Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers’ Day

Since yesterday was Mothers’ Day, I've been thinking about and missing both my mom and my mother-in-love. Letha, Larry’s mother, died six years ago, mine last summer. So this is the first Mothers’ Day without both of them.

Mom had a really rough time after my dad died. She was left with a seven-year-old (me) and a four-year-old (my brother) and no means of support. She made a lot of really tough decisions, among them: to remain in our home in Alhambra, to take a job in the school cafeteria so that she could be home with us when we had vacations, to make it on her own. This was a really gutsy position in 1954 when few women worked at all, and even fewer mothers did.
But we received wonderful mothering from others when Mom couldn’t be there. Our ‘village’ was our close Midwick Tract neighborhood. We always knew that if we needed anything, the neighborhood parents were present for us.

My major surrogate mother was Wilma Sehnert, who lived two doors down. She was funny and caring and irreverent. All the neighborhood kids knew they’d find love in her home. She only had one son, so she treated me as the daughter she never had. The night of my senior prom, a friend offered to do my hair for me, but she wasn’t used to dealing with a mane as thick as mine. The net result was terrible. I arrived home sobbing. Mom sent me to Wilma who combed it all out (we teased our hair at the time), wet it down, and styled it into a chic French roll. Then she cut wispy bangs, and added one of her own tortoiseshell headbands studded with rhinestones across the front. Finally, she did my makeup. I went from utter despair to elation. She’d made me feel like a princess.

That was far from the only time she stepped in on my behalf. Whenever Mom and I had a disagreement (mostly during my adolescence), I’d go to Wilma. She would arbitrate. Sometimes she argued Mom’s position in a way I could understand. But just as often, she explained to Mom why she should allow whatever it was I wanted at the time. I could count on her to be fair and objective.

She was not only a surrogate mother for me, but she played that role for many of the other kids in the neighborhood.

When she died, I was asked to speak at her memorial service. It was both the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

Another of those ‘other mothers’ in the neighborhood was Laura Lee Graham. She always supported our hair-brained schemes. Several times her daughter, Diane, and I put on variety shows where we sang and danced. Laura Lee taught us the songs and steps and helped us to choose our costumes.
Once, we decided to stage a circus featuring all our stuffed animals. She helped us craft ‘cages’ out of cartons and, once again, assisted with the planning and costume selection.

We were never able to take vacations as kids, but one year the Grahams asked me to go to Yosemite on their family camping trip. The first night, I was bitten by a scorpion in my sleep and developed blood poisoning. Rather than grousing about my spoiling their vacation, Laura Lee rushed me to the emergency hospital, obtained the necessary medicines, and monitored my recovery. I insisted we stay there, even though I was unable to go in the water. The parents gave up their tent so that we girls could sleep inside. They took the air mattresses on the ground. I still remember the campfires and seeing the fire fall. Despite being ill, it was a memorable trip—one of the very few in all my growing up years.

Another significant ‘mother’ in my life was Letha Collins, my precious mother-in-love. She was the Avon lady and started calling at our house when I was five. She seemed very glamorous, and her bright smile was like a magnet to everyone she met. She loved me as a little kid, and that love continued until the day she died. It was mutual.
Larry and I have always joked that if there were arranged marriages, we’d still have married each other. Letha loved me, and Mom loved Larry.

Shortly before we were married, I asked her what I should call her. In our neighborhood, all the adults were addressed by their first names, but she was now changing roles in my life. Her own mother-in-law was ‘Mother Collins’ but that sounded too formal. She asked what I’d like to use. I answered, “Well, I call my own mother ‘Mom’ so how about ‘Mother’ and Murl can be ‘Dad’?” She started to cry and so did I.

She was Mother from then on. She sometimes confused friends because she always introduced me as her daughter. And I never received a birthday card that didn’t say, “To our Dear Daughter.” As far as she was concerned, I was her daughter, not her daughter-in-law.

I have been truly blessed to have been mothered by all of these wonderful women and others as well. And I truly hope that you have been as blessed in your life.

Who played a mothering role for you? For some people it’s grandmothers or fathers, teachers or friends. On Mothers’ Day, I gave thanks for them all.


  1. I can see that beauty is definitely hereditary in your family, my dear friend. And what gorgeous women guided you to the jewel you are today.

    It is wonderful when strong and caring women share themselves; grandmothers from both both parents and both families (husband's and my own) were just a few who greatly impacted my life. But how could they not, with they wisdom and experience?

    Hope your day was as fulfilling as mine. :D

    1. Had a great one. Lunch with another couple. then dinner overlooking the marina with two others. Talked to Kim the day before. Very good day. Hope yours was, too.

  2. So sorry your Mother's Day was hard this year. Greg lost his mother a long time ago, but he still misses her. My mom is in her 80's and I'm very glad she is still around. Hugs to you both!

    1. Actually, we had a lovely day sharing dinner with friends. With Kim in Dallas, we are missing our own family. But we have a terrific group of good friends to be with.