This is a picture of my mother in 1939, taken two months after giving birth to her first child, my big brother John. One wonders how she could be so slim and so stylish.
Her expression tells me that she agreed to hold the fish. It wasn’t her idea. But she likely caught it. She knew how to fish. She knew how to do things.
She grew up somewhat well-to-do in a small town in Michigan. Her father owned a lumber yard and was a community leader. Her mother ordered groceries over the phone and had the dressmaker come to the house. My mother had two brothers and a sister and a growing up life that was good, even through the Depression when they had to grow their own food in the backyard and learn to make their own clothes. My mother could make potato soup to feed an army and could create a pattern for a dress out of newspaper.
She married my father, a man a few years older and a lot more ‘experienced’ as they say, likely against the wishes of her parents. He came from a working class family; his father was a carpenter to her father’s lumber yard ownership. He played the trumpet in dance bands, played the piano and the trombone, all without reading a note of music. He was rough around the edges. She was not. He told me once, he had never met a girl like her, that she was different than all the girls he had known before. I bet.
My mother was beautiful, slight, and delicate but also tough and stoic. Never able to put words to it, I know now that she suffered throughout her life with terrible depression. A few years ago, sitting with my brother late at night outside under the stars, I asked him when our mom became so depressed. He looked at me, shook his head. She was always that way, he said. He told me how she would tell him when he was a little boy, maybe 9 or 10, that she didn’t know how she could go on. She would cry and he would comfort her. I never knew this. I never knew this pain of hers and I never knew this burden on him.
I loved my mother. During certain times in my life, I loved her almost too much. I worried about her. There were things I didn’t do that I should have done because of her. There were things I felt I couldn’t tell her. All because she seemed so fragile, so breakable.
She wasn’t so fragile, though. Anyone who lives an entire life with the depth of depression she had was not fragile. She was strong. She was strong and gentle and loved me. She loved all of us. But it was really hard for her. It has taken me all this time to understand that and to truly appreciate her.
Prepare a Place for Me is a longer essay about my mother published in Precipice, The Literary Anthology of Write on Edge, in October 2012.