Raving About My Mother
Mom — I know she’s saying, “Don’t you dare take a picture of me!”
Yesterday, my mom turned 83. Once a statuesque 5’10”, she is now dwarfed by my daughter’s towering 5’7″. She’s lost 3-1/2″ to osteoporosis, probably due to lack of calcium in her formative years. My grandmother raised goats, but for some reason her children rarely drank their milk. And there were certainly there were no daily multi-vitamins.
Mom grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, when starvation was, for many, a very real possibility, though she says her family never went hungry. Of course, her definition of hunger is probably much truer to its real meaning than the way the word is generally used today. There were seven children in the Armstrong family, and I’m guessing if you didn’t eat what was put in front of you, you didn’t eat.
Since they were both children of the Depression, it’s not surprising that Mom and Dad enforced a similar rule when I was growing up, “Don’t leave the table until your plate is clean.” I was the picky one of us kids, and spent many evenings staring at the green beans on my plate after everyone else had left the table. (For the record, I like beans; it’s just if they are over-cooked — which was the only way they were ever cooked back then — the strings make me gag.)
I can’t imagine trying to raise seven kids on a single income, although strictly speaking, it was probably like one-and-a-half incomes because I think Grandpa usually had more than one job. That’s a lot of mouths to feed during an era not known for its bounty.
My mother’s sisters all married young, mostly at sixteen and seventeen. Mom was the exception, holding out until she was twenty-two — a real rebel. (If you knew my grandmother, you’d know that statement is accurate. She wanted everyone to marry young, have children, and live within ten minutes of her.)
Mom met my dad while working at one of Akron’s many rubber companies (Goodyear, if that sort of detail matters to you). She got the job by going in every day and asking if they had any jobs available. From that I learned persistence pays off.
She and Dad went out for the first time after he told her he’d take her to the races (horse, I think — I heard this story many years ago and may not have it exactly right). She’d been joking with another guy, asking him when he would take her to the races. Dad stepped up, said, “I’ll take you,” and so they went out.
I can’t imagine they actually went to a horse race though. Mom’s family was strictly Baptist — no dancing or gambling allowed. Come to think of it, that may explain the seven kids. What else was there to do?
Anyway, she got very red when she told me this story because it seems they went to see her parents at the end of the date (she didn’t live at home — Mom was a rebel, remember?), and when she tried to introduce my father, she didn’t know his name. She said to me, “Well, I knew they called him Fred or Red or something like that, but I was too embarrassed to ask.”
My dad’s name, for the record, is Merlin. They used to call him red because when he was younger, he had gingery hair.
Mom and Dad were married for twenty-seven years before they got divorced. From this, I learned to never take your marriage for granted. I think the implosion of their union was like a perfect storm — a lot of things they could have gotten through had they come one at a time.
She’s not perfect, my mom, and I know she’s made decisions she regrets.
We all have.
But, Mom is a wonderful woman, and many people love her. We were in the grocery store the other day, and she was talking to an acquaintance when someone else that she knew came by, so Mom started talking to her. The first friend asked, “Does she know someone everywhere?”
Yes, as a matter of fact she does.
My co-workers are always saying, “Hey, Kym, I saw your mom the other day.” That statement is invariably followed by, “She gave me a hug.”
Of the seven children in her family, there are only two left. My father and stepfather are both gone, as are many of her friends. She has had two knees replaced and cataract surgery on both eyes. She has had broken bones and now walks with a cane. Hearing aids now adorn her ears. She also texts — often in all caps because she hit the wrong button and doesn’t know how to turn it off.
I get messages that say, “Are you COMING OVER TOMORROW?” or “Can you pick UP ENGLISH MUFFINS FOR ME?”
It always makes me laugh.
Two years ago, Mom voluntarily gave up driving, and I know she misses the independence it gave her. Still, she takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. Hence, the sightings by my co-workers and friends.
She says, “Getting old is not for sissies.”
I’m so glad she’s not a sissy because I can’t imagine a world without her in it.