I have been thinking about my mother the past few days. The picture is my daughter, me, Claudia, and my grandson Austin. There is no particular reason for remembering- no anniversary, birthday, etc. She has just been on my mind. Today my brother posted a comment about some things that happened to us growing up and it just seemed to spark my thoughts about her more. I shared information about all my brothers and sisters in a blog last week. My mother, Claudia, had three children. I was the oldest. My younger brother, Mike, is eighteen months younger than I am. After she left us, she got pregnant and had a little girl, Jill, and gave her up for adoption at birth. We didn’t find out about that until Jill was twenty-one.
Claudia had a very rough life. Her mother and father met and married in Brooklyn, New York. They were both practicing alcoholics, but according to Claudia, her father was a very kind and loving man. She didn’t have those same feeling about her own mother, Dorothy. Dorothy left her when she was six years to move to South Carolina with another man.
Claudia’s father was a Merchant Marine and when WWII started, he had to go back out to sea. He sent nine-year-old Claudia to live with his Aunt and her family. She was a very religious woman and her husband was Sheriff in the small town of Rossville, Ga. The Aunt didn’t like having another child to raise. Uncle began molesting her not long after she arrived. Claudia’s father died just a couple of years later in sanitarium from complication of cirrhosis of the liver. She lived with the Aunt and Uncle until she was thirteen. Her uncle was caught “in the act” and Claudia was sent to Charleston, SC to live with her mother.
Things weren’t great there either. She met a young sailor when she was fifteen and they ran away and eloped. By nineteen, she had two young children and was in an abusive marriage. She did the only thing she thought she could do and left. At the time, she felt it was the best thing to do to protect her and my brother and me.
Over the years, she learned to be a fighter. She had to in order to survive. She was a strong determined woman. She managed to find jobs and excel in them. She worked her way of the ladder in the companies where she worked and was very successful. All of this while hiding the fact that she had never graduated from high school.
Claudia was what many people considered a “hard” woman. She didn’t take anything from anyone. It was often embarrassing to be in a restaurant or store with her. She was demanding and downright rude at times. I believe it was her defense mechanism and a way of protection. If you got to know her, you would find that she was a very caring person. She would go out of her way to help a friend. However, she kept her distance emotionally from almost everyone.
She left us when I was four years old. She moved back in with my Grandparents and me when I was six. She stayed for a few months and then moved to Chicago and then to Los Angeles. My Grandmother finally gave in and let me go to visit her for my 16th birthday. I stayed in LA with her for most of the summer. It was one of the best times of my life. She and her husband moved back to South Carolina shortly after that. I was so excited. Her husband was a union truck driver and had a very difficult time finding a job in this nonunion state. They moved back to LA a few months later. I was devastated. It was the first time I remember being a serious depression. I stayed in my room in bed for several days. Carol and Mamma Pearl were able to get me to come out and start to function again.
Claudia was one of the only people in my family who was not an alcoholic. She just married them. She married a lot of them. Her name was Claudia Manery, Altman, Keaton, Suits, Fairbanks, Sheldon, Haber. The longest marriage was fifteen years. The shortest was 364 days. Her last husband was not an alcoholic. They seemed to love each other very much. He still emails from time to time to tell me how much he misses her.
She only saw my brother a few times after he moved out of his house and joined the Navy. He was stationed in San Diego. After getting married my husband and I moved to LA with my mother’s help. We were all able to spend a little bit of time together. After Mike left the area, he didn’t see my mother again.
When my sister Jill found me while searching for her biological mother, we started a relationship. She talked to Claudia on the phone one time and then Claudia sent her a letter but didn’t seem to want a relationship with her. Jill contacted her by email a couple of times shortly before I got married in March 2007. They were both at my wedding and neither of them spoke to each other. They stayed as far away from each other as possible. Someone took a picture and you can see my sister and mother across from each other in the buffet line. They didn’t look at each or speak. Pretty sad, don’t you think?
She had some very serious health issues. She started smoking at thirteen when she moved in with her Mother and Stepfather. She told me they gave her cigarettes and booze and took her to the clubs with them. Like me, she struggled with her weight most of her life. By the time she was in her late fifties, she had emphysema and diabetes. That is the reason I have been so serious about living a healthy lifestyle. She had something called spinal stenosis and had two surgeries to correct it. Neither of them really helped. She asked for a third repair and the doctors advised against it because of her other health issues. In August of 2008, she went into the hospital for the surgery. She never recovered from the surgery and eventually developed pneumonia and died in late September.
I had planned to go and see her on her birthday in October. She died before I was able to see her again. We never had a close mother/daughter relationship. She didn’t really have close relationships with anyone. But, we had the best relationship we could. I wish we could have had more time to work on changing that.
Many of you know that my best friend died in March of 2008. My mother died in October of 2008. I went into therapy with Rhonda just a few months before she died. I am so grateful for her support and the support of family and friends. It was a devastating time in my life. My daughter and a friend drove to Florida and helped her husband handle everything.
I brought home a few of her things. She loved frogs and collected hundreds of them. I brought home just a few. I also came home with her stuffed Willie Nelson doll and a beautiful painting showing her with the dog she loved, some Native American icons, and angels surrounding her. She loved things like crystals, tarot card, psychics, etc. Her nickname was WooWoo Lady because of her affinity for those New Age types of things. She also had tattoos, several ear piercing, and white hair with a long rat tail. She was a character for sure.
I have been writing a lot this month. I have been doing Blogathon and we are at 25 days now. I have also been working on a memoir type of manuscript. I have been writing about my life and some of what I have written here I took from that. I imagine that is why she is on my mind so much.
For many years, I rarely used the word love except with my children. I lavished it on them. Honestly, it was a word that scared me. After getting clean and sober and being in therapy, I started to be able to use the word. My kids and grand kids hear it all the time. I don’t use the word lightly or too freely. I have friends who tell everyone, “I love you.” If I tell my friends, “I love you”, I really do. I didn’t tell my mother I loved her very often. I wish I had told her more.