Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part I.
My Mother grew up during the depression, getting married just before World War II. Dad was drafted, and Mom bore my sister while Dad was fighting in France. My sister is what is now called a “Special Needs” child, and Mom took the brunt of caring for her without Dad for a while, in a time when such children were viewed with suspicion; my Grandmother, Dad’s Mother, told Mom once when JoAnne was little that, “Nothing like that had ever happened on Dad’s side of the family,” not so subtly indicating that it was Mom’s fault that JoAnne had the problems she did. In reality, when JoAnne was born, Mom had a doctor that believed in “letting nature take its course.” JoAnne was born after an extremely long labor with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Not Mom’s fault, but I wonder if she harbored guilt over that the rest of her life.
Actually, that’s not much of a stretch. Guilt was one of the driving forces in my Mother’s life. She felt guilty for everything. I once observed to her that she felt guilty when the sun came up in the east. She didn’t really get it, but it is near fact. For some reason, she always felt guilty about something.
Mom was the second youngest of five born to Oscar and Inez Dillaman, the oldest being a boy, the rest girls. Certainly not uncommon for the time, she grew up on a farm. They were located a few miles north of Meadville, PA, and the daughters did chores just like the men. When she became of age, she got a job at Talon, met my Dad, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant. With Dad off to war, she lived with her folks, taking care of her ailing mother (and handicapped infant daughter) for a time. Once, Mom used to tell, JoAnne had a seizure. In the dead of winter, they didn’t plow the roads as they do now, and no vehicle they had would get through the snow. JoAnne wouldn’t come out of the seizure, so Mom bundled her and JoAnne up, along with Mom’s father and brother. They carried JoAnne for miles until they could get someplace (Coon’s Corners, PA, I think) where they got a ride and got JoAnne to the hospital.
Another story she liked to tell was when she was thirteen. Mom developed appendicitis, and it got bad. They called the doctor, who gave no hope that she would live. I believe it actually burst, as they opened her up and rinsed her out with salt water, leaving a drain in her to drain the nastiness out. Of course she lived, growing, maturing, and becoming the woman she was.
Mom was “made of stern stuff” we like to say. Strong genetic material, shaped by the hardness of the life in which she grew. Mom was also blessed with beauty. As a young woman, she was gorgeous, and Pop got quite a catch when she “hitched her wagon” to him. Mom was aces with family stuff, but not so much with studying and learning. Growing up in a time when school wasn’t mandatory as it is now, Mom got a ninth grade education before having to drop out; she never did get her high school degree.
After the war, Mom and Pop moved all over this part of PA, Dad taking different jobs here and there. He was so disillusioned with having to take orders in the military, he swore he wouldn’t work for anyone again, and used the GI Bill to learn animal husbandry, becoming a farmer, like his ancestors before him. Sidenote: Pop was extremely smart. Up to his late 70’s he could do algebra in his head. I asked him once why he didn’t take accounting with the GI Bill, and he said that at the time he didn’t even know such a field existed. I wonder how life would have been different sometimes.
Mom and Pop settled down near Springboro, PA, where Dad bought a dairy farm. And that’s where I enter the picture.
After the war, Dad couldn’t have any more kids (I never did learn what that was about). I think they had disagreements over adopting, as Dad apparently didn’t think he could “love someone else’s child as much as his own.” However, they cared for a young kid, and Dad grew to love him. When he went back home, Pop allowed that he could, indeed, love another’s child.
My biological mother had her own issues. Married with six kids, she lived in Ohio until her husband was killed in a trucking accident. Moving back near her folks outside Springboro, she took up with a jerk who got her pregnant but refused to be honorable about it; she threw him out, a pretty gutsy move in 1956. However, she was in true dire straits. Six kids, including the youngest a pair of twins still in diapers. Recognizing that she couldn’t give her new child the life she wanted to give him, she approached my parents, and asked if they would consider adopting her child. Timing is everything, and my parents said that yes they would. Three days after I was born my bio Mom walked down the hall of the hospital and handed me to my Mother. How poignant was that moment? I cannot even imagine the emotions from each mother. Another sidenote: I looked up my bio family several years ago, and that will, I’m sure, be a blog post sometime in the future.
My early years were on the dairy farm that my parents lived on until I was six. I remember Mom doing all the Mom stuff, and canning everything that could grow. I remember her holding my head when I was throwing up; holding me when I had bad earache(s). Giving me waxed paper for the slide in the back yard; giving me fresh peaches in season. I remember her being Mom.
Just before the dairy farmers in PA got their act together and actually started making money, Pop sold the farm and we moved into Springboro, where he bought a gas station. And Mom still did all the Mom stuff. I remember picking dandelions for her in the spring, and how she would always “Ooh” and “Ahh’ over them, like they were the most beautiful bouquet she had ever seen. I remember coming home from school and popping my paper lunch bag; she pretended to be startled and scared every time.
Of course my relationship with my Mom changed over time. I grew more independent, and Mom got older. She helped teach me to drive, and held me when I cried, but as I grew and tried to establish a relationship with her, she would shift me to my Dad. I’m not sure what that was about, but I don’t think I ever knew my Mother, adult to adult. It was about this time that things got a more difficult.
…con’t. next time…