Don't Mince Words


Cross-country providence?

Posted on December 29, 2013 by Marna

If you had warned me a month after escaping California I’d be identifying my mother’s body in a funeral home, I would of laughed.  Life and timing are funny things.

Decades after my birth my mother continued to try to direct my life long-distance with a cocktail in her hand.  After I arrived in California, she had the time difference on her side when it came to drunk dialing.  After one too many, I cut her off and told her never to call me again.  I had no use for her nastiness.  For the last nine years, I have lead a peaceful life and have inspired two other girlfriends to sever ties with their less-loving parents.  We all have enjoyed the born-again sanity.

I hate who my mother became; however, I respect how her upbringing helped form who I am today.  As the oldest of eight kids growing up on a farm in North Carolina, she didn’t have it easy during the Great Depression.  While in high school, she was sent to live with her grandmother because she was malnourished.  Upon graduating, she did what you’d expect her to do – she got the hell out.  Crazy Barbara became a federal employee, fine-tuned her steno and typing skills, and eventually landed a secretarial job with the U.S. Air Attaché.  Cold war Germany Mata Hari-style information gathering.  She eventually returned to the DC area, got set up with my dad and got married.

For 13 years she had a good career for a farm girl with no college degree.  While her friends were getting married and pregnant, she was out doing something different.  She was not your typical 1950’s woman.  In the early 1960’s, she settled down and married a man almost 10 years her senior.  She stopped working, had two kids, and continued to be a card-carrying member of the cocktail generation.  (Every time I hear the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper I think of her in the1970’s.)  I can’t help but think this inside-the-beltway suburban life bored her.  When I would come home from school, she would be drinking and watching soap operas.  This was the life she chose.

When I was 13, my parents signed off on my work permit and I got my first job.  This kept me out of the house more and generated a stockpile of cash, in addition to my babysitting money.  I eventually bought a serious stereo system for my bedroom so I could tune out my mother’s ranting. However, one day she shut up and listened.  Bob Marley bridged our relationship.  Then it was ABBA. My brother and I were driven to get out and go to college.  We did.  My mother remained a bored housewife who eventually had to take care of an aging, sick husband. Once free from those duties, she could of had a rebirth.  Instead, she spend the remaining 18 years of her life drinking, with periodic trips to the post office and commissary.

Crazy Barbara did the best she could.  And, hell, who would of thought she’d make it to 80?  She’s my antiheroine.  I have become a better person by knowing what not to do. But Barbara was known for her strong opinions and she did not hold back – and those skills were definitely passed on to me.  I’m happy I got to see her before she went to a better place-I hope she finds happiness in the afterlife. The Peace in rest in peace means so much to me and my brother.

7 to “Cross-country providence?”

  1. Pete says:

    I love it. Time and experience allows many of us to celebrate the better parts of our parents, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there are/were some family members that are/were best loved from afar. The biggest lesson for me being that family has nothing to do with proximity or biology.

    RIP Mama B. I still remember your college, rum cakes in a shoe box, your drunken, rambling Christmas cards, and you sending me your excess boxes of nicotine gum, with “I’ve given up” scrawled across the box. Hopefully Hell is a fun as South Park portrays because I’ll see you in 40 years or so. Save me a seat at the bar.

  2. Lisa V says:

    I know a little of your pain. My siblings and I had a similar upbringing (minus the federal work). About five years ago, my mother found herself basically unable to afford living in the DC area any longer. I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and moved her down to the area where I live. I expected it to be sheer hell. I was pleasantly surprised to find, instead, a friend. She has changed for the better. So, when I say “I’m sorry for your loss,” please know that I know a little of what you lost – the opportunity that perhaps, maybe, that your mom would have eventually softened a bit around the edges enough to let the two of you become friends. I’m sorry you didn’t get enough time with her to get that opportunity. L.

  3. Mary Ann says:

    I’ve been called in the middle of the night by Barbara looking for you. She was awesome if you could catch her before 3pm. All the good memories will eventually override the years of BS she put you through. Hang tough.

  4. rachael says:

    my heart goes out to you…No matter what losing a Mother cuts you.

  5. Diane says:

    Glad you were able to see your mom before she passed. Hope you are not snowed in!! Tank tops on the old geezers and beach weather here. D

  6. Sally Reichman says:

    Marna,
    I understand the mixed emotions. You understood your mother, however that does not make saying goodbye easier. I like the person you have become, you regularly put a smile on my face. I now know that your mother contributed to the Smart, intelligent, and moxy Marna; and I thank her for that gift.

    Sally

  7. Marna says:

    Thanks to everyone for the support. While I do have the mixed emotions about my mom, she did contribute to who I am (for better or worse). I just wish she could of spend more of her life surrounded by sunshine, happiness, and good friends like I have.



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  • About Marna

    Marna’s writing career started as a Pentagon intern. Early exposure to $500 toilet seat press releases made her appreciate creative nonfiction. Now she has more than 25 years of senior-level marketing and communications success working with Fortune 100 companies, government, nonprofits, small businesses, startups, and agencies.

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