True Story

It’s been five years today since I saw Mum. It was her first and last visit to Hippy Hill. We had moved in at the end of December. I was excited to show her the lady slippers growing along the edge of driveway. She told me she didn’t know if she could walk that far. For the first time in my life, my mother seemed frail when she had always been fierce.

Mum was the oldest of three girls. Her parents were teachers. My grandmother came to this country, from Scotland, through Ellis Island. My gramp was 1st generation American, from a French Canadian potato farming family that migrated to Maine from the maritime provinces. My mother was adored by her parents and her extended family. She had an effervescent personality and an intellect to match.

My grandparents worked hard to provide for their daughters. Gram loved taking her girls from their home in New Britain CT, on the train, to NYC for shopping and lunch. When my mother graduated from college they bought her a brand new, powder blue, Rambler.

I wonder if the extravagant gift was given, in part, to make up for the baby she gave up for adoption. She got pregnant while she was in college. She loved the boy but he did not love her. Her twin sisters were just 14; Gram couldn’t have that sort of example set for the twins. Mum bound her belly for her student teaching, then went to NYC to have her baby and give him to someone else to love.

My mother met my father. Against everyone’s better judgment, she fell in love with him. She got pregnant, with me, and they married. My mother loved the person she hoped my father would be. He was the love of her life. He brutalized her. When he beat her children mercilessly, she packed six kids in a station wagon, swallowed her pride, and began a life of abandoned dreams and indenture.

She was 32 years old, in 1970, when she moved to the genetically deprived town where we grew up. She was spirited and beautiful, independent and smart. She must have been so afraid of the future; to see it spread bleakly before her, endless days of dreariness surrounded by suspicious, small minds. She taught me two things that have shored me up through my life- to be fearless at adventure’s invitation and to demand reciprocity in romance, to take abuse from no one. I have never had the selfless courage she had.

She knew I was sexually active long before I was ready to be and she told me, “You’re just a little girl playing big girls’ games.” She desperately wanted to push the genie back into the bottle. She fought for me every step of the way. She sent me to a child psychologist, whom I did my best to shock during weekly visits. He told her I was smart and spoiled. I take issue with his assessment. I was not spoiled. I was very confused and afraid.

My mother tried to provide me with self-confidence. I loved her. She was the foremost authority on everything in my life until I was well into my twenties. I was her only friend for those first years in the village that became her future. I was privy to things a little girl shouldn’t be privy to. She was loyal to me through countless misadventures. She loved me for the person she knew I was inside. We had a complicated relationship.

She drank. She was a functional alcoholic, confining her indulgence to the hours after work and long boozy weekends. I’m sure she couldn’t have persevered without drinking. Dear Gawd, six kids one of them handicapped, no child support, working all day long with 32 kindergartners, coming home to a houseful of kids under the age of nine, driving 240 miles round trip on Thursday nights to attain her master’s so she could earn more to support her kids, packing fish through the summers at a cannery. She drank to survive.

We shared a pragmatic sense of humor, a noir intolerance for sentimental mush. I called her one morning, from New Orleans, overcome by an amazing tragedy. Someone had driven a van off the GNO bridge, purposely. The van landed on the rampart below, upright, on its wheels. I was amazed at the landing. I was laughing anticipating her question, “Did they live?” she asked. I laughed harder, “No” and she laughed too. We laughed until the tears ran down our cheeks, laughed at who would expect to live after a fall like that, laughed at the lunacy in life so it would know to stay away from us. We remembered that laughter, as a twisted punchline, for years.

I wrote prolifically to her. After she died I found some of those letters, confiding things that she must not have wanted to know, too much information. She championed my causes. She loved me most when I was unencumbered. I used to think she competed with my husband for my affection. That wasn’t it. She wanted to be sure that he deserved me, that I didn’t relinquish myself to his dream, that I was safe in the treacherous waters of married love. I found his cell phone number in her wallet, after she died, “in case of emergency”.

My mother blamed herself because I chose to disregard my biological destiny, rejecting procreation in my life. I watched carefully as she sacrificed for her children. I knew my limits. I do not have the selfless determination she had. My mother was not the mother of the year. She was a strong, difficult woman, who gave practically all of herself to her kids so they could grow to become willful, independent people, beholden to no one. I am who I am because she boosted me up even as her back was breaking. True story.

About elroyjones

Married, no children, responsibly self-directed, living happily.
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28 Responses to True Story

  1. Peggy says:

    What a lovely tribute to Beth. It is a wonderful history and she would be most pleased to read it. I would love to hear what she would say about it – her twist on it, if any. She was an amazing woman and everyone loved her. Well, except those small minded people who were hypocrites, my mother included. At least Beth acknowledged your activities instead of hiding and hoping for the best. She was a strong woman and a good role model. You must really miss her.

    • elroyjones says:

      I imagine she would see her life and the things she gave up in a much more optimistic light. As I snuck out of the house on tied bedsheets she told the world, “Elroy is rebellious but she is very polite. She doesn’t argue, she says ‘Yes, Mum’ and then does just what she wants to.” I loved her and she knew it. I miss her.

  2. Your stories always lead me to contemplation… and other highly dangerous behavior.

  3. True story, told perfectly.

  4. Pink Ninjabi says:

    I’m speechless by how impactful this story is, how intricately written with such bravery of soul and honesty in reflection. Absolutely stunning. Wow. My heart is impacted with your words. Thank you.

    Pink.

  5. gkinnard says:

    First the content: ‘Outstanding’ is the best word I can come up with, but it’s woefully inadequate. In this wonderful work you featured love, respect, fairness, and honesty, and represented each their truest forms. What a history! What a tribute! What an insight into who YOU are.

