by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 9, 2009
GLIMPSES OF MAMA
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga, -- Today, when I selected Mothers' Day cards, they were for my daughters who are mothers themselves. Yet, as I scanned the verses, I was thinking the words were just what I'd want to say to my own mother.
Mama died at age 82 in 1969. I was only 38 then and had six children of my own. At the time, I was actually vying with her to meet or surpass the nine she raised in the worst 19 years of the 20th Century - 1912 to 1931. I did have one more baby girl two years later and she became a namesake for Mama: Marjorie Bell.
It's not unusual for the deep attachment between mother and child to be fostered and strengthened over the years, regardless of differences in the worlds in which they were nurtured.
Mama and I had nothing in common - nothing! She was a Canadian Scot born on a farm and I am an American-born New York City Irish kid. I was the baby of nine and she was a middle child of 11. Her mother lost a baby soon after birth, and a grown daughter at 21 - a nurse in Boston succumbing to a disease making its rounds through the hospital where she worked tirelessly, trying to help quell the spread of the unnamed but highly communicable disease.
Mama would say: "I can still remember waving goodbye to my sister as she left on the ferry going to Boston.
I would hear Mama's stories about her friends and the one-room schoolhouse her father built at the end of the long, winding road leading from the farmhouse. I've been on that road but not until 1986, when chance offered me the opportunity to walk around that farmland and look down into the deep well her father dug when the family moved into the house in 1891. Mama was only three then but remembered the day in the stories she told to me.
At about age eight, when Mama had new shoes, she decided to leave them by the side of the road under a flowering bush. It was not uncommon for children to show up in class barefoot since their dresses were nearly to the floor.
She still flushed with embarrassment 50 years later when she told me the story: Uncle Al, her father's brother, was visiting and wanted to meet his nephews and nieces in class. Mama, with her head held down and her hand reaching up to shake hands, was surprised when he swept her up for a hug. Her skirt swirled around her bare feet with the dust of red clay still staining them after her walk to school.
Although I couldn't relate to the rich red soil of Prince Edward Island, I could tell of a shoe incident, common to me and my classmates running and jumping rope on city sidewalks: flapping soles with a hole in each.
So, we were raised in totally different environments, raised and nurtured. She raised a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, depending upon which denomination housed the nearest church on Prince Edward Island. She once added she had been baptized by submersion, which suggests she was also once a Baptist.
Suffice it to say she was Protestant. I am what you call a "cradle Catholic," born into the Church and raised a Catholic. Mama's conversion to Catholicism came when she was marrying Papa. There is a story there, too, that I can't match.
After graduating from college in Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, she was living with her mother, by then a widow, in Montreal, where Mama was working as a secretary with the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company. There she met my father, and he proposed. It was a beautiful courtship, with ice-skating as the ideal date.
One night she came home early, and her mother asked her what was wrong. Mama started sobbing and said, "Len said he won't marry me if I don't become a Catholic and raise the children Catholic, and I couldn't do that to you." Her mother dried her tears and said, "Marjorie, I won't be with you forever, and if you want to become Catholic and marry Len, then you have my blessing."
And the rest is history. My history. She thrived in her faith and in her marriage and was a far better Catholic than my Papa, if the truth were told.
As I got older, my similarity to my Mama became more obvious. She was a poet and introduced me to the realm of poetry and the joys of language.
She told me stories, fairy tales both standard and from her imagination. One story is still with me. Two little girls, a nice one and a nasty one, were walking along (along where is not important, it's a fairy tale) and they came upon a stove where bread was baking. The bread spoke: "take me out, take me out for I am done enough." Little Nice Girl said, "Oh, let's take the bread out so it won't burn." Little Nasty Girl said, "Why should we? The baker should have gotten back in time." As the story continues, they pass other ways to be nice or nasty.
Just the other day I was in a ladies room, a very nice, clean place with flowers and tissues, everything pleasing to the eye - except scraps of paper towels dropped by patrons. I found myself not only picking them up but saying in my Mama's little "nice girl" voice: "Pick me up, pick me up, my scraps don't belong on the floor."
I was 11, going on 12. That's as nearly as I can pinpoint the time of growing away from the comfort zone, of sitting on Mama's lap and being rocked as we listened to radio correspondents George Hicks or Howard K. Smith giving us news from the war zones of World War II, when some of my brothers were fighting. We would also rock, sitting in the dark, as "Lights Out" came on to scare us with those spooky radio shows. Ooooh, I'd cling to Mama.
Never did Mama say, "Good grief, Connie, give me a break, I'm tired. Go sit over there." I would not have been as patient at the end of a long day raising a family. Mine have often heard, "Good grief, gimme a break," I'm sorry to say.
It is said that losing a mother is one of the deepest sorrows a heart can know, but it wasn't her death that saddened me so much. It was losing her when she became "vague" a year earlier. The doctors said it was "dementia," but vague is the word I prefer, meaning shadowy. She was a mere shadow of the woman she had been. and she didn't even know me.
That was real sorrow.
I've been left with the legacy of her love and wisdom. Forty years later, she is still never far from my thoughts. Whatever had to be done, she did it with grace, no matter what the task. I'm still working on that aspect of her legacy, knowing she was a role model to emulate.
I miss my comfort zone. In the silent moments before dozing off each night, I can still hear her humming.