I came across this old photo the other day and it made me stop and think of a few things. This is where I grew up. My childhood home in Austin, Texas. That was my dad's red Volkswagen Beetle (I thought he was so cool) and my mom's station wagon. This photo was taken about 1971 0r 1972, I think.
My bedroom is the window you see on the second story on the left. The house was built in 1963, the year I was born. I was in Texas last week because my mom wasn't doing well and I went by my old house, which looks a little different now. That little tree on the right is so large, you can't even see the front of the house any longer. There is now a carport on the right of the house and later, when I was older, Dad put burglar bars up on the house because that was the "in" thing to do for security. Never mind that we lived way north of Austin, in the suburbs where they still delivered milk, had a book mobile that came every Thursday, and we kids would disappear on summer mornings from 7AM until dinner without a peep from us all day with no worries from either parent because we were "somewhere running around" and since no one was heard crying in the neighborhood, then all must be well. And yet, the burglar bars went up, because that is what you did in the late 1970's in the suburbs. They kept the fear factor down supposedly.
But my mother lived most of her daily life in fear. She had normal fears like any mother. Afraid her kids would get hurt (and we did). Afraid of losing her job (she didn't). Afraid of what the "neighbors would think" if her kids would act up in public (we did). Afraid of gaining weight, so she smoked and ate cheese (she gained weight and smoked anyway). Afraid of diseases so she always commanded us kids to wash our hands before we did anything, after we did anything, and if we even thought of doing anything, we must wash our hands.
I just love this quintessential 1970's photo of a mom and 2 daughters. Mother smoking with her cocktail on a swing (probably feeling pretty good by now) and the two daughters (me on the left my sis on right not too happy). Mom in her maxi dress, me in my bell bottom pants and sis in her little matching jacket and skirt. I can tell by mom's expression that she isn't listening to a darn word we are saying and is enjoying her smoke. :-)
You know how the saying goes it's "always the mother's fault'? Well, I can honestly say that my fear of amusement park rides definitely comes from my mother. If you can picture it: 1969, I am 5 years old, going on 6.
To this day, I am deathly afraid of amusement park rides - thanks to my mother. I mean, I am not just "sort of scared" scared or "no I can't ride because I will get queasy" scared, or "I don't like heights" scared, no I am "I would rather slash my wrist wide open and pull out my own vein with my teeth and chomp on it like a piece of cherry licorice than ride on a ride" scared. Seriously. And I give credit to my dear mother.
It all started out so innocently and so suburban and yet ended up like a really badly written 1969 horror film written by a five year-old. It was back before there were any real shopping malls, but rather the old strip malls that had real parking lots that were designed for just cars, not Olive Gardens, not Red Lobsters,Chic Filets, or Joe Crab Shacks. Only cars were in the giant parking lots except for once a year when the cheesy little make-shift carnival would come into town. I loved those little carnivals. Cotton candy, popcorn, giant spiral suckers, and long plastic tubes filled with pure colored sugar. What genius came up with that one? A giant, plastic tube of sugar. I don't know which was crazier, the tube of sugar or the fact that the parents actually paid the fifteen cents and gave it to their children. The carnival music played loudly and clown machine was blowing up balloons for a nickel.
I was a skinny little kid and being only five, my options for rides was pretty limited. I rode the merry-go-round which didn't seem too exciting after the first time around. And the ferris wheel was really fun, but I wanted something more. My mother, on the other hand, lived her entire life in fear. Not just on the mini carnival grounds in the Capital Plaza parking lot, but she lived life in fear every day, every where. Maybe her fearful way of life was my ticket out of Texas. Maybe her fear inspired my fearlessness. I have never met a daughter who hadn't at least once say, "I don't want to be like my mom." I can assure you I have said it more than once.
