Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today my mother would have been 68 years old, had pancreatic cancer not taken her away in 2000. She was only 56 when she died - an age that, from where I sit now, is not so very old.

Birthdays were not something my mother cared to celebrate. I do not recall her greeting any birthday with open arms. Old age was something to fight and deny. She did not want to have gray hair, wrinkles, or sags.

My mother was a beautiful woman in her youth. My paternal grandfather used to say she reminded him of Elizabeth Taylor. I think it was the dark hair.

She wanted to stay beautiful, I think.

The picture above was taken in the early 1990s, when she was about 44 or so. I have that same graying around the edge on the same side of my hair. I do not color my hair, and I wear the gray proudly.

I don't mind growing old. I can't stop it from happening, anyway.

My mother had a storied life. She was only 18 years old when I was born, and that is too young to be a mom, I think. She took a job when she was 16 and stayed at the same desk from that time until she was 48 or so, when she retired. Over 30 years. Her job was in Salem, where she grew up, and so she drove back and forth, a 40-minute drive, every weekday.

She worked on the farm with my father, gathering hay, tending cattle, canning vegetables. She was a town girl but took to this new life, or tried to, anyway. I never knew if she was happy at it.

Her creativity was boundless; she sewed, made crafts, painted Christmas decorations. I have some of her needlework; it hung on my walls for a long time, until I feared it was fading from sunlight and I put it away to preserve for my niece.

She liked the beach better than the mountains, at least in her latter years. She said she felt better at sea level and had less aches and pains.

Cooking was also something she enjoyed, and she made lots of different foods of many varieties.

I did not inherit her talents, I'm afraid.

The cancer that took her was an unwelcome beast, and she fought it to her last breath. Her fight was strong but she could not best it.

Life is funny. You never know how long you have, you can only do the best with what you do have, and in the end you have no idea if you made a passing grade. I doubt anybody gives out "As" at the end anyway.

Mom, I don't know what the last decade would have been like had you still been around. I don't know if it would have been better or worse.

I do know for sure it would have been different.

Happy Birthday.


  1. She looks very much like Elizabeth Taylor and it's not just the hair!

    I'm sure you miss her a lot. I bet she'd be happy you write about her.

  2. Such a loss and a life cut so short. I learned some new things about pancreatic cancer on NPR last night, driving home from Roanoke.
    She reminds me of a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Dixie Carter.

  3. My sister was remarkable in many ways. She got all the looks (yes, I agree, she DOES look a lot like Elizabeth Taylor!) - she got all the talent - she could sew and cook and sing and draw and decorate and do almost everything to perfection. Me, I can barely sew on a button, if I can't nuke it, I don't cook it, and I have zero taste!!! I always admired her talents and I loved her very much. I miss her more than I can say. Thank you, niece, for helping to keep her memory alive. I loved your story, and I love YOU.
    Aunt Carolyn


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