Monday, September 20, 2010

I Am Woman Hear Me Roar...

My mom is on the far right. Her sister is on the left and their best friend Gloria stands between them. This was taken in 1947.

Cut to September 2010.

"Did you ever think you would see me walk this slowly, Cand?"

I wonder why she asked. I mean, was it truly all over my face? Was it that obvious that I was dismayed to see my mother, who was never really active even when young, but now inching herself through the parking lot on our way to breakfast, an 85-year-old in lavender orthopedic shoes? I had to think quickly. Unfortunately, I had a serious night of around-the-pool-cocktails the evening before and I think I left my brain, poker face and my editor in the car.

"Well, yeah, Ma. I thought I'd see it - but not for a few years. It's just too soon. You know, I always thought well, you'd lose it eventually."

She shot me such a look. Thank God at 5'2" I tower over her.

"Yeah, well me too. The only thing that makes it semi-ok about this whole dang getting old stuff is that I get the blue thing."

"What do you mean, getting old?! You've arrived, Ma! Ha ha"

And what blue thing? Wait just a second. I mean, I am fine WITHOUT a whole lot of information about what's gonna happen to me about the time when I can't remember where I put my car keys but I guarantee you I do not want to even KNOW what the hell turns blue. And then I remember. She means the handicap parking placard. Whew.

We have a great brunch with a few of my friends, all of us in sunglasses while indoors holding our heads listening to the hostess sing "The Trolley Song" so we all don't riot as we wait endlessly for our late arriving food. Does she have to sing so loudly, I wonder out loud, but not too, cuz my head hurts.

I look over at my legally-a-midget-in-30-states mother to see if she's having a good time and she whispers to me, "She has a great voice, but why is she wearing those Phil Silvers glasses. They do nothing for her." I glance down at her shoes and she raises an eyebrow...

When brunch is finished I take Mom to her sister's house. My aunt is recuperating from a hip replacement, something my Mom breezed through last year - standing and walking 30 minutes after she woke from surgery. Mom prepares me that my aunt is having a lot of trouble and is in some pain and she is going over to keep her company. When we arrive I see my other aunt's car in the driveway. The Three Widows of Eastwick. I steel myself. Mom looks over at me and says, "you don't have to stay."

"Thank you, Ma."

"I was being rhetorical."

"Wrong word."

She shoots me another look. If she weren't such a pacifist I'm sure I'd have some pretty bruised shins by now. But I get her drift. I'm required to stay and answer questions. I get to the front door and Mom orders me to just open it and walk on in. Having been bitten by a large Saint Bernard in my aunt's house when I was seven I get a little nervous until I remember that he'd be in Guinness Book Of World Records if he were still alive. Do you think they got another beast locked up in there somewhere?


"Who's Cujo, Cand? Stop it! Go in. Go in."

I'm thinking my aunt must be in pretty bad shape if my Mom is so anxious and I open the door. I hear my aunt Teresa call out cheerily and as always, LOUDLY - "who the heck is at my door!?" And I see a figure in an open-front wheel chair scooting herself with her heels across the room in soft foam curlers and a muu muu to see who darkened her doorstep. This 90-year-old-breast-cancer-survivor is all smiles and in the picture of health. She looks great and is so peppy. I look at my Mom like what were you talking about and Mom nods at me and whispers, "See?"

I think, my God, am I gonna be this nuts at 85, too?

At the kitchen counter is my Aunt Geri, their sister-in-law, also an octogenarian who calls out her welcome. I hug and kiss them all and the questions start at such a pace that I instinctively take a step forward to find my light. I have not seen my aunts in over 5 years but I'm shocked at how much they know about me. Their questions are all out of concern and incredulity rather than nosiness.

"How did you survive that?" "Do you pray?" "Is there anyone to help you?" "How are you managing to do it all?" "Are you ever afraid?" "Lonely?"

Then my aunt Geri says, "Candi I am so proud of you and your independence and your self-reliance. I know it hasn't been easy, and you are a credit to being a woman. You are doing it all with such grace." To which my Aunt Teresa adds, "Honey, it's a man's world and any bit of success that you have - we ALL know you earned." And finally my mother added, "Look how you've shown your daughter what it means to do it on your own..."

And I can't speak. And for an uncomfortable heartbeat there is silence. Blood is thicker than water and history is glue that binds you together. I think of each of these women - each burying young husbands, one burying a child, another bankrupt, another surviving breast cancer twice, never remarrying, matriarchal warriors raising families through poverty, instilling pride and a deep sense of responsibility in me, my siblings and all my cousins. I don't believe in coincidences and so it was no surprise to me that this moment occurred on this day, the 26th anniversary of my father's death.

Thousands and thousands of women before us have fought for their rights, their families, the right to vote, wages and everything else that you and I take for granted. And so did these three women before me and I never thought about it until that moment.

The lives we women lead begin with our mothers and mother figures. And I thought about what was going on in my life - and the issues I was facing that seemed so insurmountable in the car a few moments before. Then looked out at my audience, consisting of wrinkles interrupted by grins passing nods and winks between them, as if I had just entered the club, and I knew that they understood. Really got it. I will never forget this moment, having the three of them together, supporting me and praising me and I secretly rejoiced and took it all in.
Then my heart stopped.

"Oh God, does this mean I am going to have to wear faux plastic lavender Birkenstocks????!!!

Oh yes I am wise, But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price, But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything, I am strong, I am invincible
I am woman

You know you love me - Candi

1 comment:

Gerry said...

Candi: a truly remarkable acccount of four women who have made their mark (yes, four-you are certainly included in that number). Courage, humor and love obviously have a long history in the Milo family tree. This is a fitting tribute to all the women of the world who give their all for everyone and everything they care for. As always, thanks for sharing!