e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Seventeen years

My mother died October 5, 1990. 

Those of you who've been on my SFF.net newsgroup have heard a lot about her, over the years, but to many of you here, she's completely unknown.

She was born in Texas in 1913; she had polio as a small child; she nearly died in a hurricane in Corpus Christi when she was a toddler (their house was below the bluff; a storm surge came in; she was carried through the raging surf and remembered being embarrassed because she wasn't properly dressed.)   The family moved to Donna, Texas in 1918, living first in a tent and then in a house on the edge of town: they had a few acres and their own milk cow, Violet.   Her father owned (in partnership) hardware stores; he had only a third-grade education, formally, but was a voracious reader and did a good job of self-education.  Her mother had finished high school and had some secretarial training; she had a fine voice and was often asked to sing. 

As a young woman, she had an exotic look and was often thought to be Mexican or something (especially in south Texas): black hair, dark eyes (which could,  however, look green or blue if she wore certain colors--they were actually a brown-gray mix.)  She loved music and dancing.  Her mother died when she was 14; her step mother (her aunt--my grandfather had promised to take care of the aunt and their mother and this was then the honorable way to do it)  was not sympathetic.  Her brother (my uncle) was a handsome, popular football player; my mother was the designated drudge.   She was creative and intelligent; despite the polio, she was a natural athlete--a fast runner, a strong swimmer, a graceful diver.  She designed and made her own clothes; she learned to use tools; she was a gifted painter.  She majored in engineering, at a time when women didn't, but did not graduate--the Depression, plus a major hurricane, put paid to her college education.   She had tried to get the summer engineering jobs male students got, but people just laughed at her. 

Eventually she went to nursing school, and I believe was still there when she married my father, someone she'd met while an engineering student.  Neither of them had finished their degrees, a fairly common situation back then. 

During WWII, she tried to get into various women's auxiliaries but back then they insisted on perfect eyesight.  Instead, she signed up for a test for engineers without degrees.  As the only woman in the room, she was directed to the test facility for secretaries, down the hall.  She insisted on taking the engineering test.  She finished first, and when she handed in her papers, the examiner said "Giving up, are you?" with a sneer.  "No," she said.  "I finished it."  They called her the next day; she had the highest score.   She went to a university (can't recall which; it will come to me later today)  for graduate work in aeronautical engineering, and then she and my father both worked in defense plants near Chicago, living in a trailer camp (carved out of a former apple orchard) with other defense workers.  She was the Army Air Corps liaison engineer for a Doluglas Aircraft facility manufacturing C-54s (the military version of the DC-4, a four-engine transport plane..)  It was her responsibility to see that the plant conformed to the various change orders and things that came down the pipeline from the military.  Many people in the plant (including some of the women workers) did not believe a woman could be an engineer.  She was attacked with a rivet gun by a man, a former lingerie salesman, who was so convinced women couldn't be engineers that he was sure she was a witch.

By the time she was pregnant with me, she had lost several other children, all stillborn or dying soon after birth (and all boys.)   She and my father separated before I was born, and divorced before I was two.   So, growing up, she was my only parent and almost my only family (my grandfather died when I was four;  my mother's aunt/stepmother had died when I was two,  and he had married an unrelated woman, whom I knew as my step-grandmother--a lovely person.)   As a divorcee in the 1940s/50s, she had a lot of social disapproval, as did I,  but she also had loyal friends and I had a good childhood for the most part.   Back then, the concept of paying women equally for the same work hadn't emerged...she was never paid what a man doing her job would have been paid.  But she worked, first in the hardware stores, and then for a small oil production company.  She made most of my clothes, at night after work (I fell asleep to the whirring of the sewing machine, night  after night.)  She made curtains and slipcovers as well, and she knitted and crocheted.  She could fix a running toilet, rewire lamps, repair locks, windows, doors, and just about anything else.  She was such a good manager that I did not know, until I took a "computer dating" quiz in college, which required you to list yourself in an economic class, that the family income was down in the bottom quintile. 

She wasn't perfect, of course, but this is not the day to point out her faults or list the ways in which  she and I got crosswise of each other.  This is the day to remember that she kept her promises--if she said we were going fishing on Saturday, we went fishing, even if her friends asked her to play cards.  This is the day to remember camping on the beach with her...sitting in fields of wildflowers with her...sitting on a canal bank with our hooks in the water and little red and white corks bobbing to tell us if we had a bite.  This is the day to remember her gentle hands when I was sick, the pretty way she set the table even when supper was minimal, her ability to grow just about anything (she didn't have just green thumbs--she had green hands up to the elbow!), her strong character, her sense of humor, her lively mind, still lively right up to the last week when she was mostly comatose. 

This is the day to remember that last day, when she died in her own house (as she had wished) and I sat beside her.   It was a day like this day, early October with the bright yellows and purples of flowers in the field, with monarchs on the wing heading south, with a blue sky and golden sun.   And every year, when the light slants in to this angle...I miss her again.

Tags: mother, remembrance
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