Sunday, May 10, 2020

A Tribute to My Mom

I spent a great deal of my life shopping for mother’s day gifts and cards without much inspiration. For many years I could not see the good in my mom due to the emotional pain I felt surrounding our relationship.  The year she died, I had begun work on resolving my problems with anger management which began initially through forgiveness of her and others.  That year, for the first time in many years, I bought her a loving card and a music box that played her favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Are" which had been sung the year before by a friend of mine at my dad's funeral.  She had been diagnosed as terminal with a few months to live.  My friend and sister-in-law convinced me it was time to visit her before it was too late.  We had a lovely, loving visit and I shared my journey of healing with her.  She told me for the first time while looking me in they eyes, "Jeannie, I love you and always have."  She was an acts of service kind of loving mom.  Verbal affirmations just were not a part of her story or tradition. 

She was a woman who suffered considerably and had considerable bitterness as a result.  As soon as she was big enough she worked in cotton fields picking cotton.  She slopped the hogs, fed the chickens, cleaned out the chicken coup, and worked in the fields. The sacks they used to place the cotton in after picking were too big for her when she started, so she drug it along behind her.  She was the youngest of 3 and was a change of life baby.  Her brother was 12 years older and her sister was 10 years older.  She was held under water by her brother to a near drowning on repeated occasions, so she  was deathly afraid of water.  Her father disciplined her by using a razor strap (a very thick leather strap used to sharpen straight edge razors).  When she was 14, her sister moved home with her two small children. Her sister was grieving the sudden and traumatic loss of her husband who was tragically killed by a lightening strike.  Her sisters grief made her unable to care for the children, a young boy and a girl.  Mom was forced to quit school and become the caretaker of the kids to whom she was a life long parent figure, and helped them throughout her life. 

She left home at 14 to work as a waitress in a small town in Oklahoma.  My dad came into the small cafe to eat and was smitten.  He was 5 years older and was a printer by trade, a journeyman kind of position.  By my mom’s standards raised by a sharecropping farmer, he was a step up.  She at first thought his admiring glances and quaintly flirtatious behavior was him “looking down his nose” at her.  Dad saw her the first time when he was getting off a shift and was still covered in the ink and grime from the printing presses. Mom had been slinging hash all night, so neither felt particularly attractive, I imagine. Dad was undeterred by her failure to respond so he cleaned up, returned and won her heart and hand in marriage.  My brother was born 10 months later.  Dad moved around the small newspapers of Oklahoma for a short time until he found a job with a bigger newspaper in Wichita Falls, Texas.  I was 6 months old when they moved from Paul’s Valley, Okla. to his new job. It was post World War II, and there was little housing available when we moved.  They lived for a short time in a converted “chicken shed” until they could purchase a post war newly constructed home, a two bedroom, one bath, frame home with a rather large yard.  My brother and I shared the second bedroom.  Cost of the home was $7,000.  I grew up in that home. 

Mom had one hell of a temper and a smart mouth.  She said what she thought without a filter when she was poked.  As a therapist I understand that she suffered from low self esteem, that is she carried a load of shame, because she never felt like she was "enough".  I carried that same shame and guilt as a part of my story or tradition and as a result, I also inherited her anger and was working on the bitterness when I began to heal.  I am very small, perhaps due in part to genetics but also in part to my undiagnosed Celiacs Disease.  Despite being petite, I was a scrapper. One of my dad’s friends made a stick wrapped in tape for me to carry since I was often getting into scrapes with my peers over my "smart mouth".  My smart mouth was me speaking my truth which was biased by my assumptions and judgments.  I was just like my mom.

The story of my healing is long, but for this mother’s day tribute to mom, my purpose is to say that it took me 71 years, but I now have complete understanding and tremendous love and compassion for the woman who loved me to the very best of her ability.  I have been working on complete forgiveness of my mom for many years.  It was short circuited for a time by me not being able to fully forgive me. 

Mom truly did love me as only a mother can.  She cooked, cleaned, sewed all my clothes, grew vegetables in our huge backyard garden, canned those vegetables and made huge amounts of jelly and preserves, and managed to make my father's salary pay for most of what was needed.  She was highly anxious and worried a great deal. She cooked and showed her love through a never empty cookie jar (except when she was working that low paying job).  She showed her love to my sons through her cinnamon rolls which they adored.  Dinners always consisted of meat, at least two vegetables sometimes more, homemade rolls, and a homemade dessert.  When things got too tight, she worked as a clerk in what we used to call variety stores (think Dollar Store).  She had no idea how to handle me because my smart mouth sparked her anger and the result was not pretty. She accepted my nontraditional life style when it was not common for parents to do so. 

I have repented and asked mom beyond her grave for forgiveness of how horribly I treated her.  I feel that she gave me that with her heartfelt proclamation of her love for me before she died. My journey of healing finally lead me to recognize my own deep shame which was rooted in me feeling like I was never enough.  Once I identified that, I chose to let it go by remembering that I have always done my best. I forgave me for all the unkind things I have said and done by applying The Four Agreements to my thinking process.  To make this long story short, I forgave her bit by bit, memory by memory, which lead to the unveiling of my own shame and things for which I needed to forgive me.  This takes unflinching honesty, but is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

May you all forgive, may you all love yourselves.   This  is the message of my tribute to my mom who truly always did her best, and I now see her sacrifice and love with my whole being.  Mom was charitable not only to me but to all who needed it.  She gave out her canned goods, her homemade pies, cookies and cakes and cared for neighbors with acts of service.  One of my first memories is of her caring for a neighbors young son.  The two older children were hospitalized with polio and no one wanted to risk their own safety because so little was known about how it spread.  Mom and Dad just took him in until the family could get their other two children home from the hospital.   She gave without needing to be asked. I really am so much like you, which is the greatest compliment any of us can get.  Thank you mom, for enduring a pregnancy that was 9 months of hyperemesis gravidarum while parenting my three year old brother while dad worked nights.Thank you for forgiving me without being asked for not being thankful for all you did, all you sacrificed for me, all the worry I caused you.  I love you, Martha Miriam Jones Johnson.

No comments:

Post a Comment