Every once in a while in the life of Momalom, you readers have been treated to a post written by Momalomsmom, our mother Gail, GG, Geege … Whatever you call her, she’s a treasure. We love her to bits, and we’re thrilled to share at tiny bit of her here with you. So find a comfy place to sit, pour a cup of tea, and sink into her Love It Up submission.
I am addicted to Downton Abbey—for the drama, of course, but also for the personal historical perspective. The Crawleys follow a code of behavior similar to the one I grew up with. Actions speak louder than words. Love is expressed carefully and with restraint. But loyalty is unquestioned and family will always be there. A code to be commended for its strength, if not for its emotional sensitivity.
My great-grandmother Bertha would have rivaled the Dowager Countess. Her principles were iron clad, her backbone straight, and her shoulders squared till the bitter end. She lived and died in the house she and her husband Tom built, nestled between those of her sister and her parents. Family formed the fabric of their lives. The rules of propriety governed their behavior. Pictures of my grandparents swinging in a hammock at their summer retreat show them fully dressed: she in a high-necked, long-sleeved, white, cotton dress with tucks and trims and furbelows, and he in a stiff, dark suit and tie, head and feet appropriately covered. They loll together, obviously content with one another, at opposite sides of the hammock. The only thing touching is their complicated clothing.
As Bertha was raised to follow a strict, proscribed ethic and code of behavior, she raised my sweet, gentle grandmother, Marjorie, to do the same. Marjorie attended a small, local, private school, filled a hope chest, learned how to set a table and arrange a bouquet, and was chaperoned until the day she married my grandfather, Jonathan. It was thought to be a good match. Jonathan was a doctor and from a “good” family. He was fun-loving and brilliant … and probably an alcoholic. When my own mother, the third of three, was 5 years old, Marjorie called upon that Anglican inner steel that is so fully expressed in Downton Abbey and moved with her children back to the family home and her disapproving mother. But family is family, and they’ll take you in from the storm.
Marjorie got a job and raised her three children alone, a task for which she was sorely unprepared. Her backbone and her love saw her through. My mother and her two brothers grew, prospered and married. And had 17 children between them. And Marjorie became our Mom Mom.
I was the eldest of the 17 and knew her best. When I was 8, I started Saturday morning ballet lessons in a building just up the street from Mom Mom’s house, and I spent Friday nights with her. My mother would deliver me after school, and Mom Mom and I would walk up to the YWCA automat for dinner. I was allowed to pilot my own tray along the metal shelf and choose what I wanted from behind the glass cases, opened with tiny glass, garage doors. Tuna salad and baked custard were frequent choices. After strolling home, Mom Mom would fix herself a cup of tea, set up the card table, and we would play a hand of double solitaire. I looked at all my cards when she went to the bathroom. She never let on that she knew. Afterward, when I had won again— surprise!—she would tuck me in to the little bed in the room next to hers and read to me. She was a wonderful reader, giving each character a voice and dramatizing the storyline. Her rendition of Brer Rabbit was particularly spectacular . On Saturday morning I was allowed to watch cartoons before my lesson. Mom Mom would set up a tray table in the living room and serve me breakfast, oatmeal with plenty of cream and brown sugar, and toast cut into strips and arranged like an airplane.
One Friday night I became ill and it was decided that I should stay at her house on Saturday, perhaps to minimize exposure to my siblings. Mom Mom propped me up on feather pillows in her big, soft sleigh bed and read The Princess and the Goblins from cover to cover, stopping only occasionally to make a cup of tea to soothe her parched throat. She read all day. Years later, I read her copy of the book to my third-grade class and found myself feeling almost feverish in parts, and hearing her soft voice underneath mine.
All that love she showered on me. And yet, I do not remember being kissed or hugged by her, and I don’t remember ever hearing her saying she loved me. It wasn’t proper. Not the way of a lady. So silly, I think now. So sad.
Mom Mom slipped out of my life when I was 12. A series of disastrous strokes, a short time in the nursing home, and then she was gone. My sister Katy and I were sent to summer camp when it became apparent that Mom Mom’s death was imminent, and we were not brought back for the funeral. I have tried to understand that decision all my life. I think it was made with the best of intentions. We were deemed too young to experience the rawness and reality of death. And the adults were drawing up their backbones and properly containing their emotions, tasks surely easier without the encumbrance of children and their sometimes unpredictable behavior.
But I mourn Mom Mom still, perhaps all the more because I didn’t get to say good-bye. To tell her I loved her. To give her a kiss. And yet, I was 12 and shy and tongue-tied. I would never have done any of those things. But my children would have, and there’s the joy. The old, proper ways are melting. My children feel free to exhibit their love. They have backbones just as strong as Bertha and Marjorie, but they also are able to show their love to me and to one another and to their own children. I’m sure Lady Mary and the Dowager Countess would think we were all just uncontrolled slobs. We now hug each other, and kiss upon greeting, and we even say “I love you.” Occasionally. The grandchildren feel even less constraint, as do I with them. Hugs and kisses happen frequently and with abandon and gusto. Recently my oldest grandson wrote me an email about a book he thought I should read, and signed it “I love you with all my heart.” As I do him and told him so.
Even after all these years, I miss Mom Mom. And wish I could have told her how much she meant to me. I content myself by thinking that she knew that I loved her with all my heart. But I’m also writing to the love that lifts this family of mine, this huge, varied conglomeration of souls to which I belong. My first husband always argued that fear is the great motivator of the world and certainly there is some truth to that. But I maintain that it is love, always love, that moves us, connects us, lifts us. It is always love. And now, thank God, we can show it.
Do you watch Downton Abbey? Does your family have a backbone that’s a little too rigid? Or maybe you are a slobbering fool? GG loves to receive comments!
Thanks to everyone—including GG!—for linking up and submitting to our love fest. We’ll be re-reading all of your posts (and we’ll comment on all of them, too), and a winner will be announced by the end of the month. Woohoo!