0

My Mother’s Daughter – Becoming Me

My nickname is MagCindy.

It’s one of two names my mother called me. I think I have held onto this for over sixty years because it makes me feel closer to my mom. I was 19 years old, one year out of high school and already in the Air Force when she died. It was a devastating loss which I have explored many times, but not today. Today is about a woman I wish I had known as a woman myself. I think we would have learned a lot from each other.

MyMomI was never a risk taker. Mom always was. She was fearless. I was fearFULL. Earlier today I heard someone say that you are never safe in life. But in death, you’re safe. Let that sink in. Since my mother died, I’ve gradually learned to be more like her, but boy has that taken a lot of effort. But I don’t want to be safe. I want to FEEL, even if it’s risky.

Freida Mae Swift Shortt was a tough cookie. Being her daughter meant you had expectations. It wasn’t enough to be something to someone else, you had to be something on your own. It did not matter one iota what that was – but there has to be something. She supported everything I ever did. Civil Air Patrol nerd – check. Struggling artist – check. Waitress – check. Air Force airman – check. She was proud of her kids – each and every one of us – with every accomplishment, big or small – she was beaming with pride.

Mom was also a jokester, embarrassing to a young girl at times, but her intentions were always positive. My friends all loved her. Every kid in the neighborhood was welcome at our house. Whatever we had, she lovingly shared. When we moved from Virginia to Ohio, it was a hoot. We were quite the ‘country come to town’. Mom fried chicken, made biscuits and milk gravy, and made banana salad (banana sliced length wise, smeared with Miracle Whip and covered with chopped peanuts) for dinner. My friends loved to come to our house to eat – she was a great cook. Country all the way, though.

MyMom2Don’t get me wrong, Mom was not domestic-centric. She wanted to be outside and housework was the last thing she ever wanted to do. That was all left to us. We had a wringer washer and no drier. Clothes were hung outside on the line or in the basement. She didn’t have time to waste waiting on wash cycles and spin cycles. Wash, rinse, get out. No, not crazy about being inside, but outside – she was a force to be reckoned with. She played tag football in the front yard with us and loved being around all our friends. She was very much a people person – another way I wish I could have been more like her. She also enjoyed her quiet time, weeding her portulaca or pruning her bleeding heart.

MyMom3In the forty plus years since she passed away, I have learned more about her as a person. I have letters from friends in high school and her sense of humor was always evident. Pictures that have surfaced show her in a way I never imagined. I always knew she was full of life, but seeing her as a young woman with dreams of her own makes me wish so much we had been given the gift of an adult friendship to share. I know we would have been best friends.

Mom never got to see me as a wife, a mother or a grandmother. There would have been some tough talks along the way had she been there. When I made my stupid mistakes – she would not have shied away from those conversations. Mom wasn’t about hiding her feelings. All in all, however, I think she would have been proud of me. Especially today’s me. I hope she would realize that I attribute a lot of who I am to her and the lessons she taught me in those 19 short years we were together.

So how did this woman who seems to be my polar opposite impact who I am? This is a question I pondered for years and years for we are very different. Mom was a ‘you made your bed now you lie in it’ kind of mom on the surface. In actuality, she understood more than she ever let on. She taught me about honesty and speaking your truth, and doing what’s right. She taught me about being prepared to take care of myself should the need ever arise. She taught me how to exist in moments of silence and look my demons dead in the eye. She taught me about sacrifice. Most of all, she taught me about staying above the fray. That was a hard one and I admit I was not always successful at it, but her lessons are still engrained deep in my brain.

IMAG4468-1Moms never stop mothering – at least the good ones. I wish she had been there when my children were born. I wish I could have seen her rock my babies and sing to them. She taught me to sing the songs that would stay with them forever. The simple, easy songs. The ones that you never forget.

Down in the meadow in an itty bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a Mama fish too
The Mama fish cried ‘now swim if you can’
And the ‘fam and they fam’ all over the dam.

I love you, Mom.

3

The Making of Me – My Grandmothers

On this Mother’s Day, I began to think – Just how did I get here? It’s a very long story, genealogically, but for me, personally it started in the late 1800’s when my grandmothers were born.

I knew my paternal Grandmother as Mam-Maw, but her name was Bertha Rosetta Blevins Short. She had long gray hair that she always rolled into a bun at the back of her neck. Her home meant everything to her. She cared for it lovingly. She was a very meticulous woman and a staunch Christian. She was an amazing cook, loving grandmother and furiously loyal to her family;

My Grandmother ShortIt wasn’t until I started to dabble in photography that I discovered an old faded negative of her. Suddenly I saw her differently. She had rolled up jeans and her long hair was dark and cascading down around her shoulders. She looked fierce and fearless and oh so young! I realized that this woman I called Mam-Maw must have had a life before me that I would never know or understand. It would be one of the first photographs I would hand-color and one that I cherish the most.

We lived with our grandparents for a time and she was an amazing woman. She loved her family fiercely and her four noisy, rambunctious grandchildren were no exception. We were part of her tribe.

Country women work hard – gardening, canning, cleaning and weathering the storms of every day life. I learned so much about life and the importance of making a way for yourself that I will never forget. She sang when she worked and always had a way of producing some sort of delectable treat from literally nothing. She made an amazing one-egg cake with a black walnut, butter and brown sugar glaze that I would love to have ‘just one more time’.

