times stems from mental illness that has just now started to come into the light.

Anyway, my mom's life wasn't always easy and she spent 29 years working herself into the grave essentially with all the stress and long hours. The problem with the way she coped with the stress, was by smoking and drinking too much (until she quit smoking in 2000), and her health took a serious hit. People wonder why I don't want to rush into a high pressure job because I could easily be good at more than what I do for a living, this is why. Life is too damned short and I don't want to make it shorter if I can help it. I still may get hit by a bus crossing the street, but I just saw how unhappy my mom was in the midst of all that stress and I just could never bring myself to go there. I think my husband would be happier if I made more money and worked some high-powered job but I wouldn't be happy at all. I'd rather do with less than kill myself the way my mom did.

On a happier note, my mom was resilient and she found joy in many things especially her three granddaughters. Though I regretted my first marriage and having kids so young, it worked out the best because they had more time with their grandmother. My mom was always a survivor, a fighter and she always wanted to see you do your best and get what made you happy. She spoiled the girls, with the kind of Christmases she couldn't give my sister and I when we were younger. She had a strict work ethic and liked to do things by the book so her job in quality assurance kept with her personality. She loved Tennessee and while she only lived in Knoxville for a few years before my dad's alcoholism forced us to move to Missouri near his parents in the late 1970's, we returned most years starting in 1997 for spring break vacations which gave us many happy memories.

Mom and Corrinne on 1997 Tennessee Trip

My mom lived modestly even though she could afford a more lavish life because she was terrified of being poor again. She sunk back literally almost a million dollars in 30 years in investments which would have been more if not for that market downturn. I've always regretted she didn't spend more of her money on herself but she did what she wanted to do, which was pass on a safety net to my sister, my daughters and I. She didn't want us to ever have to live off of cases of Campbell's chicken noodle soup my grandparents brought to help us get through the leanest times right after her divorce.

Though growing up in the 1980's where designer jeans and such were the metric in which your worth was determined in school (and I fell way short because I didn't have most of these things), I never felt poor. We had enough to eat, we had the three of us (my mom, my sister and I) and we were making it day by day. Actually it was a source of pride for me. I was 13 when my parents split up and I had long been taking care of myself admist the chaos of dysfunction but once my dad left, it quieted down considerably and I stepped up to do what I could to help my mom. When we had plumbing issues in our rental house and the landlord couldn't get to it right away, I found my dad's toolbox and fixed it myself.

I took over being the 'housewife' because my mom had to work such long hours to support us. A lot of times I did the cooking and cleaning, making sure we were all fed. This gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never resented. No I didn't have much of a childhood and was bitter and angry about it for many years until I realized it helped make me who I am today. There isn't much I can't do or learn to do. I can take care of myself and I've passed this down to my daughters who are also very independent. My mom and I became this team, even working together for about 13 years until she retired. I also looked after her during her cancer (along with my daughters and husband) fights. I was there beside her when she passed, holding her hand. My mom was not only my parent, but my best friend. And when she got more sick, the tables turned and I took on the role almost of parent to her, though god knows, she fought me on damned near everything until the last few weeks.

Losing her was the most devastating thing in my life so far. She was so influential (good and bad) in my life. I walk around some days still, pretty lost, wishing I could call her or go over to her house, to sit on the couch and eat some dinner she put together. Though I hate shopping, I'd give anything to have her drag me around the mall and Kohls for long hours again thinking how bad my feet hurt. Or when I went to her house when she was still working in that jungle of her gardens, to have her walk me around her yard to show me what she weeded or what flowers were blooming. I notice when I visit my oldest daughter's house, we do this as well. Walk around to see what she's planted or is blooming and vice versa when she visits me. But this seems to be a family tradition, because all the women on my mom's side of the family garden and we all walk around the beds admiring their handiwork.

My mom was tough but she loved even tougher. She was always in my corner even though I made two poor marriage choices and divorces. She looked out for my girls, being more a parent to them than a grandparent. They spent their school years walking to Grandma's house after school because her house was closer to the different school buildings especially once my oldest daughter was of age to watch them and we no longer needed a sitter. She'd buy snacks to keep in the house for them as they huddled up at her house doing homework, playing video games and watching tv, until we came home from work together. Sometimes we would stay and eat dinner together at her house. I'm grateful my girls have so many wonderful memories and had so much time with their grandmother. She helped shape them into the amazing women they are today.

