Saturday, May 9, 2009
What I Don't Know About My Mother
It's Mother's Day weekend and I've been thinking about my mother: First, she's been dead now for 10 years. Second, we did not get along at all when she was alive, but my hurt and angry feelings about that seem to be fading away with time. Third, now that she's gone, I've been wondering about a few things. Not that I know an awful lot about my mother and her elders; she wasn't the kind to share stories about herself, her parents and grandma. But over the years I've put together bits and pieces and it's honestly left me with more questions than answers.
I know that her grandmother, my great grandmother, was Tillie Devine. Tillie married a man who was not a good husband. (I'm not even sure what my great grandfather Devine's name was.) At some point, either my Grandma Tillie divorced him or he abandoned her and his three children: Mrytle, Edward and my Grandfather Herbert. In my mother's eyes, my Great Grandmother Tillie was a saint, an angel. I even heard my mother say that she idolized her. She died when my mother was 15 years old. So my mother had this great connection with her grandmother who obviously endured a bad marriage and at some point found a way to move beyond it.
Then there was her mother, my Grandma Ann Devine, who I adored. My grandmother got married sometime in her thirties, in the 1930s and gave birth to my mother in 1937 when she was about 37 years old. As my Grandma explained to me when I was a child, she was really excited when she was pregnant with my mother and was looking forward to having more children as well. But when the pregnancy with my mother ran into some problems, the doctor advised my Grandma not to have any more children. I know one of my mother's many resentments against my Gandma was that she was an only child.
My Great Aunt Myrtle, my mother's aunt, never had children and married at an older age to a man who was a widower. Born in 1898, she was a professional working woman for most of her life---a nurse. I am not sure, but I believe that she didn't get married until the mid to late 1950s. I remember going to her home in Inglewood, CA as a child in the 1970s with my parents and Grandparents Devine. I remember lots of nick knacks on all the end tables and bookshelves. My siblings and I moved cautiously in this environment, careful not to break anything. When she died in 1984, instead of being buried next to her husband, she was buried next to Grandma Tillie at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, CA. I also learned after her death that a lot of those nick knacks were expensive bits of porcelain like Limoges, crystal and other collectibles.
Lastly, when my mother did get married at the age of 25 in 1963, my youngest sister says that on her wedding day, her father told her she didn't have to get married if she didn't want to. My sister says that my mother was very upset with her father for saying this to her. The only other information I know is that my parents had a short courtship, only 6 months, which ended in their marriage on August 24, 1963.
I know my mother started voicing her regrets with her choices regarding marriage and family when she was in her 50s. Her friends at work told me she said if she had to do it over again, she WOULD NOT get married and she WOULD NOT have kids. So my question: Why did she get married in the first place? If my information above is correct, she had lots of role models in the women in her life who, when it came to love and marriage, did things very unconventionally. I mean, Grandma Tillie, born in 1879, getting divorced in the first half of the 20th Century? Her mother getting married in the 1930's well into her 30s? Her aunt getting married late in her 50s in the 1950s to a widower, past the time she could have children?
Wouldn't having all those women in your family give you the courage to do things differently if you wanted to follow the beat of a different drummer and buck societal expectations?
On the other hand, I guess having so many offbeat female relatives might push someone to be more traditional and conservative in their choices...
I wonder if the question from her father on her wedding day was more prophetic than anyone has even given him credit.
And I guess I'll never know for sure.
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