Today would be my mom’s 88th birthday. She was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest daughter of Marion Cooke and William Flanders, and grew up with her sister Jane Anne in Newark, New Jersey in the home where their father grew up. I don’t look like my mom but I inherited her organized mind and gift for languages and music.
Mommy was one smart cookie. She went to Montclair College High School, a demonstration school for the state teachers’ college, commuting by train for six years. At age 17 she took the train again, this time south to Duke University, a place she’d never seen and knowing no one in the state. She met my dad on a double date with other people and they never dated anyone else again. She left Duke after two years with a diamond ring on her finger and went to Katherine Gibbs School for a year for practical secretarial training.
Mom was very disciplined and organized; in Myers-Briggs terms, my guess is that she was ISTJ. She was a stay-at-home mom until we were in Kentucky and my dad’s job changed, but she was busy with Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a den mother for my brother, involved in church Circles, working with and eventually running the PTA. She cleaned house and did chores on a weekly schedule (Tuesdays were bathroom days) and she started taking piano lessons at age 31 because she always wanted to play better.
And Mom was always thin. It drove me crazy because I definitely was NOT thin, ever. She never made a recipe without making changes to lower fat and calorie content, and almost never offerered dessert unless we had company or it was a birthday. I hate zucchini because we ate so much of it, and will never eat cottage cheese because it was a diet food so I had to eat it all the time.
So our relationship was rocky, and Dad stayed out of the whole “you need to lose weight” thing because that was between mothers and daughters. I’ve seen pictures of myself back in those days, and really, I was pretty. But I never believed it of myself and I internalized some pretty negative things that I know now were not meant to harm but did so anyway. It’s hard to separate myself from those emotions and be objective.
I lived over 1500 miles away from my parents for almost my whole professional life, focusing on my career and my own world. Trips home involved scheduling time off which wasn’t always easy, and making plane reservations – and therefore NOT using that time for vacation. For years we combined that by me seeing them in Park City, Utah, where my parents went for the month of August.
Mom and I took a trip to Austria and Switzerland together in 2001, leaving 10 days after 9/11. The whole idea of the two of us without a buffer for two weeks was a bit of a challenge but it was a chance to mend and see each other differently. It was a wonderful trip and I’m tremendously grateful now that we had that time, because Mom’s health went downhill not long afterwards.
She had COPD and her world shrank as her breathing became harder. She was hospitalized in 2007 with infection after an appendectomy (she self-diagnosed appendicitis by Googling symptoms), and her world was different after that. She was softer, quieter, more kind. Mommy knew her time was limited and drew on her strong faith. She died in 2014, three weeks after my niece’s wedding, when she had a chance to see all her family together and happy.