My mom lived to be 97 years old, just two weeks past her birthday. It is interesting to see how someone evolves as a person from when you a toddler to when you become a senior citizen yourself. It really makes you think about how life goes by so quickly. Whether it be those who witness are gone in the blink of an eye through a tragedy or when life goes on for decades, life never seems long enough.
When I was growing up, my dad was never there. My mom, though, was there 24/7. Learning how to live on one’s own became suffocating. Life was on her terms. When you are little, you don’t understand those things. All you know is that what life is. You know nothing else. Your values often become that of a domineering parent. If you aren’t given the tools to develop your own value system, you emulate those around you. Those who you trust and think won’t do you wrong. When you find out later in life that those values were actually skewed or that they were based on the frailties of that person, you realize as you grow older that some of the mistakes you made could have been avoided if you only had the strength, the knowledge and the ability to adapt and learn from others. But you were too dense or too intellectually immature to even begin to understand that. Blame may start bleeding into the lousy decisions you made, but at some point in your life you have to take full responsibility. Some of that involves forgiveness. From an intellectual standpoint, it involves accountability. It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s so much easier to just point the finger at someone else.
After my dad left when I was 12, my mom would always say that she could be both mother and father. She tried, but there really is no replacement for that male figure in a girl’s life. Sometimes I would ask God why do I have a dad who’s still alive but doesn’t want to see me or talk to me — would it have been better if he were just dead. At least, then I could justify his disinterest in my life. Later, I think I came to realize that he was the black sheep of the family and all he wanted to prove to his mother, his peers, himself that he was something. He wasn’t this 350-pound rotund guy with little college, but he was a guy who was important, doing important things.
I think that’s why my mom married him. Back in the 1950s, women got married in their early 20’s, maybe even earlier. My mom was 28 when my dad proposed and three months later they were married on a cold February day. My mom was an opera singer. Even then, she saw she would have a career, something unheard of for women then who were only to wear their aprons while serving dinner to the family no later than 6 o’clock. That wasn’t my mom, but when she got pregnant with my brother and then me, she had more little ones to handle than any career could handle, so she gave up singing. She would have been great — her soprano tones could fill a cathedral without a microphone. But her mother had terrible asthma attacks, so much so that it weakened her heart.
It was a hot August day in 1954. My parents decided to take a Sunday drive to get away from the air conditionless apartment. She asked my grandma to join us, but she said no. My mom’s last memory of her mom was standing at the window waving to us as we pulled away in our rented Buick. When we returned, my grandma — Busha as we called her in Polish — was slumped on the kitchen table. Dead. My mom was just 31. Her father sat in a nearby chair unaware of what was happening. He never got his wife help. Seven years later, my grandpa died, and when we left the gravesite, it was the first time of just three times in my life, that I would see my mom cry. She was alone. Afraid. She knew that life would only be filled with heartaches and problems, the very thing she thought she would avoid by marrying my dad who had promised her an opera career of his own. Little did she know, that he would go on to spend thousands upon thousand