    Now the style. Elroy: If I could write like you for a mere day I would make my life’s fortune and retire. I am serious: I truly hope you understand how well you write. I’ve been a reader all my life. The writers I enjoy the most are those who are brutally honest, know how to pack a punch, know how & when to insert the unexpected, and can do all this in a concise manner. Ma’am, that would be you! Let me end by saying, “fearless at adventures invitation” is one of the best lines I have read in a very, very long time!

    • elroyjones says:

      Thank you, George. Every year at this time I think about the last time I saw her alive. I had to see her after she was dead too so I’d know she was for sure and I wouldn’t expect to see her again. Every time something funny happens I want to call her to make her laugh. I wrote this for Darla because she wanted to know more.

      Bless your heart George, my misguided brother from another mother. If you could write like me for a mere day you would not make your life’s fortune and retire. I have the rejection notices to prove it. I don’t care. I love to write and no one can stop me. I write as I think, then I delete liberally as I ask “Does this add to my story?” I try to get rid of everything that is superfluous.

      I love the freedom of this part of my life. I can say whatever I want because, along with being the decider, I am the GROWN UP.

      One more thing, the most important thing- thank you for taking the time to read and to comment, your opinion matters.

      • gkinnard says:

        Rejection notices tell me something important about you: they say you’ve TRIED! If you have one such notice, then you have more than I. No rejection notices and no acceptance letters say that I’ve never even tried . . . and I regret that.

        If I were you I’d frame those damn notices and display them proudly for they tell the world that you are someone who would be—and will be—heard!

        If YOU write it, I will read it! Keep plugging away at it Kid, you’re gonna make it!

      • elroyjones says:

        It’s not too late to submit George. Start with the university presses and submit the Dad series as a whole.

      • gkinnard says:

        Thank’s for your encouragement! I’m on the path to confidence—I can see it in the distance—but I haven’t arrived yet. Someday . . .

  6. This was awesome. On many levels. I am adopted, so that part struck a chord. I went walking with my mom at the beach today. She is almost 90, and had to stop quite a few times to rest. I could go on, but I can’t, if you see what I mean…

    • elroyjones says:

      I do see what you mean. Love is a wonderful thing; it’s the only thing. One of the reasons I follow your quirky adventures is the blatant manner in which you cherish your family. The other reason is I keep hoping you will write more but obviously you’re just going to do whatever you want. My husband is adopted too. In a way that would take too long to explain, and may reveal me for the selfish person I am, it has contributed to what we have and I need.

      • I do need to write more. My numbers are falling. I was getting 200 hits a day, and now it is 20 and 40. Or is it just summer? Let me do a couple last posts to clear my phone pictures, and try a new direction. You are good to me, and good for me. Thanks.

      • elroyjones says:

        Your numbers are down because it is summer, people are busy living their lives, graduations, weddings, and the beach- something you have certainly been well acquainted with lately!

      • Sigh… then I guess this is a good time to clear my phone of pictures so I can move on… and start using my new camera…ha

  7. Thank you. Thank you so much for this. This is just so beautiful, I don’t even know what to say. I have to read it again.

    • elroyjones says:

      Every year I put a little memoriam in the paper for Mum’s birthday. I put them in anonymously as an announcement to those people who judged a hard working, divorced, woman that they never bothered to know. One year I wrote- “Prevailing in harmonious cacophony, living in a rapture of color, intrigued by life, a fountain of bubbling optimism dedicated to happy endings; missed beyond measure.” She died on the 4th of July, the eve of her 70th birthday. This year’s will be the last memoriam, she would have been 75. As Peggy said, “She was an amazing woman and everyone loved her.” The people, who really matter, know.

      We are very different- west coast/east coast, conservative/liberal, Christian/atheist, black/white, mother/childless but in our hearts we are very similar. I often think, my writer friend, that if we can shed our differences and share our commonalities, why can’t the world?

      You were the catalyst for this story, thank you.

  8. Our differences — wow, that is so interesting to read. When you put it that way, yes, it does seem attainable. Let’s have our goal be one neighbor (and bloggers are our neighbors) at a time. Hopefully it will spread.

    Mum: Will you share with us this year’s memoriam? I’m getting teary-eyed thinking about it. This post is so special. It sounds like she earned the adoration that you have for her, shared here in your wonderful elroyjones way. I hope we get to see her again.

    • elroyjones says:

      I couldn’t top what I wrote here, so I lifted a lot for this year’s, the final one.

      In Loving Memory of Mum Jones
      July 5, 1937-July 4, 2007
      She taught her kids to be fearless at adventure’s invitation, never to relinquish their dreams, to laugh at misery, setting a precedent for self-reliance. She could sing, she could dance, and she walked like a happy ending.
      She gave it all she had.

      I read it to my sister, to be certain it applied to all of us kids, it does, and she loved it.

      • I love it, too. I hope my son is able to share clear and personal memories of me like you do for your Mum. She gave you gifts of herself. I’m having fun imagining her walk — that description is wonderful.

  9. ShimonZ says:

    a moving, well told story.

  10. sacha1nch1 says:

    have you ever read any jean rhys? you have a similar feel….i think……she took a while to find acclaim; very ahead of her time

    • elroyjones says:

      It’s been well over 25 years since I read her. I lived in Singapore then and she filled some interminable hours during the monsoon season. As I recall her writing is forthright. Thank you for the comparison, most generous!

      • sacha1nch1 says:

        you’re welcome; in all honesty i’ve only read two, but when i started reading your blog i was just reminded of them….accepting, but not going down without a fight

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