|Jun 14, 2006 1:47 am
||Memories of Mom
|| Limited To This Forum, unless requested in writing.
Yeah, I know. I'm 56 years old now, so why would I be thinking back more than 35 years to write about a woman who vanished from my life so long ago? It's because she was one of a kind – a soul that loved, lost, hurt, suffered and loved again.
I first laid eyes on Vera when I was 7 years old. Stepping out of a big Oldsmobile, I strode up the long driveway with my Raggedy Ann doll clutched tightly to my chest. Then, there she was! She looked stunning in her breezy summer dress - hair shining silver in the sunlight. I will never forget how warmly she welcomed me and how very excited she was.
"Oh, darn it! I have to use the sandbox again!" she squealed with delight. "I have been so anxious to meet you, I just keep having to go again and again!"
Within no time, we were all piled into that Olds and traveling north to Algonquin Park. It was fall and as we walked the winding forest path, pine needles blanketed the ground. After about an hour of strolling and chatting, they asked me to step aside and I could hear them whispering softly to each other, but not loud enough to be able to make out just what they were saying. Then Vera returned to me, threw her arms about me and said:
"Remember this place, Sherry. This is where we've made up our mind that we want you to be our little girl!"
I was overjoyed, but didn't quite know how to respond. Nothing truly wonderful had ever, ever happened to me before, so I just smiled shyly.
It would be another month before I would see this couple again - Ray, a portly figure of a man, with red hair - Vera, petite and feminine. I later learned that she had been through far too much pain for her 42 years. Her suffering began as an infant, when she was born as the fourth girl in her family. Dismayed and angry, Vera's father threw her to the ground and cursed her. She worked most of her life in offices and eventually met her husband, who was a manager for Metropolitan Life Insurance.
I never did find out which one of them was incapable of having children. My father was one of a dozen kids in a poor family. After his mother died, he, as the oldest, was forced to take care of the entire brood. In actual fact, he had no use for children, but he knew how much Vera longed for at least one, so much in fact, that she suffered a breakdown in her late '30s.
"I promised God that if I pulled through, I would adopted a child," she told me one day.
And so, Ray and Vera became my parents in November 1957. I had just turned 8 and it was decided that I would be given a new name. It was changed from Charlene Delores White to Martha Christine Hannon. "Your name sounds too much like a gypsy," she said.
She told me Martha meant "little helper" and Christine meant "a gift from God." Though I was happy about it at the time, it was very strange for a while printing the new name on my work in Grade 2.
I was also given my very first birthday party. I could not believe the beautiful dolls, new clothes and other gifts that I received. I truly believed I'd died and gone to heaven!
My mother was very watchful over me. She made sure she always knew where I was going and when I'd be back. I knew she loved me dearly and she showed it in so many ways. This was all new to me and I soaked up every single hug and kiss as if it would be my last. Each summer was spent together up at their cottage on Lake Simcoe – a place I quickly learned to love, because I had her all to myself, while my father stayed in the city to work. We spent many a night laughing and joking together. She had such a wonderful laugh – so free and happy.
When I turned 11, she sat me down and explained that she was ill. Cancer had insidiously worked its way into her chest and she would have to have an operation to remove one of her breasts. I was devastated. "No! No! God, you cannot, I repeat, cannot take her away from me!" I wailed.
Mom had her operation and was soon back home, smiling and happy as before. One would never have known she felt any pain at all. When I expressed my fear of losing her, she replied: "I will never leave you. I love you too much!"
She was having some trouble with the prosthetic they'd given her. It was winter and the plastic, which became very hard and dug deep into her skin. Her solution was to make her own using a nylon stocking and some birdseed. We laughed so much about the fact that she left a trail of seeds around the house wherever she went.
I then learned she would have to go for chemotherapy treatments on a regular basis. As young as I was, I had no idea what that entailed, but I accompanied her on many trips to the hospital. Through it all – the weakness, the throwing up and the pain – she continued to smile and joke about her circumstances.
That year, we drove by car to Florida, along with my best friend Sharron. It was my first time traveling so far, so it was nice to have a friend along. Two days into our vacation, my mother lost all her hair. It just came out in huge clumps and for the first time, I saw her show concern. My father went right out and bought her a big, floppy hat, which seemed to do the trick, because in no time, she was smiling again as if nothing had happened.
This, of course, relieved my mind somewhat, but it was only months later that we learned the cancer had spread throughout her body. Always an active woman, she soon had trouble walking and fell frequently. I always tried to be home quickly after school to make sure she was all right. Over the course of the next two years, she became progressively worse and by the time I was 14, she suffered more and more every day. I went to bed every night and prayed that God would relieve her pain. Yet, whenever relatives or neighbors stopped by, she was as bright and cheery as usual – always ready with a joke and that wonderful smile.
By this time, I was well in the habit of cooking the meals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and completing my homework without supervision. I had a couple of friends that I would visit or that would drop by, but I spent most of my time making sure mom had everything she needed. Her favorite drink was Coke with a squirt of lemon and she always kept a cold glass beside her. It seemed to settle her stomach and quench her thirst at the same time.
