Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Are You My Mother?

Yesterday, April 24, 2006, a woman named Gertrude Johnston Day died in Lafayette, Louisiana. Two months shy of her 97th birthday, she had spent the past 15 years in an assisted living facility. She was physically healthy, but Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for her to take care of herself.

This woman gave birth to my brother and me, but there were only rare occasions that I remember when I could call her my "mother." She was a Jehovah's Witness and for my entire life I never knew what she - that woman named Gertrude - thought about anything. What I had instead of a parent was the Watchtower society. We never discussed politics in my house. We never discussed science, we never talked about society and culture, we never talked about current events. I entered my adult years crippled by the lack of knowledge about how the world works and how to navigate my way to happiness. It's no wonder that I am so omnivorous about knowledge still. To read about someone else's similar experience go to this link: http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily/04_13_2005.html To further complicate matters, my brother and I are adult children of an alcoholic father. So between them I never had any fun growing up. Not like Heather http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily/02_08_2005.html and Heather grew up MORMON!

I can name the things I remember that were things a mother would do. I wanted to go to school so badly, but my birthday was in late December, so I had missed the deadline. My mother enrolled me in "dancing school" so that I could still say I was in school. Ballet has been a passion since I was 5. She also was the person that I saw reading Pearl Buck, Jane Austen, Dostoyevski; all the classics. She was the one who took me to the library to get my cherished library card. She enrolled me in a program offered by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and they sent a little booklet every month with stickers that I had to place in the right spots. I learned about the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, the Winged Victory of Samrothrace, Picasso, Monet, so many wonderful works of art. My favorite was the now-famous-for-the-Bud-Lite-commercial Winged Victory and many, many years later when I stood in the Louvre and saw her, I cried. And when I moved with my husband to Montana to the sheep ranch, for a while she wrote to me every single day. Not much, just something, so that I would get mail - like you would for a child at summer camp.

She always loved my brother best and made no bones about it. He was the good son, I was the stubborn, recalcitrant, wicked daughter. Even though she had to grant that I was smart, she made sure that I knew that I was not good at math and I didn't know that she was wrong until I took a math class in Billings when I was 30-something and got an A. Somehow, my parents helped my brother graduate from medical school. They provided me with one year of college with the stipulation that I take shorthand and typing. Apparently they believed that only boys could make a living being doctors.

They say that parents love their children unconditionally. Not my mother.
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