Posted by: Dennie | October 17, 2013

Her Mother’s Daughter

Domestic life, 1950s. Washing machine, Refrigerator. We had one of those machines, but it was in the basement. Mom would wash the clothes and then hand them on the line. They have a smell in a bottle that will equal that.

She vowed she would never be like her mother; submissive, yielding, fearful. Her father was a bastard, cheated on his wife. Berated her. Kept her under his thumb. He never allowed her mother to learn to drive. He brought her to work at her job in the department store picked her up when her shift was over. He took her grocery shopping. She was not a free woman. Her mother was dependent on her father for everything.

She found her mother crying the day she discovered his infidelity.

“Why don’t you leave him?” she asked. “Why do you put up his behavior?”

“He’s not a bad man,” her mother had replied. “He brings me his paycheck every week.”

No, she vowed. She would never, ever be like her mother.

In defiance, she ran away and eloped with the boy her father hated. They were both only nineteen years old. They were in love. And they were terrified.

She came home two days later to find all of her belongings thrown out of the house onto the front lawn.

“You’re a disgrace!” they criticized from the porch. Her suitcase and clothes were strewn everywhere. The doll gifted to her from her beloved Aunt Ann lay twisted at the base of the oak tree. A photo frame of the three of them glittered the sidewalk with shards of broken glass.

“Make sure you take everything with you right now. We don’t want you back here. Ever.”

Hot tears of shame, embarrassment and sadness streamed down her face as she bent to get the last of her things. She knew the neighbors were watching from behind curtained windows as her friend waited in the car at the top of the driveway. She had begged her new husband to stay away, to let her go to the house by herself.  She couldn’t be sure how her father would react toward him after this. He relented only after she agreed to have her friend drive her back.

Those first few months were filled with a mixture of deep sorrow and the fullness of her new and loving marriage. The pain eventually began to lessen.

A few years passed. A baby girl was born.  Her mother couldn’t stay away from her first grandchild. The little one became the balm to soothe the wounded relationship

Another daughter arrived four years later.  Her parents would come to the house every Sunday to eat the dinner she cooked for them. They were doting grandparents, and she would wonder out loud to her husband how they could be so loving to their granddaughters and so horrible to their daughter.

He had no answer for her.

Her husband had taken a job in the local factory. She worked as a secretary. They built a house. Neither had a college education and money was tight. They scrimped and saved, made careful purchases. They worked hard. Family time was scarce. Relaxing was almost non-existent.

Years passed. The girls grew. Life became routine. She began to tire.

And the relationship with her parents ebbed and flowed.

Her father continued to treat both she and her mother as second class citizens. Neither felt they could do anything right in his eyes.

The Sunday dinners continued and on those evenings, when her mother rode as a passenger as her father backed the car out of the driveway, she would close the door behind them and look at her husband.

“I will never be like my mother,” she would say. And then, exhausted from the day, she would get ready for bed  and the beginning of yet another work week.

There were times when fatigue would overcome her and she would rant at her husband about quitting her job. She’d cry and tell him that she yearned to stay at home like the other neighborhood women and raise her daughters. And his response would always be the same.

“We can’t afford it.”

Sometimes,  her frustrations fell on the girls. She’d be irritable and short-tempered, snapping at them, and they’d scurry off to their rooms to avoid further persecution from their mother.

Time passed. The girls grew up and left home to begin their own lives.  She rarely saw her parents after they moved to Arizona.  When they died, she felt nothing.

She retired at 62. She told her husband she had worked long enough and that she was done. He held out for another five years,  retiring when her constant badgering to leave the company finally got to him.

She sat recalling those years and exhaled a long, slow breath. She was alone now and  beginning to get used to being a widow. She sighed again and thought back on the last ten years. They had enjoyed the retirement for which they had worked so hard. But the years of work far surpassed the brief time they had together in the end. It went so quickly and she had so many regrets. She wished she had sacrificed vacations and new cars and furniture in exchange for time spent with her little girls. But she hadn’t. She hadn’t pressed the issue with her husband when the topic of money reared its ugly head. No. She surrendered to her husband’s wants, relinquishing her own needs, in the hopes that they might be met at a later time. How stupid she was, not realizing that time would  quickly rob her of her daughters.  She didn’t stand up for herself. She didn’t speak up. She did as she was told.

She was her mother.

And now, her husband was dead, and her eldest might as well be dead, too. She’d lost that relationship  years ago after her daughter divorced her husband-left him for another man. A man of whom they did not approve. And never would. It was a devastating blow to the entire family and it split them apart like an atom.  Some of their friends questioned their decision to turn their back on their daughter. But they were staunch in their decision. Rigid. Their daughter had made choices and decisions that hurt not only them, but, in their opinion, hurt her own children. They would not falter from their own choice and decision.

One time, she had a horrible argument with her husband about it. She missed her daughter tremendously, she said, and she thought it was time to put it all behind them. She argued that they were getting older and may not have many years left to spend with her.

Her husband’s response had shocked her.

“If you want to see her so badly, go live with her. Just get out.”

His words left her reeling. She couldn’t believe his lack of forgiveness. His stubbornness. His stupidity. He reminded her of her father.

But she was his wife. They had built a life together. After fifty-three years she couldn’t walk out on him. So she made a decision. She renounced her daughter for her husband.

She had become her mother.

Now her husband was dead. Her daughter had come to the funeral and paid her respects. Were the tears she cried shed for her lost father? Or did she cry for the time that had been squandered so selfishly, so senselessly. She didn’t know.

Her husband was dead and she’d only spoken to her daughter twice since the funeral. Once on her birthday, and again at Christmas. She was surprised both times when she picked up the phone and heard her voice. She had been quite sure she’d never hear from her again.

But she had.

Her husband was dead. . There would be no more argument from him about their daughter.

Her husband was dead.

Her daughter was alive.

She drew in a trembling breath. Then, rising out of her armchair, she straightened up, strode across the living room, picked up the telephone, and dialed.

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