I know that the term orphan is generally reserved for children who find themselves without parents or animals without a mother. Having never actually grown up, I find the term suitable for me. Twenty-five years ago on Father’s Day my father died and today marks ten years since my mother passed away, never waking up after going to sleep on Labor Day. It seems ironic that they both depart on a holiday whose date moves. Both of our beagles were born on holidays where the date moves; Lily was born on Easter and Millie was born on Mother’s Day. Yes, I may be among the only people who makes these sorts of observations. Various personality tests indicate I will see patterns where others do not and I will apply significance to things that may not warrant it. Well today marks the day where I have been an orphan for a decade. Neither is it the hard knock life for me (as my knees no longer permit me to scrub a floor on them) nor has a rich bald guy offered to finance my future. Though there is nothing particularly humorous about losing ones parents, I will say that for me the loss of the second parent was like completing a circuit, the two of them being together felt right and not watching a remaining partner grieve made the experience more tolerable than the gut-wrenching loss of my father and observing the impact it had on my mom.
Despite talking to my mother frequently for 41 years (I learned to be verbose from Dorothy) there is rarely a day that goes by where I don’t want to ask a question; “Who was older, my cousin Geoff or Cindy?”, “I remember grandma talking about fluffing pillows for her sick mother. How old was she when her mom died?”, “Those two ladies who owned the cabin down from us when I was little, were they sisters, lesbians or both?”, “When we were going to college back-to-back-to-back, did you worry everyday where the money was going to come from?” Things I clearly will survive without knowing but am curious about none the less.
The best years of my life with my mother were the last dozen. The excitement over me becoming a mother overwhelmed her, she often kept me company on my visits to the obstetrician and loved to look at baby clothes. She bought the changing table used by both of my children, it sits behind me as I write this, re-purposed to hold photographs, yearbooks and topped with framed family pictures. Being a grandmother brought her some joy which has been missing after the loss of my father. Two and a half years after my daughter made her a grandmother, my son arrived and she was equally thrilled. Over the following five years, through marriage and birth she quickly became the grandmother to a half a dozen bright and beautiful children. Three boys and three girls. I suppose becoming a mother at twenty, as she did, made waiting until fifty-six to become a grandmother seem like an incredibly long time.
One of the activities I enjoyed most with my mother was helping her shop for gifts for my siblings, their spouses and the grand kids. My mother had never been one to shop while I was growing up, so this was new territory. Most often her purchases for gifts were clothing. While she financed the transactions, I orchestrated the purchases. The outings went like this; I would pull up to a store and drop her off near the doors before parking. I would lead her to the department where clothing suitable for the recipient could be procured and locate a chair or bench to seat her at. My mother suffered from arthritis as she aged and marathon walking and standing would not allow for the objective of the errand to happen without her sitting. I would then collect suitable gift options and bring them to her. Like she had preferred my dad to wear, gifts for my brother Bob were typically in blue. She enjoyed getting something in pink or purple and very girly girl for her youngest grandchild Lauren. Shopping trips were relatively easy and relaxing affairs that always ended with lunch. Then she would wait outside the mall while I toted the loot to the car and drove up curbside to retrieve her.
Her eldest was born in September and all three of her off-spring had their eldest in September. Her second was born in March and those who had two, the second were born in March. I was the baby and born in July and neither my brothers or I had three. My niece Courtney was born in December and sister in-law Jill in January, so their birthday purchases were made during the Christmas shopping spree. As I got older, Mom liked to take me to a jewelry store for my July birthday gift.
Since Dorothy never had her driver’s license, I frequently hauled her to Doctor’s appointments too. During those final fifteen years after the loss of my dad, she simply needed someone to talk to and interact with. I enjoyed the drives back and forth to Faribault during the years she resided in a little garden level apartment. We could and did talk about just about anything. My husband just shakes his head at the vision of both of us talking and neither one listening and he never fully adapted to her desire to read signs and billboards and comment on them to fill any silence in the vehicle; “Emma Krumbee’s, wonder if that is any good? Ford F 150, that’s a good-looking truck. I wonder what’s going up there…” I agree it was exhausting but she had done it my whole life, so I had never realized how peculiar it was until after I was married.
In regards to my thoughts on being an orphan. There is no time in life that is good to lose someone who you love and has cared for you since before you even had a name. It is a lasting loss and one that comes over you in waves at times. What I have shared with too many of my friends recently, as they experience it for the first time is that the thoughts and memories that bring a tear to your eye at first are the memories that will bring a smile to your face with the passage of time. That is how I choose to spend today, reflecting on the many good memories I have of both of my parents. I bet my bottom dollar that the sun will come out tomorrow! Plucky orphan that I am.