It never occurred to me to write a book about my mom, for several reasons. But discovering a photo taken of her when she was just nineteen made me realize how little I knew about her life before I came along. I imagine she kept those precious, shining memories of her first two decades safely locked away, as if sharing them with her children would somehow dilute their potency. It’s real to me those private, treasured keepsakes were the only things she had to turn to for reaffirmation of life when things got really bad, which they did, often.
I would’ve loved knowing more about that time in my mother’s life, when it looked like her future would be as promising and rich as her formative years had been. From this distance I can’t recall ever asking her about her past, though kids are naturally curious creatures. She may have deflected my questions, preferring not to share her treasured or painful memories, though it may have benefited us both tremendously if she had. But once I found that mesmerizing photo of her, one that revealed a side of her I’d never seen before, it was too late. That memory, along with most all of her past, had already been obscured by Alzheimer’s.
The fact that photographs from that period were kept hidden away from her three children says a lot; those memories were precious to her and they belonged to a time when she felt completely in control of her life and her destiny. There is so much I will never know about her first marriage, though I remember the precious artifacts that managed to survive the divorce: the silver serving bowls and the lead crystal stemware, pieces she brought out on holidays. Being young, we knew nothing of their worth, though their value was obvious by the way she lovingly handled them. Her treasures became our treasures.
But what of that man she had married? I don’t think he would’ve ever come up if it hadn’t been for the finery that appeared on our table a couple times a year. I do remember her telling us they had been married for five years, probably in response to relentless badgering on our part. But the romance, the nuts and bolts of their life together—that remained a mystery to us.
I can only imagine that my mother guarded her past the way she guarded her keepsakes; that period in her life was one of the few things her children and subsequent husbands couldn’t take away from her.
She held out hope that she’d reclaim the life she’d been destined for, accepting marriage proposals fast and furiously after she had finally extricated herself from our father. She held her cards close to her chest, but she made sure we were taken care of and kept safe. I guess that’s all she felt we needed to know.
I think part of our mother’s reticence had to do with the time she was born into. I also think disappointment over the way her life had played out weighed heavily on her. As I entered my teens, she accepted four marriage proposals in two years, and the only reason I know this for a fact is because that hauntingly beautiful photo of her made me do a deep dive into her past. I remembered the men; they were hard to forget. What I didn’t remember was their lightning-fast passage through our lives. Marriage and divorce records supplied the astonishing timeframe.
The more I pieced together about my mom’s life, the more I realized how distant we were. I know I shared openly with her about my life once I was out of the house for good. But there had been so much more recent drama in my mom’s life, I guess it never occurred to me to dig deeper in hopes of finding happy memories.
As the years passed, our relationship became more volatile. There were triggers I wasn’t privy to that would set her off. Lost promise and crushing heartache had melded into a festering disillusionment that spilled out of her at what seemed to me very inappropriate times. Having tilled up her past, I can see what sparked her feelings of resentment and hurt. But at the time, those episodes were baffling to me and only served to put a greater distance between us.
Time doesn’t always heal old wounds. The only respite my mom got from her painful past has come courtesy of Alzheimer’s. In this less-encumbered state of mind, my sister, brother and I have gotten to know a kinder, gentler woman, the essence of that beautiful young being that had so much to look forward to in life, the life that despite her best efforts always eluded her.
Ruth celebrated her 88th birthday last month. None of us expected her to live this long, least of all her! The child-like delight she took in the flowers and sweets that marked the occasion filled her three adult children with love and gratitude, not only for her strength and determination to carry out her duty as a mother, but for the peace and serenity that has been restored to her soul. She’s still every bit as beautiful as she was in that photo taken in 1949, inside and out.
“Finding Ruth” will be available for FREE downloading, April 26th and 27th. https://amzn.to/2kqZyOm
“Spouse Trap”—the prequel to the Madeline Dawkins series—is also FREE April 26th thru the 28th, in anticipation of the upcoming release of the third book in the series, “Girl Trap”.
Check them out and let me know what you think!
Until next time,