October 30

Finding Ruth: Confronting the Unexpected

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It didn’t hit me until after I found my mom unconscious on her living room floor that I had sold her short by believing I had been privy to every trial and injustice she had been subjected to in her long life. Or to put it another way, I certainly didn’t feel I could accuse her of not sharing. In fact, I had considered myself an expert on my mom’s history, though in retrospect I see now that only applied to her grudges and her extensive medical history.

The truth is, I was so sure I knew everything about Ruth Evelyn Schimming-Patterson-Wathen-Padgett-Baney, I was flabbergasted when I discovered a photo I’d never seen of her when she was 19, a smiling, confident young woman who was ready to take on the world, radiant in the belief that a beautiful future was hers for the taking.

Confronting that one image shattered the notion I knew anything at all about her. It humbled me and made me regret all the years that had passed without prodding her into telling me what her aspirations were before she married her first husband, how she had met my father, and what had she expected from life. That one photo set me on a journey into her past. And at this stage of the game, I had to piece it together without benefit of her personal recollections.

Since I started on this quest to know my mom from her point of view, I’ve encountered many people in the same position. Is this due to the era our parents were born into, or is it generational? Do we do the same thing with our own children? Are some families just more open than others?

How is it with your family—do you parents share too much or nothing at all? How much do you share with your own children?  Share your story in the comments below.

During the same period, while I was tearing around town, trying to stay on top of the new set of responsibilities my mom’s crisis had unleashed, a scene from my childhood—the one I describe in the prologue—kept flashing across my mind’s eye. The odd thing about that particular recollection was my take on it. Though it had been an earth-shattering event to my siblings and me at the time, seeing it through my adult eyes made the vision of three young kids staring bug-eyed as our mother hurled our dishes to the floor struck me as humorous. Had I seen it in a movie, I would’ve surely laughed.

I’ve since discovered smashing dishes was a not uncommon way for a mother to vent her frustrations. One of the editors who worked on the project told me her mom had done the same thing. And so too had her friend’s mother.

Of course, venting doesn’t have to be limited to destroying the dishes. What colorful displays of outrage have you witnessed, read or heard about? Share them with us in the comments below.


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