**Author's Note** Please feel free to skip this. It isn't funny nor is it about beer. This is just a little something I penned for a wonderful woman I knew. -Doc.
"Unforgettable, though near or far." Nat "King" Cole.
"That you take a beating, regardless," Roy Bentley.
My mother was born in the wild hills of West Virginia and grew up poor. Her mother was in and out of several relationships and sired four children, some in and some out of wedlock. Apparently Grandma liked to lead the "wild life". When Grandma's job at the fireworks factory wasn't enough to cover expenses, she did the only thing she could think of and appealed to the State for help. The State in it's infinite wisdom, provided help by taking her four children away and sending them to foster homes and didn't give Grandma a dime or a choice. My mother and my Uncle Joe went to live with Mama & Daddy Hibbs, an elderly couple who lived way back in the hills and ran a small pig farm to support themselves. They had no children of their own or two nickels to rub together, but they had a huge surplus of love and took care of my mother for many years. A few months after moving in with Mr. & Mrs. Hibbs, Joe lied about his age and joined the Army and headed to Korea*, leaving my mother to fend for herself in her new home.
At the time, feed sacks were often decorated with pretty flowers or pastoral country scenes. As these were tough and plentiful, from these Mama Hibbs sewed my mother's dresses. Every morning, after finishing her chores, she hiked three valleys over to the one room school house where she received her education in the three R's. Now I know that kids can be cruel and are generally not very accepting of outsiders, but those children will never know the horrible scar they gifted my mother with, and it was something she struggled with until the day she died. They all came from dirt poor farmers, but they always lorded it over her that she was a "state kid", meaning she had foster parents and that her mother was "no account" and she was a "bastard". She never got over their taunts, ever. She would spend the rest of her life trying to lose her accent and hide the fact that she never had more than a seventh grade education.
While the military was an option for her three brothers, the only way out of the poverty ridden hills for a young girl at the time was to get married. So she did. She met an Italian fellow named Tony and after a whirlwind courtship, they tied the knot and moved to Ohio where he had a job offer. Shortly after moving in, Mom found herself "in the family way". Tony went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back**.
After my oldest brother was born, she took a job as a waitress, as it was the only job that an uneducated woman could get, while a kind neighbor watched her child during the day. Every day, a tall slim Irishman would come in for lunch and have bacon and eggs while he tried to ply her for a date. After being recently burnt in a failed marriage, she wanted no truck with some slick talking Irishman, and continued to put him off. She made sure his food was hot, but she had no problem being cold to him.
But he was persistent, and every day for three months, drove clear across town to have lunch at her table. She finally gave in, if for no other reason then to get him off her back. She tried to scare him away by showing him her month old child, thinking that no man would want to step into a ready-made family. He held the child in his arms and smiled like a man who had won the lottery. He was recently divorced himself, and his ex-wife took their newborn son and ran off to live with her rich mother right before he went to Germany in the Army.
He took her to dinner in the fanciest restaurant in town, which isn't really saying much when you consider that this is Newark, Ohio in the early sixties. During dinner, he promised to take her dancing. She didn't know he meant square dancing. As much as she really didn't want to, she fell in love with the tall slim Irishman and married him in a wedding ceremony of four: herself, him, and her mother holding her only son, while the preacher said what he had to say. She felt it wasn't right of her to wear white, so she spent a weeks paycheck on a pretty yellow dress with a flowery hat to match. Their wedding photo is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Fast forward many years and three more children later, and Mom has gotten her G.E.D. The day it came in the mail, she poured herself a cup of strong black coffee and sat down at the kitchen table before she opened it. She pulled the cream-colored heavy card stock diploma from the envelope, gazed at the stamped gold foil seal and cried for half the afternoon. She wasn't just an uneducated "state kid" anymore.
But that wasn't enough for her. She took night classes and a mail-order course and got a degree as an accountant so she could keep the books for Dad's construction company. I can still see her sitting at the kitchen table, sweating, as she moved from scratch pad to ledger to ledger, and she refused to use a calculator, always preferring to use pencil and paper, as if she had something to prove.
When I was born, my mother drove herself to the hospital, but she didn't go alone. My grandma went with her and offered to drive, but because of her small stature, she could hardly see over the dash of our red VW microbus. Well that, and it was stick shift. Mom drove and kept her grunts and screams to annoying red lights that kept her from her destination.
Fast forward a little farther and she is sitting at the table again in the stone house that she helped Dad remodel in the same river valley where three of us kids were born. She broke her nose in remodeling the house when she threw a 16' 2x4 up to Dad on the roof, and it struck a rafter and slingshoted it's way back into the bridge of her nose. She would always powder the scar but it never really hid it. All of her children are married now and her youngest son is living in the upstairs with his new bride. Her only daughter has come for a visit, but has left her kids at home so she can have a little break from them. Suddenly, Mom gets very quiet and has this far away look in her eye. Her only daughter yells up the stairs to me, "Something is wrong with Mom! Come Quick!" My feet didn't touch a stair. I moved like Mercury himself.
Her eyes were glassy and her mouth moved but no words came out like a fish on a hook. I scooped her up in my arms and carried her to the car and belted her in. "You are going to be alright," was all I could say. It was the only time in my life I have ever seen my Dad afraid, and the Buick threw a rooster tail of gravel as he left the drive way at 65 mph. The twenty minute ride to the Hospital was covered in four and a half minutes.
She had had a stroke, and her right arm and leg would never return to the usefulness that they had once had, and for a few months her face would hang like curtains in a disused guest room, but her country girl spirit would never veer from being resilient and flinty.
Flannery and I still lived upstairs, and shortly after her return from the hospital, I ventured downstairs to the fridge for a glass of milk before bed. As I headed back upstairs, I heard Mom cry out in pain. My heart raced. "She is having another stroke," I worried. I did something I had never done before. I threw open the door to my parents bedroom and turned on the light. My Dad was hearing impaired and a deep sleeper and I worried for her safety. She wasn't having a stroke. She was being welcomed home by the one man in her life who loved her more than life itself. I quickly shut off the light and pulled the door closed with the image of Dad's naked butt in motion burned into my memory forever***.
What can be said of one's mother? I'm sure your mom has quite a tale to tell. Mine was a peach.
After Dad passed on, she retired from work and just kept her own house. She drove her Buick a mile or so and got her groceries once a week, went to church, and enjoyed the company of a handful of gentlemen suitors twice a week. She was much sought after, but she admitted to me that she only did it so she could have a good meal and not have to wash the dishes. I'll leave it at that.****
Her birthday is today and I want to wish her a happy one. I'm sure that she and Dad are under a shade tree somewhere and making plans on building a new house.
I love you Mom, and I miss you dearly. For you, I play this, as I know it is your favorite.
*Joe served one hitch in Korea and two in Viet Nam. He broke both of his arms at the same time and had to have his class "A" uniform slit up the sleeves to accommodated his casts. We have pictures. He retired from the Army and will only eat food coated in pepper.
**She later found him and made him sign divorce papers over a lunch he paid for in South Carolina.
*** I can't imagine a a deeper moment of scarring than seeing your parents "getting it on", but I was so relieved to know she was alright and in good hands that I can only look back and laugh.
****My mother was a prude, or at least she presented herself that way to me. Who knows?
***Author's Note*** Call your mother, 'cause she would love nothing more than to hear from you.