The Art of Learning Patience: Or
How to Tell a Sad Story Effectively
I Lived Another Life

Dear Mom

Mom Westover
Dear Mom - I wish I'd known you then

Dear Mom,

Remember that day – the day so long ago it’s hard to remember anything?

Remember how I got lost coming home from school? I was in kindergarten and I tended to wander. Always looking at the houses and the gardens in people’s well-kept lawns. We had moved recently, I think, and I wasn’t as familiar with the neighborhood as I would get, over time.

I remember it. I remember my awful sobs as I walked, not knowing where I was, or where I was going. I was five years old. A kindly older couple took me in. Oh the horror of such a thing today! In memory, they were gray-haired, and must have been retired. Both were home, tending their lawn and flowers, I think, and there I was, this pitiful little girl, gulping to get air through the tears, but still walking. Ever moving forward, because if I didn’t put one foot in front of the other, how would I get home? 

I remember they gave me cocoa and I told them who I was and I must have told them about you, because you came and rescued me. You left work and you came and thanked them and took me home, and I never felt so wonderful in all my 5 years of life! You cradled me and soothed away my fears, and wiped my tears, and laughed a little. You made it funny. And, to this day, I remember it more as a funny experience, than a frightful one.

Remember, when I was 12, and we moved to Depew Street?

I remember. I remember how proud you were to have that house. It was a small house, by most standards. It sat on a corner, shaped like a barn. That endeared it to me. I imagined it was a barn, once, oh so many years ago, before the 20th century, even, and it had horses in it, and cows, and there were chickens clucking around the yard. And, probably, there were cats and dogs.

Depew Street is where I got my first dog. You remember? I still carry Missy in my heart, with Carmie, and Chester, and Olive, and our kitties Pandora and Molly. They’re there, with you, now.

Oh, let’s go a bit further back, before Depew Street.

I know you remember this – when you brought home my sister, Maryanne. And, I wasn’t very happy about that. No, I already had a brother, who took far too much attention away from me. Having another kid in the family, that was so… not fair!

And, no, I didn’t warm up to her. Not for many years. But, that’s how families are, sometimes, aren’t they?

I am remembering so many things now. They’re images and sounds of good times and bad times, and times that we all looked at you and thought, “None of this would be here, except for Mom.”

Yep, Mom, you did it. You had all these kids – there’s an LOL in there – you had my sisters, Jan and Sue, who I did not get to know as well as I’d wished, as a child. I lived with you and Dad (well, my step-dad, but I didn’t know that), and they lived with Mr. Westover (Ross, my ‘real’ dad.)

Then there was me, and after me, my brother, Mike, and the baby, Maryanne.

We were family. We are family.

Family: sisters, brother and dad
Jan, me, Mike, Sue, Maryanne, Dad (Ross)

For better or worse, this family clings to each other and to our children, and grandchildren, and we close tight fists around that true sense of togetherness that other families lack.

We have it because of you, and sometimes, yes, in spite of you.

But today, Mom, I want to remember something else. I want to remember that you came from a very big family. You never told me happy stories about that. I wonder if there were some… just a few… you could have shared?

I know you were head and shoulders above others at school. At five-nine, you were tall for a girl. I know you played basketball. You enjoyed basketball. I know you loved football and got into the spirit of that every year, shouting at the tv and the players in the games, along with everyone else, while I slipped off to a quieter place to read a book.

I want to remember that before you were my Mom, you were Margaret. What did they call you at school? I don’t even know. How is that possible?

You were a willful teenager. You were smart. You never gave up the ideas and dreams you had, even when life took you in a different way.

When you opened the grocery store in our old neighborhood, you never faltered. I watched you take charge and never wondered where that entrepreneurial spirit came from. You made Mike and I work in the store, and I admit that I hated it, but the lessons learned were enormous and going back in memory today, I so wish I’d understood how hard you worked, how proud you were of that major accomplishment, and how it was something important to you, you the person, you the grown woman taking charge of her life, and not just a way to make a living for us, the kids (or kid, I don’t know if Mike felt the same) who resented having to work in the little family business.

Sometimes, these last few months, I would rise, go quietly into my kitchen, make my coffee, and come sit at my desk in silence. I would stare at my monitor, my keyboard, and I would wonder, “What did my Mom really want to be when she grew up? What did she dream of? What happened to those dreams?”

We reminisced on occasion. You told stories of my ‘real’ dad riding his bike fourteen miles to come see you, when you were still in high school.

Your eyes would shine and you would smile with delight at that memory.

Mom Dad Westover
Mom and Dad - remarried after 42 years apart

I remember when you pointed out an old, old house, where you grew up (please, I am geographically challenged, so don’t ask me to name the town, it was in and around Endicott, NY, that’s all I know) one Saturday afternoon when we were visiting your sister, Aunt Barb, and you were taking me to stay with my Dad, I think. I was still a kid, well, probably a teenager, too young to appreciate the hint of a story there. I just looked at the house and thought, “I wonder who lives there now.”