By the time I was 15 mom was bedridden. I had to help her use the toilet and brought her all her meals. At night, I would hear her moaning in pain and by this time, I prayed that God would take her. My father often went on business trips, sometimes out of the country. It was during one such trip that the unexpected happened. I awoke that Saturday morning, got dressed and prepared mom's breakfast. Then I took it in to her, but she appeared to still be asleep. As I tried gently to rouse her, she moaned in pain, but did not come around. After listening to several heartbreaking moans, they turned into desperate screams, yet she still was not awake!
Not knowing what to do, I ran to one of our favorite neighbors. Eventually, an ambulance was called and it was explained to me that mom was in a coma. I was scared – very, very scared – that I would loose her this time. My father arrived home quickly and went to her side. When he got back home, he told me the doctors did not expect her to make it. Again, I was crushed. What would I do without her? I loved her so very, very much.
God must have smiled down from heaven that day, because she did survive. When she returned home, she made a point again of telling me that she would never leave me. Never. I was overjoyed, but that joy would be short lived. She began treatments on her head. I knew, because she'd come home with little black markings on her forehead. She finally told me that she was undergoing cobalt balm treatments because the cancer had spread to her brain.
While my father was away in New York City my mother seemed to deteriorate mentally. Many times, she would spill her coffee and/or drop her cigarette on the floor. I had to basically watch her every second that I was home. I was 16 by then and while at school, I worried about whether she was all right and hurried home to make sure.
Then on Saturday she said: "Pack up all your dad's stuff. I don't want to look at it."
Taken off guard, I didn't know how to respond, but I helped her put some things into the upper shelf in their bedroom closet.
"Now," she said, "I want to go up to the cottage."
It was February, so I knew this was definitely not a good idea. At that time of year, there was no water, as the pipe was not out in the lake and the lake was frozen solid. I tried to reason with her, but to no avail. She wanted to go and would not take no for an answer. She also wanted to take our big, color TV and her mink stole, which I placed carefully into our newer Oldsmobile. At the same time, I was thinking how truly odd her behavior had become and wondered what I should do about it. My boyfriend at the time drove us north toward Lake Simcoe. During the trip, she muttered a number of things that made absolutely no sense.
"Brian," I said, "let's stop off in Orillia at my aunt's place. I want to talk to them first."
It turned out to be a very wise decision, because after speaking with mom for a bit, both my aunt and uncle realized that she had lost touch with reality. They immediately called my father in New York and he flew home right away. That very first day, my father had taken her to our local psychiatric hospital, but they refused to take her. She was too far gone. The next three days were horrible, as I watched her fall apart before my eyes. I did not go to school during this time, because her behavior was so erratic. She got on the phone and ordered color TV sets for just about everyone on the street. Later, when my father got wind of it, he flipped. Then she called her favorite ladies shop and gave them hell about something. She thought she owned it.
My job was to keep her off the phone, follow her about to ensure she didn't burn the house down and generally, treat her like a child. I remember the nights with even more distress. As I lied in my bed, I knew my father was trying to get mom to take some pills that the doctor had given her. She was adamant that she would not take them. I could hear them scuffle and ran from my bed. My father was sitting on her on the floor trying to shove those pills right down her throat. All the while, mom was screaming: "Martha! Martha! Help me! He's trying to kill me!"
That just tore my heart out and I cried myself to sleep.
After the third day, my father announced that we would be taking mom to a special home in Guelph where they had the facilities to take care of her. Of course, we could not let on that we were actually "putting her away," so we told her we were all getting into the car to go to the cottage – the place she loved so much. It was kind of a mean trick, but it worked until we got to the gates of the facility.
"You're trying to put me away!" she screamed. "I don't want to go in there!"
Tears were streaming down her eyes and mine as we led her up the steps to the front door. I could not believe it had come to this and my heart just ached. Mom spent three months there and during that time, was given shock treatments. We drove up to visit with her every Sunday, which more often than not resulted in her hating us for putting her there. It was so terribly hard to walk away each time and to come back home to a house that seemed to rattle without her.
Finally, the day came for us to bring her home. I was so excited. It was kind of like the reverse of our first meeting, only this time I greeted her with open arms. Mom was home and I was relieved, at least for a while.
Well, I'm sure you can guess that this was not the end of her travail. The cancer continued to ravage her tiny frame and she became weaker every day. I continued to care for her every need, while she tried so hard to smile through her pain. It was heartbreaking. Then when I was 18, the day came when she slipped back into that nether world again and we were sure she wouldn't make it. She was in a coma for several days, but to everyone's surprise, she pulled through once more. Again, she said, "I will never leave you. I love you too much."
By this time, I believe her. I also thought about my name change. I really had become a "little helper" and I thanked God that he had sent me there to care for her. At 19, I graduated college and soon after married my college sweetheart. In fact, I was pregnant with my first daughter when mom was taken back to the hospital. When I walked in, I heard her ask my dad for a glass of Coke with a squirt of lemon. He dutifully went to get it for her, while we spent a few precious minutes together. I somehow knew it would be our last.
"Mom," I said. "I love you so much. Please don't leave. I want you to see your grandchild."
She responded: "I will never leave you, Martha. I love you too much."
That night, my father called to say that she had slipped away quietly in her sleep. Though she has now been gone for 37 years, I still see her wonderful smile and hear her joyous laughter, even through all that pain. I remember well, the laughter and the tears intermingled in a mother-daughter relationship that will never die. I know that she is up there – still smiling and watching over me because she loves me too much!
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