I had dinner with my aunt, my mom’s sister, last night. Thinking about people who we thought would be at the funeral but hadn’t come had made my aunt go down a path that had really affected her. She thought about things Mom had done that people didn’t really know about and so, they couldn’t fully appreciate them. She wanted that to change, because it’s her legacy. So she’s writing down these things, so her children and grandchildren will know them, and so my family and I will know them. We talked about a few of them, and it touched me so much, I need to pass them on now.
Because it’s my mom’s legacy.
Marge and the twins
When my mom was 15, she went to a summer camp and she introduced herself to another 15 year old girl named Marge. Marge’s stepmother was my mom’s piano teacher, and my mom being one of those friendly people, she walked up and said hello. They became close friends that summer and stayed in contact when they went home.
Marge wasn’t happy at home with her father and stepmother, a teenage girl’s rebellion against her father remarrying and introducing someone as “Mom”. At 18, she left and got a place in New York; she had to be a very tiny fish in a large, strange ocean, coming from a tiny place near Quakertown, PA to NY.
But she told my mom she was happy; she got a job, a boyfriend, and her own life. My mom would visit, first by herself, then with her boyfriend turned husband and then with their young children.
My mom was 23 when she got a tearful call from Marge: she had gotten pregnant, her boyfriend dumped her when he found out, and she had just given birth to twins. She had tried to keep her life together, but she had failed, and now with no money, she was having to give her twin girls up for adoption.
Mom first sent a telegram, then arrived in person: Marge would keep her twin babies and she’d do it because they were going to move in with my mom and dad. They had little money themselves, but they’d make it work. She insisted. And so at 23, she brought her friend and twin babies to live with her own family. She helped Marge get a good job and put money away, refusing to take any. For almost a year, she took care of Marge’s twins and my brother who was the same age, which meant it was like she was taking care of triplets. She also 1 year old Gerry, 3 year old Cheryl, and 4 year old Terry in our family’s tiny, 3 bedroom rancher.
When Marge decided it was time to go (with help from my grandmother who was worried Mom was being drained too much from all this), my mom told her she didn’t have to, but Marge was ready. Still, my mom had them over every Sunday for years, until the twins were teenagers, and sent home meals. When the twins wanted bikes for Christmas and Marge couldn’t afford them, “Santa” made sure there were 2 bikes next to that tree.
Eventually, Marge moved back to Quakertown when the girls were in high school, but she and my mom stayed close right up to the end. She said she always considered my mom as her sister.
And if it weren’t for my mom, Marge would never have her 2 girls or her grandchildren and great-granchildren. And those twins never would have known their mother. They had a family and a life as one because of my mom.
Irene and my sister
My dad had a girlfriend in high school named Irene. They dated until he went into the service and overseas for the war. She in turn got married and had a couple of children. At some point, she and my dad, now married to my mom and with a herd of children (had to keep having kids until we had a boy!), got in contact with each other again. Irene had fallen on very bad times; she lived in poverty with a bed a dresser drawer on the floor in a slum apartment. Her daughter had a dresser drawer too, also on the floor, and that was their only furniture. Irene had become an alcoholic and had more bad times than I can imagine.
Rumors spread about her and my dad, since they had been high school sweethearts, which didn’t help my mom of course. And that’s only important because of what happened later.
When I was three, Irene’s apartment building burned down. She managed to save her daughter, pushing her out of the burning building to the firemen below. She couldn’t save herself and died in the fire.
People rarely adopt or foster children because they say they don’t want to inherit someone bad genes. And when they do, they demand babies.
My mom had six children, still in the same tiny rancher, still with little money. And yet, she took in a teenage girl who came from a chaotic, poverty stricken, alcoholic home. The daughter of her husband’s old girlfriend. An angry, hurt teen with issues and bad genes. First with my dad, and then by herself when he died a few years later, she raised this kid that the rest of the world deemed her not good enough to be part of their family. She went from being Aunt Doris to Mom for this girl.
She became my sister, and as much my sister as all the ones my mother gave birth to. Unlike Brad Pitt who only claimed his life had meaning as a father once he had a biological child, my mother made no differences between any child. And as a testiment to her and my sister’s strength, she turned her life around, fighting back the issues she had from her old environment and genetics. She went to college — only the second person in my family to do it — and walked into that school with her head held high and my mom next to her. She dedicated her career to helping other “undesirable” people, children like her, alcoholics, and the mentally ill.
And when her biological family contacted her twenty years ago, she went to my mom and explained she wanted to know these half-sisters, but “You’re always my mom. They don’t change that. Where would I be now if you hadn’t loved me when no one else would?”
I couldn’t do what she did. I’ve thought of being a foster parent or adopting, but I know I’d just suck as a parent. I have tried to help people as much as I can, no matter what it costs me.
My mom wanted to be a pediatric nurse. She wasn’t. But she ended up helping families anyway. And this is just part of the legacy she left behind.
PS: As a little personal footnote, after talking with my aunt, even though we also discussed how bad we felt with Mom gone, it was a good experience for us. I found out that I’m the same age that my aunt was when her mom, my Nana, died. She put it so well. She said, losing that parent, makes you suddenly aware that no one is behind you now. Not like they were.
And because I actually had something so good come out of the night, finding out these things about my mom, I put on the pants she bought me for my birthday on that last day. Because it felt good to see them for the first time.