I’m not sure when she became a human being. Probably the first time I found out she was fallible. Sometime in my 20s, after I left university.
Once I began my life as a ‘grown-up’ and she and my dad moved to Oklahoma, of all places, I began to miss her. I was surprised, because we were never particularly close. I think that’s when I finally got to know her, even though we could only see each other a couple of times a year. She and my dad lived in a beautiful one-story Oklahoma house with a huge stone fireplace in the middle living room and wrap-around bedrooms – a wing on one side and a wing on the other side.
They were like a man and a woman newly in love: they dropped out of their 30-year life in New Jersey and, with my brother and me off to our own pursuits, they became a fun couple: playing tennis, going to dance parties and bridge soirees, joining a country club. My mom was cute and lithe, the life of a party, and the light of my dad’s life.
I watched her, mouth open, wondering if this was the woman, the “Mom,” I’d lived with for the first 22 years of my life.
For the next 30 some years, I’ve tried to figure out who my mom is. She dated a lot in high school until she met my dad when they were both seniors. She came from a solid stable family with a sister and parents who spoiled and adored both of their children.
My dad grew up with his single mom who had to work many hours a day to keep her two children housed and fed. He signed up to fight in “the war” the day after he graduated from high school; Mom kept all of his letters for the ensuing two years in a small wooden box with a key (read my Love Letters).
They married the week he returned from Europe, two months after the end of WWII.
Mom and Dad partied in Atlanta, where dad began his career, and they raised a cocker puppy and mourned when doctors told my mom that she could never have children.
So, on their seventh anniversary, they found an adoption agency they trusted. The day they were to sign papers to begin the process, mom visited her doctor, so sick she thought she’d contracted a horrific flu.
Turns out she was pregnant with me. She wanted to name me “Georgia” but instead chose the name of a character in a book she read while pregnant – Pamela. She doesn’t remember the title of that book.
Eighteen months later, her next ‘flu’ turned out to be my brother.
She became a full-time mom until she was in her 60s. Then she got a job at the Gap. Within a year, she was the store’s top salesperson. Our roles seemed to reverse as I began a family and moved far far away. She’d call me once a week with the opening line of “Hi, it’s your Mom!” And then she’d tell me about her active exciting life.
Now “Mom” is 92. Her life has narrowed to a lovely place that bores her but keeps her safe. She phones me often with the opening line, “Hi! It’s your daughter calling.”
I wonder if I’m my mom’s daughter still, or if now I’m my daughter’s mom. In most ways, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Next Week: Needling, continued