But that day at the carnival, as a five year old, there I was looking up at the grand of all rides that was just perfect for me, a scrawny little girl, who had big dreams and hopes. It was the closest I would ever come to flying. I squinted out the sun and heard all the squeals of delight. I saw of the glitter. All the sparkles. Yes! This was the rides of all rides. I watched and watched. The beautiful swings twirled faster and faster over me as the little feet flew over my head and I could see the chains holding the seats way out over my head. It was like a beautiful music box. The center of the ride was all mirrors framed in pink and gold with shiny rhinestones. The ride even had a fancy name, it was called "The Swingers"! I clasped my hands together as I watched all the mirrors, the sparkles, the gold, the pink, the feet flying over my head as the music got l louder and the yelling and cheering from its riders. I was just mesmerized. Yes! This would be the ride of all rides! I stood and imagined how it would feel to have the wind blow through my scraggly long hair that I just knew that somehow it would look glowing and beautiful in the wind as it whipped behind me so elegantly. I just knew my destiny awaited me....I couldn't take my eyes off of my ride.
I looked for an image on google and found this. I couldn't believe how close it was to my memory of the actual ride. The only difference is that my ride had huge mirrors in the center where you see murals painted on this ride and mine had more rhinestones. But a pretty close match!
I reached up for my mother's hand and pulled on it, never taking my eyes off my future. "Mom! I want to ride on The Swingers!" My mother turned very serious and squatted down next to my ear and began to point my so ever special ride and piece by piece she picked apart my vision of beauty with her own gruesome tale. She began to tell me how she once knew a girl, when she was growing up, just like me, a little girl, who was riding one of those "swing things" and how "those cheap chains just snap right off" and how the swing went smashing right into the mirror and how she cut her face "into pieces" and was "scarred for life" and that "there's no way in hell" that she was going to let one of her kids "go head first into a damn mirror" on her watch. Then she just stood up and told me to stay put while she went to get a hot dog and then patted me on my head and calmly walked off. Her whole little tale took all of one minute.
As I stood there watching in horror and as my five year-old imagination grew and grew, my heart began to beat faster. Suddenly all the chains on the swings looked weak and I stepped back. I didn't want to be under them. The squeals of delight suddenly sounded like screams of terror. The music didn't seem jolly, but menacing. The pretty pink wasn't pink any more, but more of a bloody red. What was wrong with those kids? Don't they know they are at death's door?
Photo by Ishmaelo on Flickr
I couldn't take my eyes off the mirrors. Any moment, some kid was going to be hurled "head first" into one of them. A part of me didn't want to see it and a part of me didn't want to miss it either. The swings seemed to be going faster than I remembered. I looked around the park and suddenly the ferris wheel looked unstable. Is it really secure? The benches seem to rock too much. I was too little for the roller coaster, but I panicked because my brother was in line for it. I whipped around and suddenly the giant slide with the potato sacks seemed to be leaning and my sister was at the top, waving down at me and I yelled for her to get off. This whole place was a death trap. What sort of parent would take their kids to a place like this?
My mother returns and has no clue that her daughter is a nervous wreck. She is munching on a hot dog and what else is she carrying? A giant, plastic tube of sugar. She hands me the tube of sugar. Yeah, just the thing that will calm me down. A giant tube of sugar. I follow behind her in silence, glancing up all around me as I open up the tube of sugar. Mom sees a neighbor and begins to chat as I suck on the tube of sugar and go watch the clown machine blow up balloons and soon all is back to normal. If you call "normal" a death camp of a mini carnival in a strip mall parking lot and a plastic tube of sugar. Welcome to 1969. And welcome many future dental visits.
But while it was my mother's fear of carnival rides that not only kept her off them that also kept me off them (for life) it was her fear of driving that I credit to my love of interior design. Yes, it was her fear of the highway that I believe gave me my start of what I would like to believe either my love of homes or my love of being a "peeping Tom."
