Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mom to Me

Bob Frysinger, my wife's brother, spoke eloquently at his father's memorial. Some of what he said comes to mind in these first days after my mother's death.
"I thought I knew him. He was one of two people that I had the most intimate of relationships with as I was growing up. But when you look at the arc of a life, especially one that spans nearly a century, I realized that my memories start at perhaps 5 and by the time I was 16 I was going off to Westtown to board, then I went to college, then I got married and moved away. There was perhaps 10 years of really paying attention and knowing him and that constitutes perhaps a little bit more than 10% of his life."

1983 - with crossword puzzle
Born Carol Elizabeth in 1918, my mother was the daughter of David Richie, a Quaker from New Jersey, and Edith Russell, a Quaker from Ohio. What was it like to be the daughter of these two loving but fairly stern parents? A childhood in the midst of the Great Depression, frugality was hammered into a guiding principle.  I'm certain there was joy in this childhood but I heard more about what one didn't do, didn't say, couldn't afford.

She was a younger sister to a brother and a sister. How was it to follow in the footsteps of two attractive, bright, successful siblings? She loved them dearly but I think she always felt she didn't do as well.

She was a student at Westtown Boarding School, most likely a conscientious but average student. There she formed friendships that lasted her lifetime. She maintained a "round robin" letter chain with these friends for decades, for as long as they were able. I know she was a valued friend to some.

In 1945 she married Russell Tuttle. He was fatherless from the age of nine, raised by his widowed mother, prep school and college educated, a conscientious objector to the war. They met at a Civilian Public Service camp where he served his country during the war. I think they were genuinely happily married for 67 years. I never saw them fight, almost never heard them raise their voices to each other. I always thought he held a few more cards, that she was somewhat subservient, but such were the times. I will never know just how it felt to be his wife.

In 1947 she had her first of four children and became a parent. I know she did the best she could to raise us "right" using the primary model she was given, the way she was raised. She took the role of disciplinarian, scolding and spanking us when she thought needed,  all the while hearing her mother's voice saying she was far too lenient.

She worked for the American Friends Service Committee in her twenties and later in life. I think she was a competent, reliable employee and a convivial workmate. She enjoyed her work life but I just know about small fragments.

And so to others she was a daughter, a sister, a student, a wife, a friend, an employee, a workmate and combinations of these things. But she was Mom to me.

I was a stay-at-home dad and tried my best to nurture despite roles cast by our culture. But when my children were hurt, when they were sick, when they needed comfort I understood it was Mom they wanted. It was Mom they needed. I understood because there is something about moms.

I remember being carried into a doctor's office or sitting together in a waiting room. I remember being held in a lap and hugs and kisses to make it all better. I remember a cool wash cloth wiped across a fevered brow; light fingers rubbing my back; a lullaby singing me to sleep. I remember hot soup brought on a tray to my bed, stories read aloud, and soothing words in the middle of the night. I remember the softness of Mom.

This is the loss I feel; a loving soul who cared for me. 

1 comment:

Charles Jones said...

Thanks for writing thi, and for giving it to us to read.