A few days ago, my Mom passed away. As a mother and daughter, we are uniquely connected with one another. When she gave birth to me, she was just a few months shy of 20 years old. As adults, it really is not much of an age difference. We always told one another that we would be awesomely cool old ladies together. I am heartbroken that we never got that chance. We would have been epic old ladies together.
It is hard to now move forward with everyday life without her in it. This is one of the most painful realities of being the one left behind. You can’t make any new memories. From now on, she is going to miss every birthday, every family dinner, every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
At this sensitive time, it helps just a little bit, however, to think back to the memories I have of Mom, especially of my childhood. I really did have a fantastically wonderful childhood. Like a lot of kids, I did not fully appreciate it until I was much older. I know that I have a lot of great and tender memories to cherish to help me move forward without Mom in my life.
As a young girl, I was Mom’s living doll and it was all about the hair.
Some of my earliest memories as a child involve the nightly routine of kneeling down at Mom’s feet for her to put curlers in my hair. This was a time before electric curling irons – so there was a well thought-out, time-consuming process to achieving perfectly curled hair.
After my nightly bath, Mom would first attempt to brush out my wet hair with heavy and deliberate strokes. For the inevitable tangles, she would place one hand heavily on top of my head, tell me to bend my head down towards my chin, and then with her other hand she would take a comb to my hair and hank down with all her might.
Once my hair was completely smooth and straight, she would place a good-sized glob of something called Dippity-Do into the palm of her hand, rub her hands together and then run her fingers dripping with goop into my clean, wet and straight hair. Dippity-do was a kind of hair gel. Whenever possible, Mom used the extra holding Dippity-do. It was translucent green and extremely sticky. In a pinch, she would use the regular pink version but she had a certain preference for the extra holding green variety.
Once my hair was good and sticky, came the part where I got to help. It was my job to hand her the curlers. In my very early years, she used black curlers with bristles for the smaller, tight curls and hard pink curlers for the larger, loose curls. The pink curlers had two parts- first a roller to wind the hair around and then a second piece that was a semi-circle clip to hold the curler in place.
Mom would take the sharp pointy end of the comb and dig it into my scalp to select and separate out the few choice strands of hair to place in a curler. She would say “left” or “right”, if I was to hand her the curler over my left or right shoulder. She was very precise about curler placement- winding my hair tightly and securely into place, every strand accounted for. After a long while, my entire head would be covered with hard curlers.
She would then kiss me good night and send me off to bed to sleep. Even now, I do not think I can adequately describe what it was like to sleep with full head of hard curlers-some with bristles. There are simply no words for this kind of beauty torture.
It wasn’t until I was about 5 or so, that Mom took pity on me, (or maybe it was the advances in technology) and replaced my prickly black and hard pink curlers for the softer pink foam kind. While they were a big improvement in the comfort area, Mom would get frustrated if a curler became loose during the night creating an unbalanced head of hair- some curly and some not. Eventually, Mom decided to place my hair into two side ponytails and then place the foam curlers into the hair. This was my preferred method. I found that if I lay perfectly on my back and kept my head straight, I could fall asleep without have to lie on any curlers.
Mom also loved to experiment with my hairstyle. One time when I was about 4, she cut my hair off into a short pageboy style- no curlers required. Dad hated it. I loved it. Needless to say, it was not long before the hair grew back and we returned to our curler routine.
Picture Day at school was a particularly inspiring time of year for Mom. If you were to look at my grade school pictures, you can see a progression of popular at-the-time hairstyles. I believe it was my first or second grade school picture that Mom decided to style my hair exactly like hers- ratted up into a huge beehive type style. Truly- we could have been twins. The picture instantly became a family classic.
Mom was never afraid to learn from her kids.
When I was about 10, my primary teacher taught me how to crochet. I would practice long chains of stitches for hours on end. Eventually, I got somewhat good at it and was able to make granny squares- which the family used as hot pads in the kitchen. My stitches and eventual rows were never quite even and the edges were lop-sided but Mom never said anything about it. She always told me they looked great. One day, she asked me to teach her how to crochet. I was very excited to do so.
First, we went to the store so that Mom could have her own needle and yarn. I recall Mom looking at all the different size needles. She asked me how you know which size needle to get. I told her the larger the needle the larger the stitch. She studied the needles further until she was sure which one would be the right one. It could not be too skinny nor too thick. She ended up selecting a needle that was 2 sizes larger than the one I had been using.
We then went to the yarn aisle. Mom had no idea that there were so many types of yarn. She would first touch the yarn to see which one she thought would be easiest for her to work with and then she made her selection based on color. She would take a skein of yarn and place it to another colored skein until she had just the right color scheme. Like most creative things she did, she always had something in mind.
As soon as we got home, I set to teaching Mom how to crochet. Mom was a quick learner but she did things her own way. While Mom was right handed, it appeared that she was left-handed when she crocheted. I would show Mom how I did the stitch. Then she would try it but it looked backwards to me. I kept telling her that she was doing it wrong. Mom would just say, “I need to do it my way and it will be fine”.
