Friday, May 23, 2008


Although I was praised by my mother for my drawing of a horse when I was five years old, she was enraged when I showed her this when I was six years old, not long after the second of my two younger sisters was born. My mother was overwhelmed, trying to take care of three young daughters. My father was often away on business, was experiencing setbacks in his career and had had a spinal fusion as well as having had his gallbladder removed. It was a difficult time in their marriage to say the least.

My recollection is that she screamed at me for using up an entire box of stars. Additionally, I had cut out magazine images of a woman in bed alone during the day, images that resembled my mother, who suffered from narcolepsy and severe migraine headaches. In 1954, my mother began taking prescription Dexedrine, which may well have contributed to her hair-trigger rages. She took oxycodone for her headaches.

My sisters and I learned early to avoid her anger by being quiet during her frequent naps and attacks of migraine headaches. Until my mother died, I never understood her anger. It frightened and bewildered me. After her death when I was 45 years old, I began to experience my own anger for the first time and understand how much she suffered from her anger. She didn't want to be an angry mother. Angry or not, my mother saved my collage/drawing.

In 1955, Walt Disney first released "Lady and the Tramp" to the movie theaters. At 6 years old, I could think of nothing that would bring me more happiness than to be a sweet dog like Lady and be loved by a handsome dog like Tramp. My mother wasn't happy. I did everything within my power to avoid her anger but I failed. I didn't want to grow up to be like my mother. I never played games about growing up, getting married and having children. Although my family wasn't Catholic, I had a friend who was Catholic and who had a nun doll. I asked for a nun doll for Christmas but was given a very sad-looking bride doll who appeared to be only a child.

I escaped by way of the colorful world of Walt Disney movies, through books with illustrations, in my love of animals and in the freedom I had to wander alone in the fascinating California oil field/desert environment where we lived at that time. My mother instilled me with a fear of anger, but she also provided me with escapes from that fear that she, too, must have experienced.

My mother was a Sweet Lady who suffered in ways that I didn't understand as a child. Before marrying my father, she had married a "Handsome Tramp." That marriage, one I didn't know about until I was 17 years old, ended within a year.

Each time I tell this story, I learn more about my mother, my life as a child and the part that art played in our lives. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer. I don't know if she was able to write at all when my sisters and I were very young, but by the time I was in grade school, I remember that she was writing short stories and encouraging me to write poems and stories, as well as to draw.

As I do this thinking back again, my desire is to remain aware of my creative and holy ground in the present.


R.L. Bourges said...

I guess all of us have to do the slow walk back through time every once in awhile, if only to circle back to the present with a deeper understanding of what it is we need to express through our painting or writing. Thank you for this and for sharing your precious mementos

cbb said...

Am, this is such a poignant and compassionate tale of your mother. Most of all I am glad that she kept your original creation; that to me says everything. Isn't it interesting how we seem to need to circle back, as Lee's River says, in order to continue in the present? I am doing very much the same myself right now, though not directly writing about my mother. Reading this makes me think at some point I could.

Thank you, and also thanks for the Dylan video. I really like the song and have played it about a dozen times since you posted it.

Zhoen said...

I am sorry for your mother's anger, for herself as well as for you.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this piece about your mother. I keep circling back to my own mother in my writing, a way of spiraling in to her death when I was 38, I think. I hope you will write more on this theme. It's moving.