Many young women grow up thinking their mothers have good attributes and that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to grow up to be just like them.
I never felt that way. But it’s not because she wasn’t a good mother.
My mother, Mary, and I were polar opposites, destined for conflicts from the moment she birthed this redheaded child—the only one out of four and the only one in the entire Griffith clan. In the 1950s, this mattered. Two brunettes having a redhead was unusual, not conventional. People constantly asked her where the red hair came from and all she could do was shrug.
While my mother had good traits, such as the knack of laughing so hard that she would nearly stop breathing, the ability to make math look easy, and the skill to create the flakiest pie crust ever … I still never wanted to be her. Mom wanted to obey the rules, cared about what the neighbors (most of them family) thought, and expected her daughters to get married and have kids.
That’s so not me.
In the last ten years of her life, when I moved close to my childhood home and spent weekends at my parents’ house, I observed them. In detail.
My father got funnier with every passing year of his life. He was a humor-based, laughter-filled person. Quick witted and charming, Gilbert had full and deep friendships. He’d walk into any of three local diners on a Saturday morning and be greeted with any one of his several nicknames and hearty slaps on the back. People gravitated toward him and when you were talking with dad, you were the only thing in front of him, the most important person in the world.
Mom had a few friends, but her childhood bashfulness overrode her ability to grow close to most people. My mother was guarded, even with us kids. I think dad was probably the only person she was ever fully open with. That’s okay, they had a good marriage.
Dad was active every day. He retired from Bethlehem Steel and took up woodworking. After their deaths, each kid wound up with a unique entertainment center. I also have multiple bookcases, picture frames, and multiple occasional tables. He touched his first computer at my house in 1995, went home and bought one. Soon, he learned as much as I had gathered in several years of working on them.
Eventually, they had his and her computers. Mom played games and sent the sporadic email to her kids. Dad learned to manipulate photos and tracked down high school and army buddies on Classmates.
Dad’s love of learning never ceased.
When diagnosed with ALS, he researched it and adapted to the changes coming at him again and again. Mom stayed mom—always—although her humor and affection rose to the surface during the last days of her battle against cancer.
There are ways I am like each of my parents.
I’m both gregarious and shy (that red hair issue as a child will forever keep some of my self-confidence in check). I have friends all over the world, but a few who know my deepest, inner heart. Learning is balm to my soul and I hope I never settle for status quo. I compulsively keep lists and statistics—how long will this bottle of dish soap last? Put a date on it and see—for the sheer fun of knowing a thing. Totally dad.
Doing dad things doesn’t surprise me. I loved him so much that I ran away to college to put distance between us, otherwise, I’d have never left home.
What surprises me is when I find myself doing stuff that mom did. I fought throughout my life not to be like her and here I am, closing in on sixty and by golly, many years after her death, she’s finally caught up with me.
Mom had some routines she followed and perhaps it’s my subconscious at work, but I find, with great humor, that I have adapted some of these routines as my own. When I catch myself following them, I think: Ohmigosh, I’ve become my mother after all!
She would sit at the dining room table, turn around and pull pen and paper from the drawer in the china cupboard behind her. I do the same thing with our mini-junk drawer—yank both out and scrawl a random note. Sometimes I move our supper dishes from the table to the counter behind me. I did that once with a steak knife and dropped it straight into the hardwood floor. (I laughed so hard I nearly stopped breathing. Alex—he who laid the floor—did not laugh quite as much.)
Mom had Graves disease and a led sedentary life style.
She was cold all the time and would wear sweatshirts that could have fit pre-ALS, large-sized dad. I have a hypothyroid issue. Nothing as bad as Graves disease, but it sure has distorted my internal thermometer. Husband is warm all the time—a t-shirt and sweats. Not even socks. Me? I look like mom: wool socks, slippers, a tank shirt, a jersey and either a robe or one of his XL sweatshirts that nearly reaches my knees.
I have a nest on my end table in our living room: a Sudoku, a crossword puzzle book, 4-5 magazines, a non-fiction book, a novel, my Bible, pen and paper, reading glasses, bottle of water … you get the idea.
When mom would snuggle into bed, she’d barely have her little face peeking out and always have one more blanket on her side than dad had on his. Ditto with me, only I took it a step further and added both an electric blanket and a down comforter. Goes back to that whole being cold thing.
So maybe there are simply ways we turn into our mothers, our parents, without realizing it or doing it on purpose.
Or maybe I miss the little minx so much that I’ve assumed some of her ways to make me feel close to her now that she’s gone.