So in closing, I look forward to bringing different memories of my mom to my blog. My mom was so influential and so much a part of our lives, that this is a way for me to feel closer to her. It's always a good way to get these memories down before I forget them. I can't think of the times I wished when my family had told me stories, I had jotted them down because you do forget. Not all of the stories will be positive, but life isn't all good. Though I think I will dwell more on the positive than negative. I prefer to keep the happy memories close and let the painful ones drift into oblivion of the forgotten. Though the good times wouldn't have been so important without the bad times. C'est la vie.

Charity – Even the Smallest Gestures Matter

The holidays are a time of year when people seem to band together to help those less fortunate have a happier holiday.  There are toy drives, food drives, Angel trees, Adopt-a-Family, holiday meals, etc.  With all the bad news in the world, bombarding the television, social media and print outlets, this helps me feel like most of the world isn’t crazy terrorists or psychopaths.  I’d like to believe there is more good in the world than bad, otherwise, our world may not even exist soon.

Today, my daughters and I are going shopping for a girl, age 10, whose mother is living at a women’s shelter.  I don’t know anything about her, her life or her situation other than the list of her like on a paper stocking.   I picked her name from our break room board because we always pick the oldest kids as their names are usually the last ones chosen.  This girl loves books and science and girly things.  I figure my daughters could relate to her as they are self-proclaimed nerds who love books and science and sometimes even girly things.

I have no idea if the child we pick will like even one thing we purchase or if she even appreciates the gifts.  We give in faith that we are guided to make the right choices.  I overheard someone Scroogy when I was out one day shopping saying to their shopping companion, they didn’t give to programs like the angel tree because they figured the parents or kids would return the gifts or sell them for drug money.  The person went on about how it was a waste of their money and I had to bite my lip to not walk up to a perfect stranger and tell them how short-sighted they were being.  I just reminded myself, that they were missing the entire reason for giving.  Sure, I bet some people do take this charity and convert it into drug money.  But I’m pretty sure the majority of people who are struggling to give their kids Christmas are not corrupt, drug-addicted heathens.  They are simply having a rough patch.  Anyone can have a rough patch.

Some people think you have to give a lot to give at all.  Not true.  Even a ten-dollar football or baby doll could turn out to be a cherished gift they always remember.  Even if you don’t have a lot of money to give yourself, you could buy 10 cans of canned corn to put into the food drive the next time you grocery shop.  Every little bit helps.  Not all charity has to be donating thousands of dollars to matter.  Even something so small as reaching something on a top shelf at the grocery for an elderly person makes someone’s day brighter.  Acts of kindness are another type of charity that cost $0 to do.  And think if everyone in the world, every day did one kind thing for another person how much better our world could be as the positive energy affects others through a wave of kindness.

I’ve told this story before but when I was young and living in a very, very tiny town in Missouri near my father’s parents, our life was always in upheaval due to my father’s alcoholism.  I never felt as if I fit in at school where I had 7 people including me in my class because everyone knew my daddy was a drunk.  I literally attended a two-room Lutheran school-house, it even had the bell on the roof much like a church. At times I would get tormented by the other students if my dad did something stupid like ran his car off a dirt road into a tree one night.  There wasn’t much going on but farming in that area, so someone like my father generated a lot of gossip which of course kids over heard and then fomented me with shortly after.  I always prayed for summer break because I could lose myself out in the fields of my grandparent’s dairy farm, milling about with the farm animals who didn’t judge me or just hang out in my bedroom, safe from ridicule and the knowing, scorning glances of my classmates.  We were the joke of the area.  The family that made everyone else feel better about themselves.

Looking back and knowing more about my classmates families, mine wasn’t the only one that had dysfunctional drama going on behind closed doors, mine was just more public.  I imagine it made them feel better about their own issues and I don’t hold any bitterness or anger toward anyone.  Not fitting in gave me the gift of my own company, a very creative imagination and the ability of enjoying being alone without feeling as if I’m missing out on something.  This also started me writing as I would make up stories of “dream lives” where I could escape from my own pain.  This bred a lifelong love of writing and reading that has always been a comfort and escape.  It also taught me humility and how even the smallest charity can bring love into a troubled family.

