Mother’s Day. This day always brings bittersweet reflection. A time machine, I guess. My mother died in 1979. She missed being part of so much joy in her family. That makes me very sad. Yes, she missed much joy, but she was also spared much pain. For that, I am thankful. Still, this morning, like many mornings, I am missing her. So much I want to share with her…so much I want to ask her, so much insight I would seek. So, for my own sake, I re-publish “Mother’s Day Orphanity” as a remembrance, a tribute, to my mother, Joan Pennington Boggs.
It’s Mothers’ Day 2014. I have never missed my mother more. Joan Boggs was my most enthusiastic cheerleader, my most stalwart defender, and my biggest fan. How I miss her. I don’t often admit that or even let it cross my consciouosness. Yet there are times when that feeling grows in strength. Like the last few months for me. I have needed her love, her counsel, her delicious pork tacos, her understanding, her couch (more than a few times), her special Milky Way cake, and her belief in me, her flawed son like never before.
Joan Boggs. She pronounced it “Jo Ann.” My mother. My mother. My mother. So odd to think, say, and write those words. It has been 35 years. It is hard to remember being her son…anyone’s son…at all. Alone, disconnected, rootless…these identity feelings are much more comfortable in my mind. Still, even this moment, when I let my mind center on my mother, tears are close.
Mom died in May 1979 of a brain aneurysm. She was 48. Sudden. Unexpected. She had a few days of horrible headaches, a wrong diagnosis of a pinched nerve, and then a collapse at her bookbindery job at Rand McNally. Though the neurosurgeon found and repaired the damage, Mom never regained consciousness. No chance for good-byes though we tried hard to jolt her awake with conversation and recordings of her so dear little granddaughters. I remember the sad, clear “Code Blue–Room 93D” as though it was happening now. It all seemed surreal to me then. And it still does.
Especially sad is that I had no concept of what I lost when she died. What we all lost. At the time of her death, I was 22 years old, married, with a beautiful little daughter. Mom could not have been more delighted to be Valerie’s “Mamaw.” She giggled with unrestrained happiness as she and I stood in the hospital nursery in East Chicago, Indiana seeing little Valerie for the first time. She continued to giggle every time she was with Valerie. Mom had two other little granddaughters. Those three little girls gave my mother what she had little of in her life…real joy. I wish I would have realized and appreciated that more then.
Mom overwhelmingly loved her three granddaughters. She never got to meet her seven grandsons, two more granddaughters and a boatload of great-grandchildren. I’m sad especially for my Valerie, Ben, Jonathan, and Bradley, that they missed experiencing the love their Mamaw had for them. How proud she would have been!
Joan Pennington Boggs didn’t even have a high school education. She was from Ashland, Kentucky and spent time as my grandfather the Kentucky bootlegger’s accountant. Nickname: GT. My abusive alcoholic father made her life hell in every way. She had the courage to divorce him before he killed her or her three kids. She did the best she could with us, working hard at low-skill jobs and putting up with poor treatment from some family members to make sure we were cared for. My mother was good to me. She was and is my hero. But I didn’t let her get close.
As I ripped through my teenage years, like many adult first-born children of alcoholics I guess, I wanted to get away. From everybody and everything. It was an impulse or drive, not a clear plan. Mom tried to keep us all connected…to her, to our siblings, and to her extended family. I wasn’t that interested. I regret that.
As I moved to manhood, I was already shucking sonship and breaking from brotherhood. On my own—that’s what I wanted. It was easier and decidedly less painful. I was an orphan in my mind even before my mother died. I expected abandonment and got it. I know I could have done more to help my mother. I could have made more sacrifices. I just wanted to get away.
I have completely reversed that position these days. I know I have a strong, natural human need to be connected and the crud has cleared enough for me to see and embrace it. Mom would love the new Billy, I think.
