This week marked the occasion of what would have been my mother’s 87th birthday. I knew her for less than half of my life. It’s unfair for Moms to die so young. Breast cancer robbed my Mom of relationships with grandchildren and a promising writing career. Premature death also leaves a daughter with mostly memories of the hard stuff. I was born when my Mom was 19. She had a big learning curve on the motherhood front. My memory bank is seeded with her criticisms of my awkward insecure teenage self. “If your hair looked better you might have more dates.” I finally lived up to her social expectations in my junior year of high school. Her impeccable penmanship captioning an old photo reads: “Linda (my real first name) was elected an “usherette” at graduation. One of 40 girls out of 500. A real honor for her.”
To be fair, my mother had few pre-natal models. She spent early years in Omega, Georgia, a place that might as well be at the end of the earth where opportunities go to die.
She was the daughter of the town drunk. Buster Woodall generally spent his Saturday nights in jail following an evening of drinking and carousing. Dusting himself off early in the a.m., he would don his “cleanest dirty shirt” and ask for repentance at his conservative Southern Baptist church. Mom’s paternal grandmother helped her escape her small town fate, moving her to Orlando. Her years at what was then the only high school in town introduced her to a bigger world and ultimately my father, a sailor from Long Island, New York.
There weren’t parenting classes in 1953. New moms were just supposed to intuit the essentials of mothering. She definitely grew in to the role. Life in her Levittown-like subdivision, though far from lavish, was sufficiently far from her South Georgia roots. Straining to leave behind her former life, she was committed to ensuring her own three children fared better at the holidays and every other occasion than did she. Christmas ran through my mother’s veins like Santa’s reindeers racing through the night trying to meet their early morning deadline. What the family budget lacked, her drive and enthusiasm made up for. Christmas in the Lang house felt like a Hallmark Holiday movie (albeit a down-the-socioeconomic scale version.) Following the stillbirth of her fourth child, she became a parent to children in foster care.
I guess what I miss most about her early departure was that I did not get the chance to know her. I was still too self absorbed at 29 to ask questions of answers I now crave to know. “How did you feel about moving to Florida and living with a grandmother and great grandmother (who lived to be 106)? How did you mother feel about the move?” I miss the fact I was unable to share with her my own parental anxieties as my kids aged and made the inevitable mistakes in judgment. I know as a grandmother myself my perspective is helpful. Whereas parents are required to focus on the minutiae, grandparents enjoy the luxury of seeing the bigger picture. We don’t have to sweat the small stuff as they say. I wish my children could have enjoyed the benefits of her wisdom and kindness.
Writing this out loud is helpful, however. It helps me recall more than just her youthful parental stumbles. I know she would have crushed it as a grandparent, which would have made me love her even more. I’ve chosen to believe over the years she is an angel whispering in my ear in times of great need. I guess I just wanted to connect with her again on this occasion of her 87th birthday. Happy Birthday Mom.
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