Here lately, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic about my mother.
It began on a recent trip to Sam’s. My mother loved Sam’s. With Jenny and I trying to support a family of 7, Sam’s has become our grocery store and places like Kroger are more a convenience shop.
My mom was born in 1932. She grew up in Oklahoma during the depression. For those that aren’t as historically inclined, during the 30’s, Oklahoma suffered from one of the worst droughts in history. It quickly became known as “The dust bowl.”
This photo was captured in Guymon, OK in 1935. The place where my mother grew up. Can you imagine seeing this as a young child? Beginning life with the notion that this is normal?
As the only daughter, and oldest child of a farmer, life couldn’t have been easy for her.
I’ve heard tales of how they wore hand me down clothes, went days eating the same batch of biscuits, because nothing was wasted and how they would come home from school only to have to work in the fields until well after dark.
She dropped out of school in the 8th grade. Soon she found herself working on the farm full time. See, one of the kids had to stay home to help with the struggling cotton farm. So my uncle Melvin got to continue his education and mom began a career of backbreaking work on the farm and in local restaurants.
When she was 16 she found herself in a position that girls today fear: she was pregnant. Unmarried, uneducated and little more than a child, herself she was expecting. Back then, the stigma was enough for families to send their children away to have the child in secret. But my mom stayed at home.
She had my sister. And shortly after began making one mistake after another. She did what Ashley Judd’s character in “Where the heart is” did… She tried to find a daddy for her fatherless child.
So, she packed up what little she had and moved to Dallas, Tx. There she met Charles Ray Sr. I’m ok putting his full name on here because the only 2 children he ever had are now deceased and he was put to death by the State around 1995. They had their first child, my brother Charles less than a year after they married.
She worked while he perfected his trade. Drug dealing, armed robbery, and theft. Soon, she found herself pregnant again. But a worthless husband, was better than no husband at all.
In her 4th month, she was given a prescription. She went to the pharmacy to have it filled and began taking her medication, as prescribed. After about 2 weeks, her husband came home pissed! Apparently the antibiotics that she’d been prescribed were given to him by his pharmacist “connection” and my mom had been taking the narcotics. She dismissed the feelings of euphoria as a side effect. After all, back then women didn’t question their doctors.
Although she immediately stopped using the pills, the damage may have been done. My half sister, Wanda Ray, was born 3 months premature, with down syndrome (as it was diagnosed then), and polydactylism.
Obviously, this is not a photo of Wanda’s hands but from the pictures I’ve seen and the stories I’ve been told, had she lived, she would have had to cope with this. Sadly, she did not survive. She lived to be 7 weeks old before my mother made the difficult decision to take her off the ventilator.
My mother had to bury a child. Was married to a womanizing, physically abusive, criminal and had 2 children to feed. So she left. Packed up and snuck out in the middle of the night.
She stayed in Dallas. She had a very interesting life while she was there. As she was living it, she had no clue that she was in the middle of history in the making. She only knew she was working 3 jobs to support 2 kids and was living in “the ghetto”.
What made it interesting? Well, for starters she was the head housekeeper at the Marriott. At the time, it was one of the top hotels in Dallas. She met people like Elvis Presley , The Beatles , and various wealthy oil tycoons and cattle barons.
At night she worked as a waitress (there is speculation in our circle as to whether she was a waitress or a dancer, but it’s a moot point now) for the infamous Jack Ruby .
Yes, she was even present that day on the grassy knoll when President Kennedy was assassinated.
So, let’s sum up my moms life up to this point, shall we? She began life in America on a struggling cotton farm during the depression while fighting a crippling drought, had to raise 2 kids with no “marketable” skills or education and witnessed the most controversial assassination in the U.S.
Nothing boring yet. Nothing easy, either.
Next, she meets my father. She managed to land a job as the bartender at a local bar and began dating a regular customer: my dad.
Now, most of us today would realize that a guy who’s at the bar 5 nights a week, is probably an alcoholic. But it didn’t matter to mom. He was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. A pilot, at that. He was educated, attractive, successful and most importantly, he wanted her.
They married and she began the life of an officers wife. Moving all over, kids in tow, setting up house wherever Uncle Sam told them to go.
She convinced herself she was happy. She had a comfortable home, money in the bank, a “respectable” husband, and two kids that were fairly well adjusted.
So what if he was controlling? She could overlook his extra curricular “love life”. She was even able to tell herself she was comfortable with his drinking. The drinking that had, by now, caused him to lose his pilots license and receive a demotion from Major to 2nd Lt.
Then, after 10 years of marriage, she found out she was pregnant. Again. She’d insisted they tie her tubes after Wanda but obviously, that didn’t “take”.
My father was oblivious. In fact, he’d made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want anymore children. He had 2 daughters from his first 2 marriages. He left those women shortly after the girls were born and my mom was going to be no different.
One day while he was stationed in Korea, she received a phone call from a friend. Apparently my father had met a woman while overseas and married her. Unfortunately, he forgot to divorce my mom first.
Well, life had hardened her up a lot so she quickly flew into revenge mode. She took him to the cleaners. He’d finally regained his old rank of Major and was barely hanging on to his career. So a charge of bigomy would have gotten him thrown out of the Air Force. She knew this and used it.
She got everything. House, car, kid, furniture, child support, his allotment, medical insurance for me, and satisfaction.
By now, my half sister was grown and married. My half brother was 17. And I was an infant. She was again alone and raising a kid.
My mom struggled. She fought life and the demons in herself.
She tried to keep her family protected and provided for.
She survived cancer 3 times, suffered from RA, and endured over half a dozen joint replacement surgeries.
She was finally diagnosed with colon cancer in August of 2006. It had spread. To her lungs and liver and throughout her abdominal area.
She was given 6 months to live.
She began a new treatment of antibodies , chemotherapy, and radiation. She lost the skin on her hands and feet. She lost so much weight, that we thought she would waste away to nothing. But she went in to remission.
She survived another 5 years. With a stage 4 diagnosis, the survival rate is less than 10% for 5 years.
She made it 5 years and 1 month.
She passed away in her home on Sept 14, 2011.
I’ve talked about how my sister is a bitch, my mom was “hard” and Jenny and the kids are my only family now.
My mom always loved me. She could be mean, indifferent, harsh, rude and not the most honest person. She said a lot of hurtful things to me and my kids. But she was always there. She never turned her back on any of us and not once would she tolerate anyone else speaking badly of any of her kids.
She may not sound like a very good role model in today’s psychological circles. She disciplined us, physically. She was the queen of “tough love”.
But, she taught me a lot. She gave me a “fighter” mentality. She taught me a good work ethic. Showed me that life is gonna try to kick your ass, but the only real option you have is to push through it. She taught me I need to always have a plan B. And above all else, she made me want to love my kids, unconditionally, and immensely. And show it to them.
She was the type of woman I wanted to be but wanted to be the opposite of, at the same time.
Our parents always fuck up. We never understand why they do what they do or act the way they act.
But as a parent of 2 girls and 4 step kids, I’m discovering that being a good parent means disappointing, angering and even bringing sadness to our kids, sometimes. It’s inevitable if you are doing your best. Yes, even I fuck up. I make mistakes, take on too much, and somedays try too hard. But I’m doing ok.
My mom taught me that.
And I will always miss her, love her, respect her and hope I can be half as strong as she was.