Even with all the challenges she had in her life, she stayed a dedicated and honest Christian woman. Every day she read her Bible. I remember watching her underline meaningful passages – I have a Bible with which I tried to emulate her behavior – I think I underlined the entire New Testament!

Even now I can hear her playing a ukulele singing The Little Mohee or washing dishes singing Peace in the Valley. She wore platform heels, and a single strand of imitation pearls. She had hats with netted veils and was always immaculately dressed. It was from her I learned to always stay true to myself – a lesson I would forget at times but somehow I would always find my way back to those deep principles.

My Grandmother Swift

Granny was a different grandmother altogether. She grew up in Tennessee and was also a hard-working woman. She married my grandfather and joined him in the Philippines. There she would have her first child and carry back stories that I loved to hear over and over again. She was tough in my mind and I imagine she was always strong. My cousin recently shared this picture of her holding a monkey in the Philippines – it has also become one of my favorites because it allows me to see her differently.

Granny, Leita Effie Cole Swift, was a firecracker. She was strong and able and wise. She, too, was a strong Christian woman, but she carried it differently somehow – more matter-of-factly. Granny and Granddaddy lived on a farm and she, too, worked hard. She milked cows, raised tobacco, raised a garden and canned food for the winter months. She made the prettiest apple jelly I have ever seen – it was as clear as glass. She taught me to piece a ‘Gentleman’s Bow’ quilt because she said I was smart enough and capable enough to make my own quilt.

When I close my eyes, I see her sitting in a rocking chair by the window. Her gray hair is slipping out of its confines around her face. She is barefoot and reading a book – a definite Swift trait! She saw me through some tough times and always had a way of spinning a difficult situation into a positive viewpoint. For that I am forever grateful. She sat with me when my mother was in the last months of her life and helped me see my mother in a completely different light. I never once thought how hard it was for her to watch her own daughter suffer so much – because she was there for me.

But these two women are just a fraction of who I am – there is much more to come. Next up – my beloved mother.

0

Happy Birthday, Mom

Mom’s birthday blog. Take four.

The words are not enough. I do not want to describe my mother to people and tell them how strong she was and how hard she fought for her life. I feel like I should tell the world how wonderful she was and how much I miss her but there are no words to convey the emptiness and the void that have filled my heart for the 42 years she has been gone. It took years for the anger and the loss to subside and for me to be able to forgive myself for the anger I felt at her, at cancer and at God. Our family lost our normal when mom died and losing someone as special as my mother is not something you recover from easily or quickly.

MomMom would be 88 years old today.  88!  Wow, that is so hard to fathom. You see, my mom was in her 40’s when she died so she is always young to me. She will never be an old woman in my eyes and my heart. I close my eyes and see her jet black hair and that spark of mischief she had in her eyes. I see her smile and her laugh as everyone around her fell into her spell. Everyone loved her and growing up, all were welcome in our house. My friends came and went and she loved them all. There was always room at our table and no one was ever turned away.

This is not to say there were not ups and downs – of course there were. But those times are easy to set aside in favor of the love and joy in the every day moments of our lives.

As kids, we played records and danced to Chubby Checker in the living room with our parents. I can see Mom doing the twist and the jitterbug just like it was yesterday. I see her resting her chin across Dad’s shoulder and telling us that was how beatniks danced. We sang songs and played games on all our road trips. She always carried round pink mints in her purse on those long trips between Ohio and Virginia. What I took for granted I now know is something that many people never had. We were loved and we learned to love in return.

After Mom was diagnosed with cancer, money was tight. One year, I was invited to a Valentine Sweetheart dance. I was so excited to go and chatted about it nonstop for weeks. One Saturday, Mom asked me to run an errand with her. We got in the car and drove to a discount store (similar to K-Mart) where Mom told me to pick out a dress for the dance. I found a red and white peasant topped dress. It was simple and made of inexpensive fabric, but it was pretty and it was new and Mom made sure I got it. I think back and believe the dress cost $10 but it might as well have cost $200. It meant the world to me.

When I was in high school, Mom made sure I took drivers training although I did not get my license until years later. I was the kid that was terrified of driving and she had to force me to drive when I finally got my learner’s permit. I think she knew how important independence was and that was something she wanted for all her children.

While in the Air Force, I came home to fly to Virginia with Mom. She paid to upgrade my flight to first class (my first first-class trip ever – back then it didn’t cost that much). It made her feel so good that we could have a special moment together and relax and talk. I don’t remember much of anything about the flight but I remember being with Mom and how happy she was and that was all that mattered.

MomUniformMy biggest regret is that I did not have time with my mother as an adult woman. I missed the chance to talk to her about adult problems and just have every day conversations between a mother and her daughter. We did have a lot of conversations when I was in high school about some very deep and meaningful things, but she was busy fighting for her life and I was trying to just get by knowing my mother would not be there much longer. So many times I wanted to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ To have her with me when my children were born or to hear her read them the same poems she read to us would have been so amazing. And then to imagine her holding her great-grandchildren is more than I ever dreamed of.

Mom would be proud of the way her children stayed close. Even with distance and marriages and life problems we each experienced, we were always family. We came from a woman who taught us how to love and the importance of always being there.

Mom, a lot has changed since you were here with us but one thing has not. You are loved and you are missed more than you may have ever realized possible. Sometimes it’s a song or a memory or an ornament placed on the Christmas tree that brings me to my knees. But I get up. I remember how you fought and I remember how much you loved us all. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love and I miss you SO very much.