I might have been 8 or 9 when the social worker showed up at our small white house next to the cemetery .  Someone on my mom’s side of the family who lived in another state called social services worried about our living situation.  Actually, I believe they thought my dad was sexually abusing my sister and I which was the furthest from the truth.  My mom was angry and bitter about that for years, I can’t really blame her, I would be too.  The social worker would talk to my sister and I, both together and separately with my mom there or not.  It’s been so long it’s all a blur at this point.  I didn’t really understand what was going on.  I just remember it was near Christmas and the social worker had pretty blonde hair that was curled into ringlets almost which was the fashion of the late 1970’s.  She had a kind face and bright blue eyes.

One day she came with oddly shaped packages wrapped in bright Christmas paper, two of them.  We sat on our small couch and she gave one to me and one to my younger sister.  We were so excited, a present BEFORE Christmas and from a complete stranger.  This never happened.  We knew we were poor, at least I did.  My father didn’t work but attended college classes when he wasn’t too drunk and my mom worked as a typist for a company near the University of Missouri campus that typed dissertations and papers for faculty and students.  We got a few from our parents gifts on our birthday and Christmas and usually not in between.

We ripped open the paper and immediately I was let down.  It was a blonde doll with yarn for hair, a  happy plastic face and a soft green calico fabric body.  My sister got one with brown hair like hers.  She was thrilled, she loved dolls.  Me, no so much.  But not wanting to hurt the lady’s feelings, I smiled big and told her thank you, I liked it very much.  Then I took it up and threw it on my bed and ignored it for days.  One night we were upstairs when we heard my dad’s big booming “drunk voice” carrying on in the kitchen.  These are the times I would get scared and hide under my bed or covers.  Usually my  bed covers because our floors were not carpeted and you could hear whatever fight or commotion even more because there wasn’t much insulation between you and the first floor.

I heard something break and knew he was fighting with my mom.  Sometimes he would hit her or throw things at her in a drunken rage.  One time my mom called the Sheriff but they just shrugged it off telling my mom they couldnt’ do anything because they were married.  Back then, domestic abuse was not something a man, at least in that area, got arrested for.  Today my dad would get arrested and hauled off to jail.  I am sure pre-Internet age, women’s shelters were more for people in larger cities.  My mom felt as if there was no where for her to go.  She would run away to her family only to have my dad follow her back to Ohio and convince her to go home.  That was the time when you didn’t divorce, you had to stay, even if it was abusive.

As the fight escalated, I crawled into bed and for the first time, hugged the doll close.  The soft body and yarn hair were comforting.  As I cried into the doll’s hair, I was grateful for the social worker’s kindness.  She must have known the doll would serve as a way for us to cope with the turmoil in our house.  I kept that doll until my house burned down in 1994.  It was always a reminder that a stranger cared enough to show me a small gesture of love.  The doll probably only cost a few dollars back then but the love it held was priceless to a scared little girl hiding under her covers when her life was so out of control.

Eventually, in 1983, my mom and dad were then living in Ohio and my mom was employed full-time at the company I work for now.  She came home one day from a business trip to find my father passed out drunk at the kitchen table, a shotgun pointed at me and my sister as we cowered in the corner too afraid to move, me, always the protective one, in front of my sister shielding her.  My mom sent us to my friend’s house while the city police removed my father.  This time she wasn’t patronized and told there was nothing they could do.  My father never came back into the house.  My mom and I took all his possessions out of the house and left them on the rental house’s car port for him to pick up.  She had enough.

I can’t say I was sad about my parent’s divorce.  It was more of a relief.  I still lived in a small town but not near as small as in Missouri.  I’m sure people knew about my father but eventually he went back to Missouri and we were left alone.  He never paid child support so we were always hurting for money until about the time I was a senior in high school five years later.  My mom moved up in her company and finally bought a house, all on her own where she lived until she died in 2014.

