30 April 2011

Marietta W. Shaw: My mom

Today would have been my mom's 71st birthday. Her name was Marietta and she's been gone for over 15 years now.

It was only after she died, and I was sitting by her brother's side as he was dying, that I learned where my mom's name came from. Her grandmother was Marietta, but that lady died too young, and never knew my mom. In fact, my grandmother was raised by her step-mom who might have fit many of the stereotypes assigned that label.

Part of the reason my name is Jill is because my mom's name was a long one. The story was that she wanted to make it easier for me in my early years at school. Not sure if that's true. I'll check it with my dad to be sure.

My mom was born at home in New Castle, Indiana. Home-birth wasn't a trendy thing then, it just was the norm in many communities. Coming and going to my grandparent's home in Hagerstown, Indiana, we'd often pass the house in New Castle and I'd remind my mom that she was born there; as if it was news to her. I was fascinated by the whole thing. I had previously thought my mom had always been, so the discussion of her birth was a novelty to me.

I recently sat behind a very pregnant young woman who was obviously uncomfortable with the weight she carried and the movement of the child. I watched her shift her position in hopes of comfort, then rub her side to dispel the pain.

I had never considered whether I caused my mom much distress as she carried me. What pain, what hope, what fear . . . I've heard the story of the day I was born, mid-February in a year when my mom was 22 years old. Seems she stepped off of an icy curb to wave down a bus, slipped and did something akin to the splits. The bus stopped. She got on. I was born that night, a few weeks early.

It was a caesarean section procedure that brought me to light, though I was uncooperative even then, choosing not to breath a few times and frustrating the O.R. staff. Finally the doctor threatened me and I musta believed him cause I got on with the business of breathing.

So there was my mom, recovering from surgery, with a husband studying at university, a two and a half year old son and a new baby girl, in wintery Indiana. My earliest memories do not reach back to that university town, and the hospital burned so pilgrimages to the site are futile.

My memories of numerous meals, baths, vital life lessons taught and all the other things moms do for their kids are also fuzzy. They happened, as naturally as breathing, but so much was just assumed, taken for granted.

When my mom was unwell at the end of her life, I took care of her. There was chicken, broccoli and an appealing fruit on her plate. What might she like to drink that would provide some energy? I opened doors that had become too heavy for her, and minimised the difficulty of daily tasks. I filled in the gaps for her, much as she musta done for me years ago.

There's so much I wish I had asked her, but I only think of the questions as events arise to stimulate curiosity. I'm glad Uncle Tom told me about her name. My great grandmother's name was Marietta Personette. My mother's was Marietta Shaw. I don't have a daughter to give the name to, but I put it on the Hospice Memorial Tree every Christmas. She features on this blog from time to time, though not usually by name. I'll find ways to keep it in circulation.

I took a lot for granted in my early years, as kids do, but have paid better attention these past 15. Those of you who still have your moms around, pull up a chair, settle in and ask questions. Ask them about their name and why they named you what they did. Ask them lots of things about their childhood and formative times in their lives. Make a timeline, it'll spark more conversation. Capture those stories and memories somehow.

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