Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In memory of my beloved Mother

In memory of my beloved Mother

Orphan : In common usage, only a child who has lost both parents is called an orphan-- Wikipedia 
Mom and I c. 1948-49

Mom and I on February 1, 2013

Much has happened since my last blog entry. Christmas came and went, a New year arrived and, soon after, husband and I left on a trip to Chile.

It was a farewell trip. I knew it would be the last time I would see Mother here on earth and I tried hard to make light of my brief visit. It allowed me to keep the tears inside my eyes..... I was able to touch her, kiss her,  help her eat and drink and hold her worn out hand. I would have given anything to crawl on her lap and simply lay there, let her hold me and tell me stories ...   I wanted to turn back time and say...wait....don't go...let's do this again..... don't leave me.....She was in poor physical shape. I could see that death was not too far ahead. She was in a body that no longer served her, but she knew I was there, and smiled and told me goodbye.

Sadly, in Chile, on February 20th 2013 at the age of 90, my beautiful little Mother Marjorie Yanci Birdsall, a United States Navy WAVE officer born in Iowa, left on her journey to heaven. She earned her wings a long time ago through times of trial and tribulations, happiness and sadness and the complicated mixture of love and abuse. I know that she also had good times in life, and she loved her children and grandchildren but, I also know that she shed many tears and she was, at times, lonely.

Mother made a huge sacrifice when she suggested that I come  the US to keep my dual citizenship in 1974. She gave me away to a better life, with more opportunities. It was a gift that changed my life forever and for which I will be eternally grateful. And, like  her experience with her own family, she knew that, most likely, I would not be there in her last days...
I was not always the best daughter, or a model daughter, or the perfect daughter. I simply had little modeling to follow so I did what I could...sometimes hurtful, sometimes loving. I was selfish, young, daring. I was usually lost, but deep in my heart I knew I wanted more from life and Mother understood that. 

Mom came to visit me in the US a handful of times after I had my children. Even then, I had not yet perfected the art of respect and acceptance. Those would come later. Our relationship as Mother and Daughter was still trying to develop, as we never had established any guidelines.

Mother lived an interesting and daring life for a woman in those years. According to “tell me a story of when you lived in the United States”, I learned that she grew up in a corn farm in Iowa surrounded by family. Her parents were strict but loving. She remembers sitting at the top of a hay pile with all the youngsters in the family and hiding in the corn rows, the stalks so tall that you could not see the sky.

As a young woman,  the stress of the Depression made for very hard times. Rations of sugar and other staples were difficult for her parents. She had one blouse that an aunt gave her, and she would launder that blouse over and over. 

The family took a trip across country when she was barely a teen, and her Father trusted her skills to let her drive through the night while the rest slept, something that filled her with pride.

Mother played the piano and while in the Navy band, the Sousa horn. She had a quick marriage that ended when her first husband died on a ship on the way to battle during WWII. She never wanted to talk about it and for some reason, felt embarrassed about this episode in her life. She joined the Navy, hoping to follow one of her siblings, but they ended being stationed on opposite sides of the country. Later on, she became a link trainer and taught celestial navigation. It was around that time, in Corpus Christi, that she met my Father, a Chilean Air Force pilot who became one of her students. Little did he know then, that a few years later he was to use celestial navigation on his historical maiden voyage to Easter Island from the mainland.

Mother, the WAVE,  left the Navy  and went to live in Quintero, Chile, a fisherman's place where Dad was stationed at the Air Force base. It was a tiny town of about 500 people and a harsh reality for her.  The culture was different, everyday life much harder than in the US. Years later she became a teacher, earned a scholarship to Bristol to enhance her degree and won many local and national awards as a best educator.

Mom worked hard. I did not appreciate the late nights when she was on her knees at the bathtub washing my clothes and hanging them on a string to dry. I do now, but then, I took it for granted. She spent most of her earnings on others, making it difficult to come and see me and have the freedoms that a little cash can bring. This was the reason why I worked so hard trying to get her a veteran's disability pension and Social Security...I hope the funds helped enhance her life in some way.

Mother could draw like a professional....and had a beautiful voice. I often heard her harmonize. She taught me spirituals, and traditional Americana songs. As a teacher,  she was never absent from work, except when she was giving birth.

It was a real treat when, on a Sunday afternoon, she would treat us to hotdogs...WITH KETCHUP!...some Coca Cola and potato chips, something most people never had then in Chile. We felt so American....

It was with her that I went to see the entire historical series of Empress Sissi of Austria, married to the dashing Franz Joseph, with the late Romy Schneider. I especially remember a time when I was afraid to come home because my grades were not good...I knew that Father would give me a good beating...instead, she took me for a grilled cheese and then to see the newest of the Sissi movies.

Mother left the USA and never looked back. She mourned the death of her family from afar and made her home in Chile. Even when things were tough, she remained there. She never spoke ill of her siblings or parents, instead, the stories she told us were full of admiration and pride.

In my heart, there will be none sweeter, none lovelier, none smarter or gifted. None more generous, none that suffered as much. None more missed.

How hard it is to lose a parent...but to lose a parent at long distance, and not be able to participate in the last few breaths, the last few moments of life, leaves a void in your heart.

I lost my grandmother, my father and my mother in the same way...far away, and I think of them every day.

Part of me will never be the same. I have learned the word orphan in my middle age and I feel very lonely. That stage of my life, when I could pick up the phone just to hear Mother's voice, is gone forever.

And while it is the circle of life, it is a painful experience. There is no place to go mourn, no place to go and feel the ethereal presence of her, or dad. There is no grave to go and sit under the trees and have a conversation and a good cry.  Sometimes, living far away upsets the family mechanics. Decisions are made without your input and it is hard for those who live together, to remember that those of us far away, also hurt.... and that all grandchildren suffer as well, even if not present ....  I will not have the opportunity to peruse through the pictures left behind, the forgotten treasures that surface in long lost dresser drawers  and evoke memories after someone is gone.

Her deep sacrifice to let me go at an early age will not be in vain. I always wanted Mother to be proud of me.....she never said so ...but I know in my heart that she was. She was certainly proud of my children...her "American" grandchildren.

Looking around, I realized that I have nothing of Mother ... not a ring, not a necklace, not an earring...not a tangible memory....but Joe reminded me that, instead, I brightened her days by sending her those memories, the earrings, the rings, the fancy clothes, the perfumes, that she was unable buy for herself.

Farewell my sweet little Mother. I will see you again some day. Thank you for being my Mom.

Your Loving daughter... 

1 comment:

  1. My Dear Mama,

    Please know that even amidst feelings of lonliness, you're not alone, we all miss her, we won't forget her, not ever. She lives on in the stories you've put in our hearts from childhood, when we'd ask you to tell us "about when you were little and used to live in Chile in black and white". You always told about how strong Grandmother was. I am so happy to know my oldest got to meet her Great-Grandmother at least once, and her Great-Grandfather. Even as a short visit as we rush through an airport for whatever circumstances, will be a treasured visit that will always tug at the heartstrings, because distance and frequency of visits will never take away that she is my Grandmother.

    Now, rest, peacefully, Grandmother, and we'll meet again another day.
    Christine :^)