A year ago this November, my mom suffered through her final illness. She passed away on December 12, 2015. Her illness and passing have made this holiday season feel less joyous than in years past. As I try to cope with the holidays without her, I am drawn to write about her.
My original intention was to re-hash her final illness and passing. In preparation for this, I spent a tear-filled morning re-reading my journal from last year. I took notes and started a list of the sequence of events that led us to that sad day when we lost her.
The more I thought about it though, the more I hated the thought of writing that piece. No one, much less my mother, would want to be remembered for how their final days played out. My mom deserves a celebration of who she was in her prime, not a dirge reciting the facts of her descent.
Mom was not much of a drinker, but on the few occasions I remember her drinking, she was a really funny drunk. I can remember as a young child when Daddy was painting our house all the neighbors came by to watch and comment. I don’t know if you’ve ever painted your house, but in Kansas at least, when you paint your house all of the neighbors come out to socialize. One evening, as the painting was almost finished, a neighbor brought over some beer, and all of the adults were imbibing. Mom and one of the neighbor ladies, equally as unused to drinking, had one too many, (probably a grand total of two beers each,) were leaning on each other as they walked up the driveway, singing in off-key, but enthusiastic tones.
Years later, after my parents divorced, I was with my Dad and wicked step-mother on one of his many business trips. One evening there was a social gathering of and many of the adults in attendance had been friends with my mother before the divorce. Much to the chagrin of my step-mother, one of the women started regaling the table with a story about Mom doing a killer Joan Rivers impression when the couples were on a fishing trip together. No one said Mom had been drinking, but I have my suspicions. When I returned home later that week and asked her about it, she turned a bright red and denied knowing anything about it.
The last time I remember Mom drinking was a few years after she and my step-dad were married, but while I was still living at home. They had a date night and went downtown to a nice restaurant while leaving me at home. They came home while I was still awake, and I was highly amused to see Mom weaving a little bit as she walked in the house. Laughing, I asked her if she’d been drinking. She held up two fingers while announcing she had drunk three Grasshoppers. A grasshopper, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them, is basically a vanilla milkshake with green Crème de Menthe in them. So, not only was Mom not able to get her fingers to follow her mind, she had also gotten tipsy on what is, basically, a dessert.
Even though Mom wasn’t much of a drinker, she spent most of her life surrounded by people she loved who loved to drink. Even when she was appalled by the behavior of a drunken family member, she couldn’t help but laugh at the antics. She also had no problem making them pay a heavy price for their imbibing.
Mom was especially vengeful in dealing with her children when they drank too much. You could not be hungover in her house without her knowing it. Mom’s favorite trick if she knew one of us had been over-served the night before was to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. Loose, under-cooked scrambled eggs, served on large platters. Large platters that she would tilt from side-to-side while holding the wiggling eggs right under your nose. Inevitably, the guilty party would have to use every ounce of strength and will-power to not make a mad dash to the bathroom to expel the contents of their heaving stomach. Mom thought she was hilarious.
Mom’s antics were not restricted to when we drank. In the 70’s, her children were exposed to the drug culture of the times, and marijuana was occasionally hidden in the house. One morning, while doing laundry, Mom found a joint in the pocket of a pair of jeans. She didn’t get upset, she didn’t yell, she just calmly set the joint aside and after the load was done and the clothes were folded, she very kindly took the pile of clothes upstairs to the culprit’s room, laid them on the bed and gently placed the joint on top of the pile. She never said a word, but the guilty party never forgot.
I find it ironic that even though Mom rarely drank, so many of my memories of her swirl around drinking. She certainly would have objected to this post focusing on the few times she did drink. While writing this, I can actually hear her scolding me with a stern look and an emphatic “Jean Ann!” What I wouldn’t give for her to be here and actually scolding me for sharing these stories. I miss you Mom.