Since we worked together from 1998 until she retired in 2010, we participated together in the food drives, etc. that our company sponsored.  My mom, knowing the charity and generosity of others who helped her through tough times, gave generously.  Paying back and paying forward the kindness she received during her hard times.  We’d go to stores and load up on canned foods, toiletries and other things she knew people would need filling up the trunk of her Buick Lesabre and sometimes even the back seat.

We would smile knowingly at each other in the car after these shopping trips because we knew we had overcome a lot together.  My mom especially, raising two teenagers on her own while working long hours at a very stressful job.  Sometimes she’d squeeze my hand as if to say, “we made it”.   My mom and I were always a team of sorts, even from the time I was younger because we had to do the things needed to survive.  I cooked and cleaned while she worked long hours, doing laundry to help out.  At a young age, I figured out how to fix plumbing issues because we simply didn’t have the money for a plumber.  I mowed the are and raked the leaves.  I started working early to ease the burden of her having to buy me clothes  and give me spending money.  She never asked, I just did it as I knew I wanted to pull my weight, I wanted her to not feel bad because she couldn’t give me the things she felt she should.

We used to ride to work together, I would get phone calls at my desk all day long as she needed this or that even though I didn’t usually directly report to her.  That’s just how it was with us, we relied on each other heavily over all those years up until the moment she left this earth.  And now I feel her watching over me, her voice still in my head, her soul still living on in try daughters as I will watch them do or say something that sounds just like their grandmother.

Today, the girls and I carry on her spirit of charity not only just around the late year holidays, but all year in being kind to others, especially those who don’t quite fit in.  I’ve seen my girls champion for kids or people who are ostracized by the larger group.  They don’t see race as an issue or disability as something to be afraid of or avoid.  Nor is sexual orientation or even gender differences are something they judge a person on.    They seem to look past all these things that people especially in a small, predominately white town are wary to be exposed to and see the person as simply a person.  I am incredibly proud of my girls for accepting others as they are and not expecting them to be just like them.

Sometimes I hope this is a bit of my influence, teaching them as they grew up that you can’t always judge the book by its cover.  Like when I was younger and people of my community probably poor white trash or someone to feel sorry for as she had a drunk for a father.  Just because my daddy was a drunk though didn’t mean I would grow up to be a drunk too.  Or that being poor meant I was lazy or stupid or would grow up to be on welfare all my life. Or that I had to prove anything to anyone else at all.  I only had to prove things to myself.  There were times, when I had such a bad day at my tiny school, that the only thing that made me feel better was that blonde-haired doll my social worker gave me.  I could look at that doll and know I was worth something to a complete stranger.

Charity can be a powerful way to change the path of someone’s life, it shows them love and that love can make all the difference in someone’s world.

Father’s Day for the Dysfunctional Family

Today is Father’s Day, the day where dads receive ties (not so much now) and get to blissfully barbecue.  They are admired by their spouses/ partners and their children.  They are the dads who play video games, teach sports, cook, clean, chauffeur, reluctantly discipline, have the hard talks, teach defense, work hard, fix things, fix more things (or call someone to fix them), drink beer (or wine) but who are always there for their kids.  Or so the ideals and greeting cards want you to believe.  And I know there are a lot of dads out there that fit that bill, probably the majority of fathers do.  Oh, they aren’t perfect, just like Mom’s, they mess up once in a while but it is a mistake and not a pattern.

I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a very dysfunctional, alcoholic home.  By the time I was 12, my parents had divorced and my father had migrated back to Missouri.  I was relieved though saddened, that he was no longer part of my life then.  From then on, it was my mom, my sister and I.  My relationship with my father was to say the least dysfunctional.  He has also been gone since early June 2002.  For the most part, my life has been without a father there for me.  I know that kids grown up without one all the time.  They may have lost theirs early on to an accident or illness, it is very tragic.  However, I had one for years and well, I was never much on his radar, he was fighting his own demons.

I did have my maternal grandfather as an example.  He was more “dad-like” than my father.  My uncles.  I had Dad role models.  Though none of them lived close by.  We would see them occasionally.  Am I worse off not having a strong father figure?  One that was caring and involved in my life?  Who honestly knows.  I made poor choice in men however until later in life.  Was I seeking someone who was emotionally unavailable to mimic the relationship I had with my father?  Probably.  Would I have picked someone better for me if I had grown up in a more “normal” home?  I have no idea.  Maybe or maybe not.  Children of intact homes get divorced all the time, so that really can’t be determined.

