My mom, Betty Lou, and I had an unusually close relationship. She was married at 16, I came along at 17, and she was divorced by 20. She used to say that we raised each other. It wasn't always easy for either of us. I remember one hot Sunday when we were getting ready for church, she dressed me up and went to get ready herself. My shirt was starched and scratchy on my neck and it was hot and I was sweaty. So I filled the utility sink in the garage full of water and slipped into it....ahhhh...that was better. Betty Lou found me a few minutes later...that starchy old shirt wasn't scratchy at all once it got good and wet!
I must have been a challenge for her...my favorite uncle, Dude, was fond of telling the story about coming home from work and finding Betty Lou pinning me to the floor with one hand and raising a wire coathanger with the other...she was ready to wail on me with it. Dude said he just walked in and grabbed the hanger on the backswing and said, "Hey, Betty Lou...what's for supper??" as he walked on through the room, coat hanger in hand.
Betty Lou grew up rough. She was a bright girl, but but times were hard in Prior, Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl days of the Depression. She remembered Grandma making a huge pot of tea and passing out saltine crackers and slices of carrot or cucumber...that was dinner on many nights. They finally packed everything up on their old Ford truck and headed for California.
Even when Betty Lou re-married life was still challenging. Her family helped when they could, but we weren't always around family, and when the Chief (my new dad...but the only dad I claim) was out to sea, as he often was, we had a pretty hard-scrabble existence. I remember tea and cucumber sandwich meals, too.
But through all the trials and challenges, Betty Lou was always my best friend. We faced all the difficulties together as a team, even when we were each other's hardest trial.
She was a fierce defender of her cubs; my sister and I knew it, too. She was a small woman; she claimed 5'2" but I think maybe in heels. She never weighed 120, even when pregnant. But she was tough...and she had a sharp mind and sharper tongue. She used to warn me not to cross her because she "taught the Marines how to fight dirty".
She was devastated when I went to her with the permission form to join the Army. I was seventeen. She didn't want to do it until I reminded her that when she was that age she was a mom...lots harder than being a soldier. The form was tear-stained but signed.
I think it was when I was on leave between Germany and Vietnam that I somehow made her really mad. I honestly don't remember what I did but being the callous, selfish, thoughtless doof that I was at the time, it could have been anything. I don't even know how I came to have this little slip of paper; I think it was still in her purse when she passed away. In any case, it was a tear-jerking insight into how mothers deal with idjit sons...it is one of my most cherished possessions:
Rather than making a huge row out of the situation and maybe that be our last exchange with one another, she sucked it up.
I went off to Vietnam without any notion of how or how much I had hurt my Mom, and by the time I got home it was all past and forgotten, I guess...I mean, I never was aware it in the first place and I think that by actually coming home I got a free pass for past wrongs. In any case, I will never forget the flying tackle she threw on me at the rear of the taxi that brought me to her door...I was pulling my duffle bag out of the trunk and never saw her coming. She hit like a linebacker. Maybe that was her payback.