And, it was fine. Mom became quite talented with her crochet work. We had colorful crocheted blankets on all of our beds and she made dozens of baby blankets for friends and family over the years. Mom’s stitches and rows were always even. She only gave up crocheting when the arthritis in her hands prevented her from continuing.
Mom would go through certain periods of her life where she would try different things creatively. She learned to do ceramics. She learned how to can fruits and vegetables and that making your own ketchup is not worth the effort. She learned embroidery. She learned cake decorating. She learned how to garden. She was passionate about every new endeavor. And the best part is, that often, I got to learn with her by her side.
No mom is perfect. But Mom was the perfect mom for me.
I remember when I was about 8 years old, I ran away from home. I packed my yellow and orange flowered suitcase with a few clothes, some candy, a couple cherished and well-worn books and all my life’s savings… about $3.52.
I had a plan.
I would hop a bus out of town and go and live with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa had lots of books and Grandma made awesome rolls- they were legendary and something the family talks about still to this day. I saw myself spending my days reading endlessly and eating yummy rolls to my heart’s content. It would be paradise… my idea of living happily ever after.
I do not recall exactly what triggered me to take such as drastic step but I do know it involved my 3 brothers. All my short young life, my three brothers seem to love to do things- terrible things from my perspective- just to get a reaction. And I always gave them one, which in hindsight, just seemed to encourage them even more.
It was probably just the typical things that brothers love to do … like making fart noises with their hands and armpits; wrestling to see who could squeeze out the loudest fart or at night- engaging in an epic, grand fart war. I never understood why a fart war required the cover of darkness. My brothers took a lot of pride in their ability to fart on demand. In my view, a lot of time was spent on this endeavor. I think if asked today, they would tell you that it was all worth it.
I was never really clear on the rules of fart war but I am pretty sure the winner was crowned for having the loudest and smelliest fart. I can also tell you that after a while, it gets smelly and it gets loud- very loud. It is all the time. It never lets up.
In short, with 3 brothers, I was out numbered. There was no hope.
So, I ran away.
It wasn’t until I had gotten around the block and was standing in front of my piano teacher’s house, that I heard it.
“Stop, right now!”
“Deborah Lynn! Deborah Lynn Westover!”
You need to understand that at that time in life, Mom did not like to leave the house unless her hair was done and her make-up carefully applied (This is something that she decidedly got over as she got older). I stopped and turned around and could not believe what I was seeing.
Mom had no shoes- she was barefoot- which in itself was not strange. It was the rest of it that astonished me. She had only half brushed her hair. She had no make-up on. She wore a thin nightgown. If the sun hit it just right you could see things that should not have been seen in broad daylight by anyone. Mom was running, yes actually running towards me, arms flaying in the air, yelling at me at the top of her lungs. She was truly a mess and a sight to behold. I remember thinking “Wow, that’s my Mom. And she was willing to do this for me.”
The entire neighborhood heard and saw all of the commotion. Mom did not care who saw or heard her. To me, she seemed panicked and downright terrified. I remained frozen in my spot. I had never seen her this way.
Once Mom reached me and she had regained her breath, she calmly asked me where I was going. So, I told her my plan as well as my litany of grievances against “the brothers” as they came to be known.
She listened to it all. She did not interrupt me- not once.
When I was done. She was remained silent for a few moments. I continued to look at her with unwavering determination that I would carry on with my plan. I was expecting some sort of demand to return home immediately. None came.
Instead, I recall her telling me for the first time that she does not understand this “whole sibling thing”. She said as an only child that she simply did not “get it”.
Then she surprised me further with what she said next.
“You are not going to leave me alone with them, are you?”
This thought had never occurred to me until that very moment and knew that I could not leave her.
We hugged and had an instant understanding and unbreakable bond. She reached for my suitcase with one hand and for my hand with the other and together we walked home, heads held high, in silence, ready to do battle as a team. From that day forward, I realized that Mom and me were in this together.
There were so many other times in my life that Mom did exactly what I needed to have done or said something I needed to be told. I could count on her to be direct and honest. We rarely had the typical teenager angst and disagreements that so many others seem to experience. On those rare occasions, it was my own stubbornness that created issues.
At times in her life and especially during her last few days, it seemed that our roles were reversed. However, the one true constant was I could always count on her to tell me the truth and she could count on me to do likewise. One of the last things, Mom told me was that she knows things that I do not know. I just wish she was able to tell me what those things were… I just know it was wonderful and amazing. It had to be. Otherwise, she never would have left.
Mom died on her own terms. We cried often as I knew that she loved us more than anything. Her family was everything to her. Mom never did like being left alone.
Even at the end, I knew that Mom and me were in this together until she decided that it was time for her to finally move on without me.
There is no question and absolutely no doubt in my mind… Mom was not perfect. But, Mom was the perfect mom for me.