Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mothers and Daughters

We have a history. When your mother is 83 and you are 60, we're talking a lot of years over the dam. The funny thing about our relationship is that somewhere along the lifeline it sort of froze in time.

For my mother I will always be 16.

The stories she remembers are when I was a baby and my dad and me and mom were a perfect post war family, even though she didn't speak much English. She'd met my father during the War, and they married in Belgium while he was affiliated with the Embassy. (he was a regular "joe" during the war, but was recovering from his wounds when he met her)

The world was full of hope and, after a couple of miscarriages, a child was born! I was that perfect child.

[mom and dad and precious in the middle]

When I was five, she decided to go "home" to Belgium to introduce the family to her perfect child (and said perfect child was towed along!) while my dad stayed back in the States to wait for our return.

Back in 1955, travel was via the big Ships: we traveled on the SS Sumeria. When we arrived in Brussels, it was to discover with great sadness that her father (my grandfather) had been blinded in an explosion from a still armed WW2 bomb in the train yard where he was chief of scheduling. He'd almost died but as she was pregnant with me, at the time of the accident, her family was afraid to tell her so she wouldn't lose the baby.

[me, my mom and my grandfather walking in downtown Brussels ==> note the extreme pigeon-toed stride- I have yet to abandon completely!]

Then in what can only be described as oddly typical in my family, they forgot to tell her after I was born! This meant that when we arrived, she was confronted with the new and had no time to process it or grieve! (Meanwhile of course everyone else had had plenty of time as were a little disconcerted over her reaction!)

My memories at five were similar to being tossed about in an emotional blanket. But I remember that I learned to speak French!

In 1959 my father died. Great sadness- and for my young mother, a yearning for family.

Again with the ship: this time the SS Atlantic. My memories of making it through the grieving is mixed through the veils of two cultures. It was a strange experience (with many good memories- of course, some not so good.)

[<== still toe-ing in with the feet!]

Shortly after we arrived in Belgium, the SS Atlantic was purchased by Princess Cruise lines and we had no ship to travel home on! My first airplane flight!

A great memory... but of course it still didn't make up for losing my dad.

When we returned to the U.S.A. my mother had to work. She became a successful Interior Designer, but the cost was time.

I was fortunate that she took care to give me a great education, in an all girls convent school with great nuns to teach me and a school of great companions to live with during the school year (I was lucky to be able to go home every weekend!), and in the summer, I would go to my grandparents in Belgium during my school - 3 month- long vacation. In Belgium, I had my grandparents, my great aunts and great uncles - and my mother's sister, my aunt and her husband, my uncle as well as my only slightly older guy cousin, to spend the summer with.

I became independent in many ways, (I traveled to Europe alone!) but dependent too (European mores didn't give young ladies too much freedom even in the 60's!). Fortunately my cousin was male and we could get away with more things together than either one of us could do on our own!

Meanwhile, my mother often treated me like a sister through my teen years, but then- of course- she'd pull rank (as parents do...)

ah we both have many memories of the sixties!

Often on my weekends off she'd have to work and we'd combine a mini-holiday when her "job" had finished.

[can you tell my mother is terrified of heights?? ah the things she'd do if I "dared" her...]

These years to my mother were profoundly memorable, though for me it was so much more about what was going on outside our lives together. For her, each moment we spent together became a book of memories, shelved with all the others... our history in stone.

We are currently - as we do each time we're together- now reliving all those memories of time and place.

Not too much to do with Villa Methavrio or Greece... but Oh well!
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  1. I love to read about childhood experiences from different people...and also relationships between daughters and mothers. I should do one sometime about the relationship between me and my late mother...but it's a painful one so I have to be in the right frame of mind.

    Thanks for a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. What a beautiful post! You've lead such a rich life & I can now understand why you live in Greece. I love the photos, they're fantastic and tell stories within. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.
    Have a fantastic day & enjoy your mother's company:)

  3. Dear Ayak,

    It's hard sometimes revisiting those memories.

    I scanned a a lot of old pictures on to my computer, and surprisingly for me anyway, it's sometimes easier to deal with the memories, looking at the pics "online" rather than opening up and poring over the big albums of pictures!

    Don't have a clue as to why...

    Maybe it's because they're not in the page order and you can look at the BIG overview of life in pictures.

    Anyway, it IS a bit cathartic to write down the stories, so perhaps it'll make the memories less painful.

    Thanks for the comment, I do appreciate you taking the time. I'll probably be writing more about my family as they are sort of front and center this month!

  4. Dear Cheryl,

    Thank you! It IS often a mystery to people why we settled here, but it just felt like "home" to both of us! (It's doesn't hurt that it's gorgeous and people want to come and visit us all the time either!!)

  5. That is so lovely I envy you with such a relationship with your Mother.
    What a sad story too all the men in your life having so much suffering.
    Its so lovely that you treasure this so much x

  6. Another absorbing and moving post.
    How lovely that your mother is still alive and able to visit you in Corfu. Does she still occasionally "pull rank"?

  7. Dear Wildernesschic, It was most difficult for my mother! She was very close to her father (he encouraged her to reach for more! and he gave his blessing to her marrying my dad.) His blindness changed his life. Before he was blinded he was brilliant and full of energy, but the blast left other lasting damage and he hated being dependent on people for the last 18 years of his life.

    My father had a heart condition that today would have been a simple bypass operation but in 1959, was a death sentence. My mother was left to fend for herself in an alien country with a child and a lot of bills after he died.

    In hindsight the sexism of the times made it very very hard for her. Still she rose up from the ashes, as it were, and became quite successful. She says that the opportunities in the US were MUCH more available than if she would have stayed in Belgium after my father died. She is a person to admire and emulate for overcoming adversities.

    Dear Viv-

    Yes she pulls rank all the time! Remember to her I am still 16!! (Even my sons are higher on the totem pole than me!)

  8. It's difficult to find educated people in this particular topic, but you
    sound like you know what you're talking about!



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