Then there is my children’s father.  MIA as usual.  We divorced when our youngest daughter was 2 almost 3 after a year of separation.  For awhile, until I remarried 6 years later, there was every other weekend though for them it wasn’t joyous.  He had gone on some new religious tear, the one that doesn’t allow Harry Potter or trick or treating.  His new wife didn’t appreciate the girls invading her space and referred to them as ‘guests”.  The pair seemed determined to tear down their self-esteem so they could feel better about themselves.  Then when I remarried the 2nd time, their dad decided to move to South Carolina.  The girls felt rejected and unwanted.  He moved back for awhile but they never reconnected even remotely.  Then he returned to South Carolina where he has stayed.  He never calls, messages, texts, IM’s or even likes their stuff on FaceBook.  He didn’t bother to show for our youngest’s high school graduation even though the date had been set for several years, they were vacationing in Myrtle Beach.  His priorities are quite evident to all.

I feel bad about picking someone like him to marry.  I have amazing daughters but I feel bad that their father is so self-centered.  But is it all bad?   Maybe not.  They are very fierce, very independent and very outspoken girls.  I used the adversity of their father trying to preach to them and tell them how they were wrong for drawing dragons, that women could not be preachers and all that other rot he wanted to impart on them, to stand up for themselves, to be themselves and to never be afraid of authority.  If he had been the perfect dad, we had stayed together and everything been like it is portrayed in the movies, would they be the amazing women they are today?  I can’t answer that either but when I watch one of them stick up for someone else who is not able to or too shy to do it, I think maybe it was meant to be this way.

They haven’t clung to boyfriends or rushed to get married.  My youngest the other day has a serious boyfriend and she was talking about how he wants to live in a city when he graduates college.  She looks at me and says Mom, I told him that if we are together, I am not living in a city.  He is just going to have to compromise to be with me.  I smiled at her and said yes, it’s about compromise. She continued on about possiblites of living near a city so they could both have some of what they want.  Compromise is great, but what I loved most about that was she isn’t like me at that age.  I moved to the city to be with the boy because it is what he wanted.  I was miserable and ended up depressed.   I ignored my needs to be loved.   She isn’t willing to do this and she expects nothing less than compromise out of both of them.

Now my daughters are not without a “dad”.  Their stepfather of seven years is here every day for them.  He grills and fixes things, he helps to provide a good living for all of us, he watches over them even though they don’t realize he does.  And he loves them very much and has always quietly looked out for them and their needs.  He is the example I wanted them to have of how a man should treat the people they love.  What it is like to be with someone or have someone in your life who unlike their biological father, puts them first at times rather than puts themselves first at all times.  So their biological dad may be MIA, but the dad that chose them and their mother is here every single day because he wants to be, not because he has to be.  He has no blood relation to any of them.

Dads come in many shapes and sizes.  Your biological father may have been MIA in your life for whatever reason.  The hardest is when they choose to not be part of your life or have an addiction/ mental illness (such as mine) that makes it impossible for them to be a father.  But “Fathers” come in many different ways.  Grandparents, Uncles, a stepfather, an older brother or cousin, a family friend.   Sometimes you just can’t get hung up on blood and you have to embrace the men who willingly step into that patriarchal role out of choice and out of love.

My Dad may be gone for 13 years now but I can remember some good times, some good memories.  Enough time has passed that I can understand that he hadn’t willingly rejected me, that he struggled with something bigger than himself.  I can be upset with my children’s biological father for making choices that ensured he was not part of their lives but I have decided that is simply his loss, and maybe their gain as they were never happy around his judgments.  That I was brought together with a man who loves all four of us and takes care of us without us ever having to ask.  We are really blessed to have him in our lives.

Happy Father’s Day, to all the myriad of types of ‘Dads’ out there.  Go grill something, drink a beer, watch some sports, and pretend you like the gifts we got you.  You’re freaking awesome!