Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Strongest Woman in the World

I know I've referred to my mother as the strongest woman in the world here before. Thoughts of my cousin and that family rift has me thinking about the time I realized that my mom was made of nails.

My mother and her siblings never had an easy time with their older brother, J.O. Most had some kind of run in with him in their life time. My mother always tried to forgive, even when her brother was an ass.

In the fall of 1963, Mom had been putting on a bit of weight and found her monthly cycle to be spotty. Eh, Menopause was what she thought. Until a fateful night in November when I hauled off and kicked her pretty hard. She knew what that was.

Within a matter of a few days, she discovered she was actually five months pregnant by her married boyfriend of seven years. Knowing she couldn't show her face in our small town and wanting to protect her mother, she arranged to live with J.O., who was living in Colorado with his wife and the two boys. She took a leave from work and drove to Jackson to withdraw my sister from business school and took off for Colorado.

The agreement was, my sister and mom could live in the guest room in return for keeping the boys who would turn four and five in December and January. Within a week, my uncle had banished them to the cold, damp basement which was filled with chinchillas... my uncle's side business.

I could probably fill a book about their lives in that basement for the next four months - the sacrifices both of them made for me. Their greatest joy was the boys. The days were filled with their laughter.

My mother did not have an easy pregnancy. She threw up by the bucket the entire time they were in Colorado. During the day, she would sit in the only comfortable chair in the house...her brother's recliner. Mom was careful to always be out of it by the time he got home. But one day, he got off early. He walked in and saw her in his chair. She was about 8 1/2 months along and had to struggle to get up. His voice boomed through the house as he cursed her for being in his chair. That was the when Mom stopped forgiving him.

But their break wouldn't come for six years. Mom was home for lunch with me. My uncle arrived. I hugged him and he sat down at my spot at counter where we ate. Mom was on the other side washing dishes. I sat down in the floor behind my uncle to play.

Before long, their voices grew angry and I started to pay attention. My uncle needed money. He wanted his share of the family money.

In 1960, when my grandfather had died, he placed my mother, his fourth child and second daughter in charge. He told her that more than the others, he knew she would take care of grandma. And she did. He left a whopping $1500 and 160 acres of land, cattle and various farm animals.

Mom invested that money. The cattle were sold off as needed to fill Ma's freezer. Mom got her mother Medicare and social security. Ma, for her part, took to her bed. "I just miss my Kirb," was all she'd say. Six years later, she could no longer care for herself. She came to live with us. But when she took a bad fall and Mom and I couldn't lift was time to send her to a nursing home.

Ma thought she would get well and go home and would hear nothing about her house being sold.

Mother tried to explain to my uncle over and over that Ma needed that money. The money was not hers (Mom's) to give. He got angrier and angrier. And then I heard it. Those two little words: liar and thief. I was only six and I knew them was fightin' words to my mother.

For good measure, my uncle added, "Why, if you weren't a woman and this weren't your house, I'd whoop your ass."

Mother stood in front that sink calmly but there was steel in her voice, "You've got yourself an ass to whoop."

And with that, she started unbuttoning and rolling up the sleeves of her white blouse.

My uncle started stammering. I think we were both shocked by that steely calm in her voice. "I can't hit you here. You own this house."

"I don't own the damn street. Let's go!"

Mother walked ever so calmly out the door, down the drive and took her stand in the middle of our street, dukes up and ready.

I was filled with fear. Not that my uncle would hurt my mother. No. I knew if he engaged her, she would kill him and go to jail and I would be an orphan. There was no question how mad she was. There was no question she was angry enough to kill.

And my uncle had to know that. He couldn't even look at her. He got in his car drove away and out of our lives.

My mother's siblings all took her side. If they saw him, they were civil and all delighted at seeing his boys on occaision.

For years, my uncle would drive within a block of my grandmother's nursing home twice day. Never did he stop and see her. He took ill and had to go into the same nursing home. His window looked across the courtyard into Ma's room. When he was dying, Ma begged my mother to go see him. "I've said all I have to say," was her reply.

Uncle J.O. was a hard man to be around. But I can never forget that he's the reason I know what Wonderwoman really looks like. She doesn't have a fancy costume and magical powers. She is a woman of her convictions and tries to do what's right - even if she has to roll up her shirtsleeves and stand in the street, ready for a fight.


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Anonymous said...

This is a great story, but I got confused-when did your mother move back to your grandmother's house, and how did your uncle come to move back from Colorado?

Way to go to your mom for standing up to him!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Janet, My mother never lived with Ma after she moved out at 19.

He moved back to Mississippi shortly after I was born.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

DUH, but Ma did come to live with us before she went in the nursing home.