Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Mom I Never Knew

I was on my way out to the back-roads and wooded areas Friday night looking for something interesting to videotape when I noticed there was some kind of parade about to start in town. I had no idea what it was about but decided to stick around and shoot some video of it, partly for kicks, and partly with the hope of selling some footage (that's always the hope!) to one of the local TV networks. Well, I wasn't able to get any of the news stations interested in my footage this time, but the outing wasn't completely wasted.

I parked a couple of blocks away from the city square and walked the remaining distance to the front of the courthouse lawn which sits right across from it. Actually, "square" is a bit of a misnomer since ours is a roundabout with a large fountain at its center. There were people lined up all around the fountain and main street, most with beach chairs they had brought, while others just sat on the curb or used blankets spread on the sidewalk.

I couldn't believe my luck! The courthouse front lawn rises above the sidewalk some ten feet or so, giving a perfect view down upon the street below. It's beautifully landscaped and shaded (this proved to be of some importance since it was over 90 degrees that evening) and has about a half dozen benches along with a most pleasant little water garden. For some odd reason, most folks had taken to the street and left the courthouse lawn nearly vacant but for a few young people mulling around. I noticed a pair of benches facing one another at just the right spot to set up my tripod. There was an elderly couple seated on one of them, and I began to chat with them as I set-up the rest of my gear.

The parade turned out to be one for the Shriner's Circus that will be here over the weekend they told me. They had a nephew who would be in the parade, but I think they mostly were just looking for a night out and something to do. They were quite friendly, although the woman was a little on the quiet side and seemed content to let her husband do most of the talking. I soon found out that this man, Bob, was originally from the same nearby town that I was from and where my dad grew-up as well, so we had a lot in common and did a good bit of reminiscing about the old days. At some point I made mention of something that one of my uncles used to do, and Bob realized I was talking about someone he knew. Once he realized what my last name was, and then found out who my parents were, his face began to beam a bit.

(Bob accidentally steps into a frame.)

It turned out that Bob knew almost everyone in my family from childhood and was once very good friends with both my mom and my dad when they were all three just teenagers. Actually, Bob and my mom were much more than friends. Apparently she was the "one that got away," and Bob was very nearly my father. Mom was very young at the time. He knew things about her childhood that I didn't. But there were also some things she didn't tell him.

My mom's parents divorced while she was very young. Both remarried. Her dad was a poor Tennessee share cropper and remained in the same small town all his life. Her mother remarried a man from Indiana and they eventually made their home there. But immediately after WWII, they lived in some other parts of the country, and one of them happened to be the same nearby town that my dad grew-up in. After a series of events (which I'll get into momentarily), mom decided to move in with her mother and stepdad here in Illinois when she was fourteen, while her brothers and sisters stayed behind in Tennessee. She had dropped out of school and was working as a cashier in a big St. Louis department store. It was during this time that she met Bob.

It was easy to tell that Bob really loved my mom. They dated for about a year until he joined the Navy and had to ship out. He wanted to pursue the Navy as a career (which he did) and was too young to get married he thought. So it was best to break thinks off and leave mom behind. I'm not sure how old he was then, but he told me that mom was still only fifteen. He said she cried and cried and begged him not to leave her there alone. He said the reason she felt alone was because both of her parents were terrible drunks. To make matters worse, they weren't getting along at the time. He told me that when they came home from work, grandma would leave the house headed for a bar in one direction, while Renos (her husband) would head for a different bar in the opposite direction, while mom was left to herself. They also had many terrible fights.

Mom had told me that her parents spent a lot of time in bars when she was younger, but I had no idea how bad it really was. Bob said it was about as bad as it gets. Quite honestly, I never knew what to believe half the time. Mom could embellish the truth with the best of them. But the more I learn about her, the more I can see that her lies were a defense system for her. She had a lot to be embarrassed about, including one important thing that she never told Bob.

Mom quit school in the 9th grade after she turned fourteen and ran off to get married to a Tennessee boy. It only lasted a couple of months and the marriage was annulled. I guess mom felt foolish and wanted to basically get out of town, and that's why she moved to Illinois with her mom and stepdad. Bob looked genuinely shocked when I told him that. Apparently she wanted to keep her short-lived marriage a secret. Who cold blame her?

The following year, mom started dating my dad while Bob was away, and the rest is history as they say. The one thing I can't get over is Bob sitting on the bench next to me, shaking his head, saying, "I felt so sorry for her." I never I my life heard anyone say they felt sorry for my mom before. She could be your best friend or your worst enemy. She had a temper and could be as selfish as any other woman, but she could also be very compassionate at times. She had a bad side, but I'm slowly beginning to see how the events in her life brought that out in her. The older I get, the stranger the world is.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That's an absolute lie. A day doesn't go by that I don't learn something new, or see an old thing in a new light. If it's like this now, I wonder what it will be like in Heaven where all things hidden are revealed? I'm sure that the afterlife will be full of new things and many surprises. But I suspect seeing the world we left behind through the eyes of God will be the biggest revelation of all.


shadowlands said...

I don't think your meeting with Bob was a coincidence, but one of those heavenly set appointments!

C W Seper said...

Well, it's made me think differently about some things; that's for sure.

AJA said...

I agree with Shadowlands! What an incredible epiphany moment, Bill. How not to better love your mom and her memory knowing this? Such strength, such courage she had. So many never get to know their loved one's in this way. Simply stunning and certainly God sent.

C W Seper said...

It really was quite a moment. I know that my dad's parent's didn't want him to marry mom. I always thought it had to do with her prior marriage. She went back to her first husband briefly when her and dad were dating. It was only for a couple of months, but it was just long enough to get pregnant with my sister. She was unhappy though, and dad went down to Tennessee to bring her back. I always thought the baby was the reason dad's folks didn't want him to marry her. Now I'm wondering if it was her alcoholic parents that put them off even more though. Or maybe a combination of both. I may never know the answer to that one.