I am now more aware of what I lost when Joan Boggs died. I am loved today and I’m grateful. And more importantly, I’ve finally come to believe I am lovable by others. Yet nothing can replace the special love my mother had for me her son. A love that was there without question or explanation. A refuge love. I will say that again. A refuge love. A place-on-the-couch, “can-I-make-you-some-Ashland-gravy” love. An “it’s alright, Billy” love (even when it wasn’t). There are times I desperately need my mom’s love, care and forgiveness. Not having it leaves a gaping hole. I am sad because when it was there I ran from it and now it is gone when I most need it. The best I can do is to offer my children and grandchildren my flawed-father-version of it. I can’t love like Mom, but I had a good teacher.
I miss my mom. I really do. Today, I think I could offer her a much better son than I was before. I might manage to give a little more than I take. And I would definitely no longer think being alone is a good thing.
I’m imagining Mom here with me today. I will have arranged for her to meet her favorite singer, Englebert Humperdinck today. Hey, I found and interviewed Richard Simmons…so how hard could Englebert be? Anything for Mom! Wait. That’s all assuming he is still alive. A dead Englebert just couldn’t croon “So I’ll sing you to sleep after the lovin’ with a song I just wrote yesterday.” Yikes! Where did that come from? I’m letting that take up my precious brain space? If I have to sing, I’ll go with “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize.” Oh well. There is much laughter. There are many tears. How I wish I could have one serious conversation with her.
“Mom, I have missed you! You are going to be so excited! Yep, I’m doing okay. No, I don’t have much hair. Yes, Mom, you can still call me “Billy” (don’t you readers get any ideas!). Sure, I’ll try to be more careful on my motorcycle. No, I don’t still have a Volkswagen but you’re going to love my Mustang. Yes, I’ll try to be a better big brother. Mom, wait, I want you to see how blessed we are!”
“Remember little Valerie? Here she is with her loving husband, Tim. Mom, meet your great-grandkids Bryce, Austin and Grace. You’re going to love them! And Mom, here is your grandson, Benjamin and his dear wife Brianne. Oh, meet Brayden and Brookie! So full of fun!”
“We’re not done Mom. Here’s your grandson, Jonathan. This is his wonderful wife, Torrie. And this smart little reciter of poetry by Robert Frost is Jared. Last but not a bit least, Mom, this is your grandson Bradley. Meet his great wife Krystle. This little car and hot-air balloon expert is your great-grandson Josiah. And this precious little one is your newest great-granddaughter Lileigh.”
“Mom, I could not be a prouder dad and grandad. They are all so special! We all miss you, Mom. So very much!”
I feel better now after that little conversation. I do.
Orphanity. I like to make up words. Feel free to use this one. Oh I know that as an adult I am not really an orphan yet today I feel like one, alone. I am however a father and grandfather that sees Mother’s Day as an opportunity to strengthen my resolve to love Valerie, Tim, Bryce, Austin, Grace, Ben, Brianne, Brayden, Brook, Jonathan, Torrie, Jared, Bradley, Krystle, Josiah, and Lileigh as my mother loved me. Flat out completely without condition. No strings. No restraint. Full on.
Tomorrow I will love Brayden by cheering for that nine-year-old minor-league Dodger as he plays baseball. I will be there. Present in his life. A place of real love as my mother was for me. A force of love he and the rest of my kids and grandkids can count on as long as I have breath. Brayden’s ball field happens to be right next to the cemetery in Schererville, Indiana where my mother is buried. I don’t often visit her grave, but I will tomorrow. And I’ll tell her all about her legacy, my love for her, and how I miss her.
I applaud you moms reading this, too. Happy Mother’s Day! May you feel appreciated by the ones you cared for as only you could. May any rifts in your relationships find genuine healing and forgiveness. May you be loved well. And may I say a word to you daughters, sons, granddaughters, and grandsons still blessed to have your moms and grandmas around? Love them with reckless abandon! Let nothing get in the way. Just advice from this orphan who longs to be able to so just that.
Some of you will realize I have published much of this before. Still, it seems fitting to me on Mother’s Day weekend to rethink it and republish it. Consider it my tribute to Joan Boggs, my hero, my mother. I love you, Mom.