“You THINK you know me…. you don’t know me. But I know my kids better than they know themselves…“
Mom’s famous sentences (at least to me and probably my sister and brother as well). It’s been four years to the day that we arrived at my brother’s home to spend Mom’s last two months at her side. It was May 14th, 2013. In the past four years, I have come to realize that she may have been right when she said it, but she also knew we would get to know her better even after she passed. Mom had quotes, as many moms do. One of hers was: “Apples don’t fall far from the tree”. How about straight down? Those are my words. So this 2017 Mothers Day tribute blog to our late mom has to do with how much I’ve learned about her since she’s been gone. She said in another one of those mom quotes: “You’ll see…..”.
Hours before Mom passed when she told me not to let her grandsons forget her, she was delegating me to keep her spirit alive. They were her greatest love of all. She grew up in an all girl family so these two little male people were miracles on earth. In retrospect, there were less than ten people on earth that Mom cared deeply about. The rest of the world was marginally relevant, at best.
Looking through photographs, one could learn so much about Mom. Dressing up entailed high heels all the way back to the 1940s. When I look in the mirror, I see her telling me that the photographs belong in stories to her grandsons. However, my nephews are busy at this time in life with education, friends, learning adult things like cooking and driving and being independent. The teenagers can read though, so the second reason for this blog is them.
I found some fabulous photographs of Mom in bathing suits and usually at Lakewood New Jersey, Coney Island or in the yard at home with relatives. There are photos of her at dance clubs in Harlem and posing with friends back from WWII. I found photos of Mom and Dad, always laughing, on cruises, with friends or just hanging with the three of us. Those pictures are for the grandsons. In this photo, as usual Mom wore high heels in the grass. Now I know attitude passes from one generation to the other. When we founded High Heels & Hot Flashes in 2009, we were original and with the “shoe”. Since then, variations of our website have popped up everywhere. I think my motivation was subconsciously my high heel wearing ancestors. Apples must not fall far.
Mom gave a classy, quiet and demure outside impression and image. Classy she was, quiet she was not and she was demure if she needed to be. The best of Mom was strong, determined, crafty, secretive and obviously brilliant. It was either her way or the highway. She often told us stories about the “envelopes” she kept in her sock drawer as a teenager. Each envelope would get $5.00 after she got paid on some of her first jobs. The envelopes were labeled, “savings, transportation, lunch, entertainment, emergencies”. Savings was always first.
Mom was well aware of her appearance, posture and power. She knew she could use what she had to speak her mind, even before my father could get away with any social or civil protests. Mom was very aware of racism, sexism and she was angered by it all, as well as very concerned about human rights. There are hundreds of stories to share with her grandsons about the times she stood up for civil rights on her own, the times she yapped back at someone who was disrespecting someone else. Most stories are ours to keep, as Mom did. But three will always stand out for us.
Mom got tired of passing by Planned Parenthood’s offices and always seeing older white men with picket signs. She would wonder why they were there, except for the fact that they must be retired and with probably nothing else better to do. One day she pulled over, rolled down her window as the excited old dudes tried to beat each other to her car. She smiled confidently, they smiled nervously and then she started talking. She asked them if they had plans to adopt any of the children that many women may have to give up if they are forced to have the babies. She went on to remind them that many of the children may be physically challenged or children of color. Even if they are not either, she asked if the old men were physically capable of picking up the slack. The men were speechless and looked shocked. Mom drove off and loved telling the story because some of those men never returned to the picket lines.
Mom’s last years were spent in her own house in a single family home neighborhood with average neighbors of various backgrounds. One day she drove by a longtime neighbor’s home, a neighbor she had never met. This neighbor had erected a Halloween display of a black man hanging from a tree. This was supposed to be their Halloween scarecrow. Mom walked up to the door, rang the bell and told them to take the insulting display down or it could become a very big deal. The display came down immediately. The neighbor never did that again.
Another neighbor farther away put one of those black lawn jockey statues in the front yard and apparently painted the lips a hotter pink to accentuate the “look”. Mom knocked on that door and told them their insulting front yard “Jockey” was not acceptable. In a few days, that “Jockey” was painted white.
As I honor our Mom in writing this Mother’s Day, it’s important to me that her grandsons understand. Your Grandma could have been in pictures. She was physically beautiful but she consciously used that to make a point, the biggest of which was that you can never judge a book by it’s cover. (Another of her quotes). She was a trophy outside but a barracuda inside. She taught us to be the same, wherever appropriate. She also knew the directions we would take in life, even before we knew it.
Mom was there for every important milestone in our lives, right alongside Dad and when he passed, she did it alone. So my nephews already know that when they get a picture texted to them from me on birthdays, Christmas, graduations and other milestones in life, that it’s me doing what Mom asked me to do…make sure they don’t forget. As big tall teenagers, they’ve now come to expect an old photo. It’s just the way to get Mom’s points across without a lot of words, photo albums or anything else that would bore them in this digital age.
In 2008 when Ken and I made the huge mistake of moving to North Carolina, Mom didn’t understand it, but one of her famous thought patterns was that we can always make lemonade out of lemons. Having been born and raised in the New York Metropolitan Area, Mom just said to me: “Well, you’ll probably be able to get a lot of writing done down there…”. Mom passed and we moved back north and I know she knew that one day we would. Like she said in 2013, “I know my kids better than they know themselves.” I’m impressed with that, so that’s why I pay tribute this way on this Mother’s Day.
Happy Mother’s Day Mama. I know you!
by Dianne Thompson ® comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org