I wonder more than that now, Mom. I wonder what you were like in that house. I wonder what your dreams were, what you and Dad planned or talked about, when he rode his bike all that way just to see you. I wonder where those dreams went.

We had our moments. The kinds of moments that tarnish the edges of relationships. There are memories best left in the corner, hidden in shadows.

I don’t much care about those memories, anymore. I care that you were here in this place, at this time, and because of that, I am here. My sisters and my brother are here. We will come together and celebrate your life, the good times and some of the bad times – the ones that make us chuckle now, because we, as so many others, in so many other families, endured and rose above the pain and sorrow, and now, today, tomorrow, when we gather to lift a glass to your memory, we can say we were blessed to have you as our Mom.

We can share stories and feel the truth of our existence – that one woman did her best by us, and somewhere in her heart, in her soul, she left behind so many dreams and desires; I hope we can open our hearts to understanding that there once was a little girl named Margaret May, who wanted to be something…and on her way to becoming that something…she was pulled and prodded and torn and twisted, into something, someone else. She became our Mom.

It wasn’t always pretty, although you were so very pretty Mom.

It wasn’t always nice – it was downright awful sometimes.

It wasn’t always happy – it was frightful and scary, a lot.

In the end, it was life – and yours was fraught with twists and turns and bumps and bruises, and you took us along, for all the ups and downs. Sadly, as happens, we went with you mostly because we had no choice! And in the traveling, we missed the opportunity to learn why you did many of the things you did, we didn’t understand, we kept silent, we let life happen to us, just as you had let life happen to you.

I will never know what secret dreams you held in your heart.

I will remember the joy on your face at the birth of each of my children. A joy that filled the room with beauty and light.

I will remember that you made a home for us, your children. If once in a while you resented us, well, I believe now, that mothers and fathers do that, occasionally. And, it passes.

I will remember that you loved big, giant hugs.

I will remember that you were a person. Before I ever met you, before any of us kids were born, you were a person – a girl who wanted things in life. A girl who dreamed. A girl who captured what she could out of the life she was given, and worked at it, until it shone like a diamond in the night sky.

Oh, Mom, I remember… one day, when I was a teenager, you were in the bathroom getting dressed, and you came into my room all excited and full of laughter, and you said, “Look, look… I’ve got a waist!”

What a silly thing to be happy about, thought I. I smiled and pretended I cared.

I understand now. I would be happy to announce, “I have a waist!” too. And, my kids and grandkids, or whomever I gave that precious information to, would laugh and not care… until much later in their lives when the joy of looking in the mirror and seeing that little curve society places so much attention to, becomes important to them, too.

What secrets did we forget to hear from you, Mom?

What stories did we miss, because we were sure you were going to be here for… years and years?

What memories will we share that hide other tales within, tales we may see only the edges of?

What moments of understanding are lost, because we waited...too long?

I miss you, Mom.

Mom-on-phone
Mom with dreams

 

Grandma Westover Frankie Sammy Yvonne
Visiting the great grandkids
 

 

Comments

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Kathleen Gage

Powerful post. The loss of our mom never goes away. The pain changes over time, but the fact we can hurt so deep means we can also love so deep.

Thank you for sharing so deeply. My thoughts are with you.

Yvonne DiVita

Beth,
Your kind words touched my heart - you got it! You got the message here! What experiences did our parents have, as 'regular folk' before they became our parents? It's a topic that still intrigues me.

Yvonne DiVita

Melissa, I once imagined asking my mom some of the questions still hanging around my mind, but I never did. I hope you will! Thank you for your kinds words. It's in the comfort of friends and family that I feel inspired to move forward.

Beth Patterson

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I lost my dad and father-in-law a few months apart. For a while, I felt really sad that I didn't know a lot of things about them, like who taught them to drive and other stories from their childhood.
It is never easy to lose a loved one, sending you healing thoughts!

Mk_clinton

There are no words to help ease your pain, Yvonne but know that you are in my heart today. Growing up as mother and daughter is never easy but you captured the love, mystery, misunderstandings and acceptance that most of us have endured. My mom turned 87 this spring and I know how lucky I am to still be able to pick up the phone and call her. Your mother has to be so proud of the incredible woman you have become. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Yvonne DiVita

Thank you, Diana. I think we did have similar experiences, and I think there are a lot of others like us. As for vacations, I honestly did not know people took vacations, until I got married and the subject came up as a matter of course. It was news to me!

Diana Gardner Robinson

What a powerful and moving post, Yvonne. I am so sorry that you have lost your mom. I was greatly moved by the similarities between our stories, albeit I had only one sib and only one dad. And it was my dad who eagerly led us to the grocery store that destroyed all family life and negated vacations (oh, yes, I added that bit, but I'm guessing both things happened to you, too. Mine of course are all long gone.

A great and moving tribute, and a wonderful example of story-telling as well.

My condolences. And thank you.

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