Given that my last post was about my dad, it is logical for this one to be about my mother. The first thing the astute reader will note is my reference to each parent, the informal “dad” and the formal “mother.” Mother was, at most times, a formal person. She considered herself to be a lady, rather than merely a woman, and she conducted herself with decorum. Thanks to my mother, I learned not to get through life on looks alone. She was both smart and clever and she pushed, sometimes shoved, me toward intellectual pursuits, beginning with piano lessons at age 6. She wanted me to obtain an education, use my intelligence, and not be dependent on anyone, including a husband, for anything. The most interesting aspect of her desire to have me become a high achiever was that she was a full time homemaker who did not graduate from college. When she suddenly became a widow at age 56, she had no marketable skills and it was me, not she, who went to work to support us. I guess she saw potential in me and wanted to ensure I would always be able to take care of myself. Mom also wanted me to develop poise, grace, and most important, good manners; she “forced” me to enroll in modeling classes (otherwise known as “charm school”) so that I would develop self confidence. To this day, I cannot walk down stairs without thinking how proud I am to know how to walk properly, with grace and dignity, instead of clopping along with a bobbing head! Seeing Mom with her two best friends brought out a fun side of her I rarely observed; her sense of humor seemed endless. Mom loved to travel and we had some great trips together, including in her final years, after dementia had changed her life. Even when dementia had taken away many things about her, Mom and I continued to have as much fun as possible. In fact, the last thing she ever said to me was “her” part of our long standing comedy routine. Thanks, Mother, for making me who I am!
While I never met Melissa’s father, I met her mother, Leola, very soon after meeting Melissa. And, Melissa’s description of her as formal was certainly on display then. She not only considered herself a “lady,” but a “southern lady” whose routines included daily naps and never wearing pants. Closer in age to my grandparents than my parents, I could relate to her because my grandparents were an integral part of my life, including my grandmother living with us for many years. But, Leola was different, more formal than either of my grandmothers, and with a life story that led her to that place. Over the years, however, I came to learn more of her story, including being the mom of the neighborhood. To a generation that included the first latchkey kids, she provided a safe environment for them to play, as well as dozens of cookies and gallons of Kool-Aid. To a few, she provided food that was absent at home. And she did all this on a very limited budget, one that became much more limited when her husband died. She was, as a result, extremely frugal. When I met her I noticed examples of this frugality which were interesting, such as using the back side of paper from junk mail and the like, cutting it into small pieces to use as note paper. Leola was recycling before we had recycling bins! As an original “Tiger Mom” Leola obviously pushed Melissa into things which were outside of her comfort zone, as well as supported things that were more comfortable. For a southern lady to push a daughter to be very independent, she had great foresight. As she aged and dementia took over, keeping up with Leola was a tough job for 3 people, plus hired help! But, Melissa honored her wishes for her last years as a tribute to what Leola had done for her. It was often tough, stressful, and unpleasant during these times, yet, intentionally or not, Leola became “softer” than she had been before the dementia, and her sense of humor became a bit more pronounced. Some things which we look back on now as funny, weren’t really, such as the period when Leola only wanted to eat donuts (Krispy Kreme) and Funyuns. Both of these were round with holes in the middle and she was then still shopping for herself; we noted boxes of donuts and multiple bags of Funyuns were part of her regular grocery purchases and it took some time to figure out, at least partially, why she was buying so many of them – they were easy to hold. In all, Leola is an example of a life well lived with a legacy living on in the kindness shown to so many and the lessons learned by Melissa from a mother who did the best she could with the hand she was dealt.