Thursday, May 8, 2014

Finding My Mother

As I have written about before, my mother was physically and emotionally abusive to me as a child. As a result, my relationship with her became increasingly strained as I grew older, eventually getting to the point where it was virtually nonexistent. For some reason(s) which I don't exactly know, I never talked to my mother about her childhood and young adulthood. She never brought it up, to my recollection, never talked about it. And I didn't ask.

Mom grew up in a somewhat harsh and dysfunctional environment that was probably also abusive. Her parents divorced when she was six or seven years old. She had two older brothers - Bernard and "Bubbie" (Carl) and a younger brother, Byron. When the family split up, Bernard went to live with his grandparents, and as best I can tell, Bubbie and Byron sort of floated between living with their mother, their father and their grandparents. 

I'm not exactly sure why my mother never talked about her life before marriage. Of course, when I was a child, that's just the way it was - it was my normal. As I got older, however, I think I sensed that this was a topic that I couldn't discuss with her. Again, I'm not sure why I never asked. Perhaps I did but can't remember. Then she died in 2007 after a long illness. And the door was closed forever.

Anyway, I had only two pictures of my mother prior to marrying my dad. The lead picture is one. She is standing next to her brother Bernard, sometime in the mid-40's I think. I never met my Uncle Bernard. By the time he came along, he had nothing to do with his family. Whatever the reason, that's just the way it was.

I also didn't meet my mother's father until I was 16 or 17. Mom had nothing to do with him, which as I understand it dated back to at least the time of my parents' marriage. That was my normal as I was growing up, but when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to meet him; so I drove over to the St. Louis area. Mom stayed home.

The other picture we had of my mother was this one at the left, taken sometime in the late 40's. I'm not sure why she never had any pictures of her taken in her childhood or youth. She just didn't. And that's the way it was.

These two pictures, along with the stories my grandmother told me - were the only windows I had into my mother's past, until about five years ago. I was contacted by my cousin Mark son of my Uncle Bubby, who had died in the late 80's. In the process of our correspondence, I discovered that Mark had his father's old photo album. He agreed to send it to me. As I looked at the pictures, a whole new world opened to me that I had never seen before: my mother's childhood and youth.

Mom is on the right

My mother and her mother

Mom and one of her cousins

I love this picture. My mother is second from the right. I love seeing her like this, and the other persons in the photograph are also interesting, like the boy bottom left and the skinny (headless) life guard.

I love this picture

And this one

In St. Louis

Somewhere in East St. Louis

There were also some pictures from the early years of my mother's marriage. The thing that I liked the most about the two following pictures is that they show Mom smiling - something I don't remember her doing a lot of when I was a child.

Summer of 1951: Mom with two of her brothers and Grandma (who always had a Lucky Strike in her hand)

Mom, Grandma and my oldest brother, Mike in the summer of 1951

I'm also grateful for this slide (that my cousin Mark shared with me) that Uncle Bubby had taken within two weeks of my birth. I audibly gasped the first time I saw it. This would be an amazing photograph, even if it had nothing to do with me or my family. The last slide is also precious to me.

My dad holding me with brother Danny on the left and brother Mike on the right

(L-R) Danny, Mike, me and my sister Karen

I am grateful that, 20 years after my Uncle's death and a few years after my mother's death, these images came into my life. Seeing these pictures not only gave me insight into my mother; they also gave me insight into me, my parents' marriage and my relationship with Mom. They presented an entirely different picture of her than that which I had previously. I'm grateful for that.

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