Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Search of Junes Gone By

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. She would have been 69 years old, which is not so old by today's standards. However, she died when she was 56.

Recently, in early June, I turned 50. I tried to remember what happened when my mother turned 50. Did we take her to dinner? Throw her a party? I couldn't recall. That would have been 19 years ago. Maybe we let the day pass by, because my mother did not like to be reminded that she was growing older. She hated her birthday.

While I may not remember her 50th, I do remember her 55th birthday. That is when I realized that the stomachache she brought back from Paris was more than something she'd eaten. She had returned in early May complaining of a pain in her belly, and we all thought it was from traveling.

But when she was still complaining of it when I had her over for small gathering on her birthday, I knew something was up. It wasn't many days later that she went into the hospital and the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came through.

Mom was a beautiful woman. She had an Elizabeth Taylor sort of beauty to her. She was skillful with makeup and never went out of the house without looking her best. She was not someone who went to Kroger in a jogging suit, no way. I don't think she even owned a pair of blue jeans for wearing around town; they were for gardening or working on the farm only.

My mother's birthday used to fall on the first day of summer; I don't know when they moved the day. I remember shopping for presents for her, looking for a pretty something with a quarter in my pocket. Until I could drive that was a very limited search. I think it mostly took place at Newberry's, which used to be a big five and dime department-like store in Salem. We spent summers with my grandmother, who lived in Salem, and we would walk to town.

I remember the shopping and the looking, and I can see my mother's face as she tried to look happy with whatever I purchased, but I can't for the life of me remember a single present I gave her. It must have been just so much trash, you know. A hand mirror, maybe, or a small jewelry box, or some little trinket. Life is full of little trinkets, isn't it? Easily forgotten. It is the doing I remember - trying so to find just the right thing.

My mother worked up until she was 50. She started the job when she was 15, working as a file clerk for a company in Salem that made submarine parts or something like that, secret stuff for the government. She worked at the receptionist desk and even though she had been with the company for over 35 years when she left, her title was still file clerk. I have always thought that was pretty sad, but how heroic, really, to have stayed there all of those years, working the same job.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see pieces of my mother. I have her hands. I do not look like her; I certainly do not have her beauty. I have never worried about my looks like she did, and while I seldom go out without makeup (I got that from her), I do tend to dress down more often than not. Most people do these days. I look in the mirror now and I see that I am starting to wrinkle, and I have a few skin things. My hair has been gray for a dozen years. My mother colored hers up until the last - her hair never fell out from the cancer treatments. That was how my grandmother knew they weren't working, she said.

My mother's last June was a terrible one. She was sick and in pain, and though we didn't know it, only two months from dying. We knew it was going to happen. In her last June they stopped the treatments because there was no point, and she didn't want to give up. She was angry with the doctors for not being able to treat her, to fix her, to make it all better. She fought to the last, all through June, but it was near the end of the month when we had to call the rescue squad and they took her from home for the last time. She died in August.

June has always been a month of birthdays for my family. At one time we celebrated in June the birthdays of my brother, myself, my uncle, my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandfather, and my mother. After I married a June boy we also celebrated his. 

Once my mother made me a cake shaped like a butterfly. I have a photo of it somewhere; I think I was ten. A special cake for a decade of life. Again, it's the doing that I recall, that action, my mom making me that cake.

I wonder what she would have thought of me this year, my turning 50. Would she have felt old, having a daughter so ancient? She was very young when she had me, too young, really, to be mothering a child. Women do it every day but that doesn't mean they should. We had a rocky relationship, my mom and I. Would she look back now at my life and say, yes, daughter, you accomplished much? Or would it be meaningless because it wasn't her dreams for me? I don't know.

Fifty-six seemed young to me when I was 37, the age I was when my mother died, and it seems even younger to me now, with the age just six years off. Six years to live the rest of my life - I hope not. But you never know. You can't know. When my mother turned 50 she didn't know she had only six more years.

So many Junes under my belt. So many Junes my mother has not seen in these years since she passed away. Time flows by like a gentle breeze, so soft on our skin we don't even notice it. Then we look back and it's like a tornado, the memories all swirling and tossed about. Who can make sense of it after such a torrent of time? Not me. Not you. No one, really. It is what it is, another June gone by.

3 comments:

  1. Nice, but sad and painful memories of your mother. Thanks for your honesty.

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  2. Sis,
    Another well written piece. Mom's proud of you, I know that. I know I am as well. For the record, for Mom's 50th, we went to Red Lobster on the 19th. It was also Father's day. Mom and Dad ended up in their typical argument that day. This I remember vividly. Dina was pregnant with Trey as well and we got up and left in the heat of battle. But for the life of me I cannot recall if you were there..........
    Diddle

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  3. That post brought tears to my eyes. It was filled with so emotion. But, June will soon be over and we can concentrate on the rest of the year and the rest of our lives. Hugs

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