Every Saturday, after doing our "chores" mom would load us kids up into her station wagon where we would have free reign over the seats (why in the world would we wear seat belts when there was a third seat in the back we could climb in and out of?) and on our way we would go via old vintage neighborhoods just to avoid the highway. She hated driving the highway. Never mind that back in 1969, 1970, and 1971 there were barely any cars on the "highway" in north Austin, Texas, but lucky for me, mom wanted no part of it. She would drive to Hancock Center and take the back roads and I would press my nose up against the window and stare and stare at all the "city homes" as I called them. I just loved the idea that one could "just walk out of your house and down the street to a store!" Little did I know that my growing up in the suburbs would be the only time I would ever live in the suburbs and that one day, I would be living over my very own store. I was just fascinated by the idea that a house could be so close to so much having lived in a neighborhood in which a book mobile had to stop by once a week and not a grocery store in sight for several more years to come. I had no idea that I was falling in love with "city living." I was also falling in love with old homes, old porches, big windows, chandeliers that I could see through the windows and constantly yelling, "Slow DOWN, ,mom!" when I was sure I saw I new piece of furniture or new wall paper from the week before.
I began my "design work" so early on. At age four I began moving furniture around in my room and painted my room a different color every summer. I remember painting it lavender, yellow, pink, green, blue, white, pink again, mint, lime, but....never beige or brown! :-) I love this photo for several reasons. First, just for the 1970's of it. The headscarf, the glasses. The smokes, laundry, and the wallpaper! I put up that wallpaper with mom. I was about nine or ten and stayed up until two in the morning doing it. To the left of mom is a giant freezer and mom couldn't get up there. I was a skinny kid and she squeezed me up there and pushed me behind the washer and dryer to stick the wallpaper on. It was the sticky stuff that if you let it, it would stick to your hair, arms, anything!! We wasted a lot of paper that night, but laughed as I had to pull it off my hair. Mom finally went and got a shower cap, thinking it would save my hair (and wallpaper) and so I wore it while I sat on top of the freezer and stuck the paper up behind it. As time went on, the moisture from the dryer eventually shrunk the wallpaper little by little, bit by bit. Stupid wallpaper.
My mom was never accused of being overly maternal. Having four of us running around the house and one older one in Vietnam, she probably was tired of being a mom and just wanted to get it over with. Or maybe since her oldest son, a brother I never knew, died in a car accident at the age of 14, she was afraid of getting too close to her future children for fear of the great loss and the pain should something tragic ever happen again. I don't know. She never opened up about it. Back then, there were no Dr. Phil's or Oprah's where one talked so openly about things as they do today.
Mom with Mark (right) and Duane (left) who died at age 14. I never met Duane, he died before I was born.
But in those days, people just kept going, like they do today, of course, but I think they did it differently. Not really in a good way, but just the only way they knew how. Mom for the most part, looking back, seemed to live a life of reaction and "wait and see." As I grew older, she and I didn't see eye to eye on much. We were so different in a lot of ways. I wasn't a "wait and see" person. I am proactive and not wanting to wait for reaction. But I think it was her fear and having lived with her fear may have given me my fearlessness. Not that I don't have fear, I certainly do. But when I look back at all that I have done, I didn't let fear paralyze me or let fear of failure keep me from trying. For that, I can thank mom for learning about fear and how it can keep you from living life fully.
As you may have guessed by now, my mother didn't make it last week and she passed away. I was putting off saying it in this post. I guess I wanted to remember the fun stuff before I had to actually type it out. She was 84 and lived a long life. She had Alchzeimers the last few years of her life and I didn't have much of a real relationship with her the last two years. Dad passed away in 1996 and I know they are together.
I did get my love of travel from her though. She seemed happiest when she was traveling. And she liked to dress up, even though she didn't do it often. She didn't like herself very much as far as her looks were concerned, but when she dressed up, she felt better. I like the photo below even though she is bent over, her outfit, I bet she probably loved, even though I wasn't born yet, I am guessing she liked her hat.
