e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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My mother died on October 5, 1990.    Many of the conventional things were true of her: smart, witty, kind, generous, a good mother.

Many unconventional ones as well...she studied engineering in the early 1930s when women didn't DO that.   She didn't finish her degree (the Depression was part of it, but so was a hurricane that wiped out part of the family business. Most of it, if I understand the stories correctly.  She had sneaked into engineering via "art", because she had wanted to study medicine and that horrified her father and stepmother.  She studied mechanical and architectural engineering (the architecture part was intended, she told me, because she could call it art if she was drawing buildings.) 

She then went to nursing school, where her art ability resulted in her being asked to do live medical illustration from time to time--including during an operation to remove a broken-off ice-pick from someone's heart.  This, remember, was pre-antibiotics, pre-heart/lung machines.  The patient lived.  She also nursed someone with gas gangrene. Not a good way to die.  Sterile technique was all they had, then, to protect against infections.

During WWII, she went back to engineering, serving as a liaison engineer for the Army Air Corps at a large aircraft manufacturing plant.   She was the person who enforced the quality control and any changes in orders.  Some people seriously resented having a woman in authority.   One tried to kill her with a rivet gun, on the grounds she must be a witch (no real woman could be an engineer.)   By then she was married; by the time I was born, she had lost four or five babies--stillbirths or died within a few hours.  

My parents separated before I was born, and divorced before I was two.  My mother worked at first at one of the hardware stores her father owned with another man.   She was a gifted designer and seamstress; she made all my clothes--working 7-7 at the store, and then sewing after she put me to bed.   She also designed houses for people on the side--I can't remember when there wasn't a drafting table set up (and I clearly remember what happened when I took her big T-square to play hobby-horse with.)  She was a good basic cook, and an incredibly good manager.  When I was in third grade, she quit the store (my grandfather had died, and there were unpleasantnesses) and went to work for a small oil & gas exploration company as a draftsman.

In addition to sewing, she could knit and crochet,  design and build furniture,  do carpentry, lay brick and stone (something learned from her grandfather, a mason),  ride horses, climb rocks, swim and dive like a dolphin, fish with live bait in salt water or dry-fly on a mountain stream.   She had a green thumb all the way to her elbow--if a plant wasn't completely, totally dead, she could revive it.  When R- and I had our first little house,  she got up on the roof to put in screw-eyes on the eave to hold strings for a vine to climb.  When we argued, she said she'd rather R- caught her, than she tried to catch him.  She was incredible with M- when we adopted him, supportive all the way, and creative in coming up with things to try when we realized how disabled he was. 

When I was 13, she developed a serious kidney problem and was told she'd be dead in six months.  She outlived two urologists (with glee) and despite severe pain and other problems, she lived another 32 years.  Without dialysis (which wasn't available within 150 miles when she first became sick, and was rationed not only by finances but by the perceived worth of the patient.  Divorced mothers didn't rank very high.)   Her health did decline in the last couple of years, but she remained a vivid, alert, mentally alive personality until the last few days. 

She died at home, as she wished, with me beside her, on the morning of October 5, which that year was a crisp, clear, perfect fall day.  (This year it was hot, semi-cloudy, windy, and still dry...)

She was not perfect.  Sometimes she drove me nuts.   Sometimes I drove her nuts.   We both had a temper; we were both stubborn (I still am) and a natural-born engineer and a natural-born novelist are not an easy match.   She was neat and organized; I'm messy.   And yet...I still miss her.   I wish she'd seen M- grow up, met friends I found after her death, wish she'd seen that (in spite of her doubts) I have been able to make a living writing fiction.   I wish she'd been able to travel, as she wanted to do and could never afford.  But we had those last months to talk, to ease out the things that were still prickly, and she was very sick and in a lot of pain, so I call this post remembrance, and not regret.

Tags: remembrance
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