The man I came to refer as my dad in fact wasn’t. My “real” father decided early on that four children weren’t worth his time, so off he went in search of greener pastures, softer women, shiny cars, etc. etc.
My mother was then faced with the insurmountable task of raising two boys and two girls (one suffering with severe diabetes) quiet alone in a time before all the “support” commonplace in this day and age.
The courts forced my “father” to do right by us. He begrudgingly sent fifteen, that’s right fifteen dollars per child per week to my mother. She supplemented that with a night shift job which paid three dollars an hour. Our baby sister’s medical needs ate up a great portion of that.
We lived in an old mobile home on a rented lot. The floor was collapsing in several places and the electric worked in only a few outlets, extension cords crossed the floor like strands of yarn. The kerosene furnace seldom worked; many a winter’s night was spent under quilts on the living room floor while we took turns waving heat from an open oven with a piece of cardboard. Some nights so cold we placed an old hairdryer under the blankets to keep my little sister’s feet warm, (a problem with diabetes). Broken windows were sealed with sheet plastic and tape, while leaky doors were sealed with rags and towels.
Looking back, I am awestruck by her courage and force of sheer will. There were no monthly checks, no Government assistance, no help with rent or utilities. She did it all, and did it against all odds. In a time when divorce was viewed with indifference by some and disgust by others, she persevered.
The pressure seemed to roll off her “like water off a duck’s back,” but as an adult and a parent, I now understand the pressures she was under, and she worked fervently to keep us blind to the reality. One of the very few times we caught even a glimpse of that pressure is burned forever in my memory.
She drove us to Huston Sellers grocery store one evening, we waited in the car as she went in. Money was short as usual, so she bought what we needed on “credit,” another little fact she kept hidden from us kids. I watched as she walked out, then stopped just a few feet from the door, there she wobbled a bit, and we stared in horror as she collapsed on the sidewalk. That evening I saw the ugly result of the weight she was bearing. Now a days when I hear the term “white privilege” I shake my head.
We survived that period in our lives as a family… yes, we had our problems like everyone else. But she forged a family in the amidst the turmoil. Time (as it does) moves on, we’re still close, though not as close as we once were, (another effect of time). Hemingway said, “we’re stronger in the broken places,” I am forced to agree. There is an unfortunate side effect to that strength, those broken places are left with a scare, a callus. That “suck it up” attitude, or “whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re probably right” thinking is strong in our clan, we know no other way.
Some tell me that I don’t take this Cancer of mine seriously enough. It’s bad and it’s spreading all the time. Why ain’t you freaking out? they ask. Ain’t you afraid of dying? So on and so on. Well…yes… yes to all the above. But faith and Fear can’t live in the same house, that lesson comes from her. I gotta admit, were it not for those lessons I would have imploded long ago.
We are blessed… at seventy-six years of age mom is still with us, and still full of piss and vinegar. About forty years ago she met a crusty old yankee, and he pulled us out of that mess, he didn’t have too. After all, what sane person would take on a woman and four “wild as a buck” kids, but he did, and we’re alive because of it. He’s passed on now, but he’s the one I call “Dad.” He taught me how to be a man, mom taught me how to be a person, he built on a solid foundation that she laid.
In the book series I modeled the main character’s mother after my own. In the pages you’ll get a glimpse of life for some of the mountain’s poorest. I hope you’re impressed by their strength of character and perseverance of spirit.
That’s what this article is about, “Father’s day,” and on this “Father’s Day” I celebrate my mother, for the greater part of my life she was both, and I think she done one hell of a job.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY MA, you deserve it.