Mom with Mark (oldest) Andrew and Louisa. I am probably on the way or will be in a month or so....maybe it was the outfit that got me started? ;-)
It is funny when looking back at old photos which photos touch you the most. It isn't the formal photos or the ones where you look the best. Mom would probably be so surprised which ones I like the most. Below are a couple of my favorites:
I love the above photo of her tanning at a hotel on vacation. She smoking, by the cars, towel in hair, watching us kids, no doubt, and probably wondering where Dad is...because she doesn't want to be stuck with these "damn kids all afternoon..." and is ready to go out to dinner....hahaha
She was never without her headscarf no matter where or what age.
Here I am with mom and dad on the Rhein River in Germany - they are both so happy.
Okay, I found this photo and remember that mom took it. I like it because I remember her telling us to smile and we didn't want to. I was about 11 and Louisa is about 13. I wanted to wear make-up and mom said, "No" and that I didn't need it. I argued that I wanted to be "pretty" and mom said, "You already are." I remember telling her that she had to say that because she was my mom. And now when I see the photo....mothers are always right. What 11 year-olds aren't pretty? How I sigh for the days when I didn't need make-up!
I wanted these two photos to be the last photos. First, I think mom felt pretty in this photo. She is sitting in her living room chair with her pearls that dad gave her. She looks all bright-eyed and must be going to some dinner or event. And the photo of my father from WWII was taken in Rome, Italy. I think he looks so handsome and this is the man that my mother fell in love with. Sometimes, it is so easy to forget that parents were once young and handsome or pretty and crazy and funny - especially when they get older or fatter, or frail and forgetful. Dad looks so young and strong here. And mom looks elegant. And they were.
You know how mothers have that one "thing" they pick at with their daughters, no matter how old the daughters get? We all go through it. It could be our weight, or our cooking, or our fashion "sense" or the way we keep our house...you name it, we all have something our mothers are too quick to point out about us. With me, it was my hair. She never liked my hair. When I was little, it was always too "stringy" or too "limp" or I should comb it more. When I tried to curl it, it was "a waste of time" and when I combed it straight it looked "lifeless."
As I got older, and married, I could be gone for months and walk through the door and before a hug, before a "hello" she would have some comment about my hair. Always, every time. As a young adult it would just grate on my nerves and eat me up. Why in the world would she say such things to a grown woman? I never understood it. As I got older, I just learned to let it go and expect it when I would visit her.
As she got much older and as I got older, I was surprised that the comments became a little more hateful. There weren't a lot of them, usually only one per visit, but it always puzzled me. When I cut my hair really short and got the messy style that I wear today, well, you can only imagine - her comments actually became funny to me in her old age. She would say things like, "Don't they sell combs in St. Louis?" Or once I remember her saying, "Is your carpal tunnel so bad you can't brush your hair anymore?" I would just sigh and shake my head and change the subject, but actually found it amazing that my hair was such a fascinating subject to her, but also sad.
The last time I saw her, she didn't know who I was. In fact, she didn't know who I was the last few visits. I was sitting there visting with her, wishing I could reach her just once again, but I knew I couldn't. As my visit was ending, she suddenly turned to my sister, but was pointing at me. She pointed at me and said to my sister, "She could be so pretty if only she would brush her hair." Her comment was music to my ears! She remembered who I was for a moment! Never in my life did I ever think that her insulting my hair would be something I would love to hear just one more time. My mom then turned and looked at me straight in the eyes and I think for just a moment she knew who I was; she studied my face for a second, and said, "Yes, you could be so pretty with nicer hair." And I just laughed and told her I would think about it. That was the last time I spoke to her.
Me, my hair and mom. Who would have thought that such a silly thing would be our connection. And to think mom coverered it up with a shower cap so long ago to protect it from sticky wall paper. I think she really cared about it after all.
You will be missed mom, in ways you will never understand, but that is okay because I love you.