Guilt. Mothers. Daughters

Originally published at Jen’s Corner. You can comment here or there.

I wrote this about my mom a few years ago. I was thinking about it today, and felt the need to post it here.

My mom was born in 1931 in Kansas City, MO. Her father molested her from when she was about 12 till she was about 16. Her mother didn’t believe her when she told about the incest. She had kept quiet about it to protect her younger sister — it didn’t work. Finally, her father was sent to jail for the incest, and her mother blamed her for it. She married young — 17 I believe — mainly to get away from home.

In 1950, she had Jimmy, in 1952 she had Michelle. In the meantime, she had told her husband about the incest with her father. When things got rocky in her marriage [Her husband hit her once, she decked him and told him if he did it again she’d kill him — that’s my mom! :) ] he suggested that she visit her family in Denver for a while to “cool off.” When she came back (about two weeks later) he had changed the locks and had filed for divorce on the grounds of abandonment.

He told her that if she didn’t go away (without the kids) he would tell the police/courts about the incest and get custody on the grounds that she was an unfit mother. (This was all in Oklahoma, BTW) Michelle was about two, I believe. Mom left. At this point she discovered that she was pregnant. Depressed, with her kids lost, she tried to commit suicide. A cop gave her $20 bucks and told her to get out of the state and not to come back. She went to Denver and tried (unsuccessfully) to abort the baby — she didn’t want any part of her husband. But, as she said later, “Once I felt it move, I knew it was MY baby, and I wanted it.” In 1954, Shanna Marie was born. She became pregnant again, and in 1955, Dorothy Lea was born. I don’t know if at that point she had contact with Jim (her ex husband) or if she just became frightened of that possibility — regardless, she felt that she could not let her ex get custody of these kids. She also felt that she was unable to be a good parent, that she was “bad” and was undeserving of the children. She arranged to give the two girls up for adoption on the condition that they be placed together. They were placed together, but only after a year or so in separate foster homes. (Mom was unaware of this.)

A couple years later (near as I can figure) Mom got together with my father. The relationship was stormy, but strong. After trying for 10 years, I was born. (Mom was 36) She still felt that she was unable to be a good parent. She was there, and I knew she loved me, but the “parenting” was mostly my dad. When I went to school and they began testing me, I tested off the charts. At this point, she “knew” that she couldn’t be a good mother and that she wasn’t “smart” enough to take care of me. Time passes.

We moved to the Northwest (from CA) when I was in third grade. I didn’t know this at the time, but the move was a last ditch effort to save their marriage. My dad was a borderline alcoholic at the least, and was depressed much of the time. I remember my mother trying so hard to make Christmas “perfect” and my father being deep in a funk, with mom and I walking on eggshells to keep the peace. I was 12 when they split up — they told me just after my birthday. At the time, I elected to stay with my father — I was a daddy’s girl, pre-teen, and not getting along with my mother at all. When I was 15, I couldn’t stand it anymore (my father’s mood swings and depression, my lunatic step-mother [seriously — but that’s another story] — there was one time when I struggled with my father over a loaded shotgun — he was going to kill himself) so I called my mom and begged her to come get me. She was working as a live in home care person at the time, but I was able to move in with my best friend who lived near her (in Oregon). Within a few months, my mom was able to find a tiny house and we moved in. We fought — horrible fights. I feel guilty to this day over how I treated her. There were good times, of course, but the fighting was awful. After I graduated high school I moved to Phoenix, AZ. Our relationship improved immediately!!

This was 1985 — before I left, she told me about her previous children. She was afraid I’d be “mad at her.” She said that she wanted to try to find them, and that she was afraid that I’d be upset. I told her of course I wasn’t upset — that if she wanted to find them, that was fine with me. After all (18 year old egocentric) what did it have to do with me? If she wanted to, great. If not, that was fine too. I left for AZ. I flew home once in 1986. I brought my mom to AZ in 1987. I saw her again in 1991, I think.

