There was a young newcomer at last night’s AA meeting who talked about forgiving her mother. She got me thinking about my own mother.
My mother was a little woman, only 5’ 4”, but she had a strong personality. Nothing wishy washy about her. She grew up in an engineering family and followed the bent of her electrical engineer father and naval engineer brother into engineering. Graduating as the first woman architectural engineer from the University of Michigan, she also followed the expectations of society and married right out of college. She wanted children; he didn’t want children. Didn’t they talk about this before the wedding? I have a photograph of her wearing riding gear while waiting for her Reno divorce to become final.
The depression slowed her down but didn’t stop her dreaming. She sold encyclopedias door to door from a model T until her mother died in 1928. Moving to California with her father in the 1930’s, she found a job as a draftsman in an architectural office. She was always annoyed that they would only hire her as a draftsman.
She met and married what looked like a good prospect in 1939. Gunny, as he was called, had a LLD and wanted children. She got pregnant that very first year, but pregnancy was tough on her 40 year old body. Her well educated husband went away to WWII and came back an alcoholic.
Once, as I ate lunch sitting in a cool, safe booth at the Silver Dollar Cafe, I counted their lunch drinks. Eleven martinis that day. Then they went back to work at the little print shop mother had started in our basement so they would have income coming in. Mother was one of those responsible, mean, in control drunks.
“Why do you drink with him,” I asked her many years later.
“So he wouldn’t drink alone.” She told me. She became an alcoholic too.
She had family that cared, a brother and father. She had a daughter, only one, with severe learning disabilities that no one understood in the 1940’s. Also in the 40’s, she had colon cancer and was told she was going to die.
“I was hard on you because I had to make you self-sufficient,” she told me years later.
In 1966 Gunny’s pipe smoking metastasized into a cancer that killed him in a particularly awful death. The doctor’s dripped scotch into an IV so he wouldn’t have the DT's as he died. Just about the same time, his mother also died, and my overweight, very unhappy mother was left rattling around in a large house with no friends to call her own. She went on a diet, switched from martini’s to scotch, bought a new custom sewn wardrobe, sold the house, and drank herself happier on an around the world cruise. Or two. She loved cruising. Loved taking her hotel with her. She had so isolated herself that she had no friends left.
She found an apartment near the bay in San Diego, and she drove to a favorite near-by bar to write letters and schmoose over scotch in the afternoons. She met a charming charter boat captain there, and not long afterward they moved in together. She was twelve years older than he. He drank just as much as she did though. He had a yacht. He was gay….but that didn’t matter to mother. He bought a bigger yacht to make her happy. I’m sure she paid for it. They cruised the coast of the California’s in company with many of his friends.
She didn’t change a lot. Once two miles off the coast, her eldest granddaughter dropped a piece of chewing gum on the deck. My angry mother tried to kick her granddaughter overboard. She gave her daughter a car then took it back. She said she would pay college tuition but tried to back out. She was good in the mornings, and mean at night. She was always mean and cruel in every phone call.
She faded away her way with diabetes caused renal failure. Her husband had her cremated. For a year or more, there her ashes sat in a box in her chair. One day the box was gone. Where? We don’t know for sure. My husband thinks she is in the landfill. I think she was thrown overboard at the dock.