Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

I haven't written about my mom in a few years so with Mother's Day today, it's time I re-visit her in this blog. A lot has changed since I first wrote about her six years ago. At that time, her dementia was just starting and was so slight she could actually hide it. In a few years, however, her condition advanced to the point where she was no longer safe at home. My siblings and I had to place her in a facility that caters to people with dementia/Alzheimer's.

But this person her caregivers see -- that isn't really my mother. What would she be like if she still had her mind? Well, she'd probably be on Social Media by now, but might still be using a flip phone. She'd still be reading self-help books. She'd be going out with her girlfriends, laughing and joking. Mom never did like bullies and obnoxious blowhards so, let me tell you, she wouldn't like Trump at all. We'd be on the phone to each other (because in this age of texting and FB messaging Mom would still be a phone talking addict), knocking the Orange Menace. She'd let it all fly when she talked to me because she'd abstain from getting into arguments with Trump lovers. Mom used to tell me what her parents told her and what I now tell my kids: "Never get into an argument with anybody over politics or religion." She'd likely be involved in both, still volunteering at her local precinct on Election Day (where she'd respect that law about keeping her strong-held opinions to herself). And she'd still be helping out at her church -- with Vacation Bible School, Church Council and Sunday School where she would enjoy getting into intellectual discussions about the Bible. She'd tell me about those discussions over the phone or when we saw each other in person. 

Mom was always excited whenever a new grandchild was on the way ("You mean I'm gonna be a grandma again"!), so she'd be thrilled with the recent birth of her first great-grandchild, buying her clothes and offering to watch her. It is what it is, though, and Mom doesn't know she has a great-granddaughter to the north and west in Kansas. She doesn't know she's a mother, doesn't even know what a mother is anymore. She no longer knows my name, but still recognizes my face when I visit her. I'll take that. A few days ago, I asked if she knew her own name, aware that there was a 50/50 chance on whether she'd remember.

Mom and me
"Victoria," she answered.

She was named Victoria Lou, after her two grandmothers. Her paternal grandmother, the one named Victoria, died in the 1930s -- years before Mom was born. The only memory she retained of her maternal grandmother, Lou, was of riding on a train from Colorado to Kansas at the age of 5 to attend her funeral.

Mom's parents had been married for 16 years before they had her. Her dad worked in oil fields, among other things, and her folks moved a lot -- living in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. They finally settled in Jett, Kan., which had a population of only 3,000 in the '50s. She remembered that her family first bought a television in 1954. She and a girlfriend at school used to talk about what they'd seen on The Red Skelton Show the night before.

As a kid, she thought the most beautiful building in the world was her hometown movie theatre, the Bijou. Built in 1935, it was the first building in the world to be entirely illuminated with neon lighting. It had Aztec designs on the double doors and European looking murals on the walls inside the movie room. She recalled her family taking her there to see The Ten Commandments and being dazzled by the special effects, which now look so primitive. She also remembered going with her friends to see a film about juvenile delinquency, Blackboard Jungle. The film, which introduced the revolutionary song, "Rock Around the Clock," would have been somewhat adult for a 10-year-old in the '50s. She raved about seeing the epic film, Giant, starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor -- two sex symbols of their day. It was James Dean's last film.

She had a slew of 45 records so I'm guessing music, TV and the movies must have been an escape from her miserable home life. People thought they were a nice little church going family, but they were what we today call a dysfunctional family. Mom thought she was in love with my dad when they started going out, but years later, she realized marriage had been a way out of her home situation. He was older, had been in the Army, had a cool car (a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain). A man of the world. They divorced when I was just a little boy in the early '70s, and knowing them later in life, it's hard to believe they were ever married to each other. But I guess individuals are different people when they're young.

Her second husband, my step-dad, was really the love of her life. But they were probably doomed from the start. Mom started acting manic and drinking more. I think their marriage could've been saved with counseling, but that wasn't as common then and there was more of a stigma about it than there is today. Today, fortunately, there are a lot more medications for anxiety and depression, but that kind of help wasn't there for Mom back then. There never were any "good old days."

I didn't hear the word "bi-polar" until 1990 when Mom told me she had recently been diagnosed with it. Also, around this time I found out her "secret" -- that she'd been sexually molested when she was a kid. Over and over again by someone her family had trusted. I wouldn't tell anybody about that if Mom wasn't eventually open, herself, about it. She really tried to help people who had been through effed up stuff like she had experienced.

My kids, daughter, Gabby, and son, Max, with Mom.
Between that time and the onset of her dementia, Mom really enjoyed the best years of her life. She seemed to have better peace of mind and she let go of any bitterness she'd had before in life. She was a forgiving person, even forgiving the man who violated her. Church was really big in her life. You really can't underestimate the power of faith. 

For a while after I placed her in the home, I continued to take Mom to church. But when I'd take her back to the facility, she'd get irate. It became more trouble than it was worth so I had to stop. She can't tell you anything about Jesus anymore, but groups do bring church services to her facility and I'm sure she gets something out of that, just as she enjoys the musicians who occasionally perform there.

She wouldn't have wanted to end up with dementia and living in a home, but she knew it was a possibility. Her dad had Alzheimer's. There's never enough time.

On Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. (Central time), for a couple of years in the late '60s, Mom, without fail, would watch The Monkees on NBC-TV. (The show fared well in the ratings, opposite Gilligan's Island on CBS.) That's how I like to think of Mom. Young, full of vitality, liking rock n' roll and all that good stuff. It's a good song, "Daydream Believer." Hopeful sounding.

And aren't we all in need of hope today?

                         "Daydream Believer" -- The Monkees

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