My parents were like black and white, like oil and water, like sin and prayer. My father, not one to boil over, married a kettle of emotions. If he could’ve loosened his grip and if my mother hadn’t completely unraveled, perhaps my childhood would’ve been different. But it was what it was. We all have moments of grace and we all have things happen, I just happened to be inoculated early.
I got the best of my dad and the worst of Mom: I inherited his frame and posture, her moles and droopy eyelids. I possess his sense of rightness, fairness, and goodness, which get me through, and her vanity, stinginess, and mouthiness, which get me in trouble. I have his common sense, his work ethic, and reliability—her foolishness, her self-absorption, and pride. I have his manners, conduct, and character—her resentment, entitlement, and disdain. I inherited Dad’s sociability, Mom’s sarcasm, his loyalty, her indifference, his modesty, her arrogance. I carry his confidence and am weighed down with her self-doubt. I am also his good intentions and her unattended sorrows.
Until I’d met some cousins at a family reunion, I’d not come across anyone that cared for my mother (well, except my brother, but he couldn’t stand her cigarette smoking). My cousins remembered Mom from when she was young, and thoroughly liked her. They thought she was honest, humorous, and hip. They told me she held her own on just about any subject, was well-read in history and well-versed in sports, and could rattle off team stats with the best of them. Now that I write this, I think it’s not true. I only know four people that disliked Mom: my father and my three sisters. They were the ones who had issues with her, though I think Claudia went along just for the ride. Even my brothers-in-law liked my mother. I was glad to find that she had people in her court. Maybe she wasn’t as “out there” as I thought. She was just like the rest of her family—who, compared to my father’s family—were all a little out there. It’s all relative.
My sisters and I are much like mom, in that whatever flies into our minds is likely to fall out of our mouths. I’m also hardheaded like my grandmothers, Barbara and Nellie, who were two peas of the same pod. I live in that pod too, that place of rules and righteousness, of stubbornness and inflexibility. I also appreciate that I possess our flip side: our willingness and determination, our trust and persistence.
Babe was not the mother I wanted, but she was the one I got. Was she a good mother? No. Did I love her? No, I can’t say I did; I’m not that big. But as life would have it, having her as a mother ended up to be in my best interest. Although she may not have been “good enough” I turned out as well as I have because stand-ins appeared throughout my life: sisters and friends and lovers who filled that mothering gap for me. It pays to be adoptable.
I survived my childhood. I raised two sons as a single mom (I got by with a little help from my friends). I’ve gone from welfare to two successful businesses and a longtime career in real estate. I learned to dance, no small feat for someone with two left ones. And I thank God I’m a hardheaded woman. I’m not so sure my sons agree, but they’re entitled to my opinion, too.
A local writer, irreverent humorist, and astute storyteller, Catherine Sevenau is currently posting her third book, “A Family Memoir, Through Any Given Door,” as a web serial at www.Sevenau.com. She co-hosts Random Acts, a monthly open mic at Readers’ Books, located just off the Sonoma plaza. You can reach her at [email protected]