In the fall of 1992, she began to look for her kids seriously. She found an organization called “Seekers of the Lost” — they started to help her even before she was able to pay them. They found the phone number for her ex husband — and she called him. Jimmy (her son) was living in Oklahoma — he had been in Vietnam. They talked on the phone and they exchanged some letters. Michelle had been living for the last 10 years in EUGENE, OREGON! Mom called her, and they arranged a meeting. This was done with Seekers, and was also with PM Northwest, a local interest news show. They re-enacted the history, and showed the reunion — which was incredible. I wish I could have been there. This was early 1993. Michelle and Jimmy had known about mom — their step mom (thank goodness) kept mom’s yearbook for them, and told them about her — in a positive way. Soon after finding Michelle and Jimmy, she also located Shanna Marie (now Susan) and Dorothy Lea (now Marilyn) Susan didn’t want anything to do with mom, and wrote a letter explaining why. (Mom gave me a copy — it was honest & straight forward. Susan is in the Navy and is a submarine captain? Or something. Pretty cool.) Mom was disappointed, but understood and respected her feelings. Marilyn, on the other hand, had been looking for her, too. She came out to OR on a train and met Mom. Michelle came up from Eugene and met Marilyn. They stayed at Mom’s and had a slumber party. I wasn’t there. I called, and talked to all of them. I don’t know how long I was on the phone, but it was like I knew these women, like we had grown up together. The connection we had was incredible. Marilyn said something and I laughed — she said “oh my god you sound JUST like Susan!”

Mom had had congestive heart failure for 10 years. She had adult onset diabetes, and emphysema (she’d been a smoker most of her life.) When I lived with her when I was in high school, there were several times when I had to take her to the hospital. Times when I was managing the checkbook, paying the bills. After I left, she was in the hospital several times — sometimes she didn’t even let me know. She also went back to school — got her bachelor’s degree in 93.

In May 1994, Mom was back in the hospital, heart and breathing problems. While there, she wanted to go to the bathroom, and instead of waiting for a nurse, crawled over the end of the bed, fell, and broke her hip. She had to have surgery, and it went reasonably well. She recovered for a while in a convalescent home, then was able to go home with some adjustments.

In June, Michelle sent me a plane ticket for the first week of August – I was to go to Eugene, then we were going to drive to Oregon City to be with Mom. The morning of July 27, 1994, I got a call from my mom’s best friend — she had died that morning of congestive heart failure, at only 63 years old. I traded in my ticket to go home for the memorial service. My mom had planned everything — flowers, music, the works. Michelle and Marilyn came and we met for the first time. The service was wonderful — we all bawled, of course, but it really was good. Marilyn sang “Amazing Grace” — when she was done, she started crying and said “I made it through” — Michelle and I couldn’t have done it.

My best friends mom was out of town that week and loaned me her trailer — the three of us stayed there for a few days. We went to mom’s to go through the stuff — took us almost three days to get through it, Marilyn was able to stay for one, and Michelle left the next day, and I wrapped it up the following day. This may sound strange but we really had a good time together — we cried a lot and laughed a lot, and I know Mom would have loved it. The last night all three of us were together, we took Mom’s jewelry box back to the trailer and went through it. It was so funny, we’d pick up a piece and say, ooh, I want that, or, no way I’m EVER gonna be caught dead in that. Mom was probably laughing her butt off. Marilyn got the religious stuff, as it meant a lot to her. Michelle got the original yearbook (signed by Mom’s friends) as she had had it when she was growing up. I got the yearbook that Mom had ordered a few years ago — pretty cool to see your parents in high school. It was a sad yet wonderful time. I’ve since lost track of Marilyn, but I’ve sort of kept in touch with Michelle. None of us are much good at writing letters – we blame Mom for this. ;) Last I heard, Michelle is in Oklahoma.

I wish that she could have met my husband. I wish that she could have known that I turned out ok, and that I’m happy. I loved my mom, and I was so proud of her for what she went through, for what she had accomplished with so many roadblocks. I hope she knew that — I think she did. But the guilt for the past is so great. The guilt of the fights we had, the guilt of what I put her through, the guilt of not visiting more often. It still hurts sometimes.

When you were born,
You cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a manner that when you die,
The world cries and you rejoice.
– Ancient saying from India


2 Responses to Guilt. Mothers. Daughters

  1. This was an unbelievably touching story. I am glad that you shared it with the rest of us, and I can understand your “jeneral” philosophy about family and children a bit more clearly now.
    It would have been nice to have had a conversation with your mother. I suspect it would have been rather interesting. I’ll say it again – Rob’s lucky to have you as a lifemate.

  2. Wow. Quite a story…
    My mum is from 1933, from the other parts of the world, but there are some parts that are very similar. Not as colorful but still .. I feel guilty for small stupid things as well, and their criticizing me always for not wanting to do my life the way they want me to do it isn’t helping it either.. sigh.
    But you manage to be happy now with life, and are still proud of her. That’s what matters. Remembering her and understanding the family history .. way better than the average hallmark memorial of mother’s day.

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