One September day back in 1947, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York received a visitor. Her name was Karen Alice. She had a sister named Jackie and a brother named George (who like many other children of the day, wouldn’t live to see his first birthday). She was born to Elsie and Harold — Elsie a stunning young woman who would go on to introduce more than one grandchild to the splendor that is corned beef hash, and Harold a strapping young man filled with resolve who would become the guy who could fix anything in a workshop deep with dusty yet well-maintained tools.
Karen’s my mom. I remember summers spent with Elsie and Harold (my grandparents) at The Big Green House in Canoga Springs, New York. There was a great aunt and great uncle who lived across the driveway. The little white church was across the street. The rural country road was lined with a flower called Queen Anne’s Lace, not dissimilar from the crocheted doilies that adorned the arms of my grandmother’s parlor sofa. I liked to pick them. I also liked sitting on one of the big swings my grandfather had built, enveloped in the humid blanket that was a New York summer, my parents on either side of the swing with us kids.
All of this was before I became quite the pain in the ass of a child. Let’s just say that was fond of boundaries — and anything I could do to test them
Throughout my formative years, I earned each smack upside the head. In all fairness, whatever restraint my mother used to avoid killing me deserves a hearty round of applause and possibly sainthood. Through all those bell ringing incidents, she was the woman who drove me to every history fair event (NERD ALERT), picked me up after volleyball practice, and stood by me as more than one teacher did everything from say I was a “problem” to tell her that maybe I wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t work and stayed at home with her kids which is where a woman belongs.*
*Had I had money to wager in this particular standoff, it would have been 7-1 on My Mom.
Then there was the day — okay, it was really the fourth day — where I heard the garage door open and froze. I’d recently transferred to a magnet school and realized that sleeping in and watching soaps and game shows was much more fun than actually driving 30 minutes to class. Hence, I stayed at home for 4 days. And on the 4th day when I heard the garage door open, I knew I was hosed.
Again, she didn’t kill me.
Throughout my life, my mom has surprised me. In every situation where I felt I wasn’t worthy, she hung around. In every instance where I needed a real friend, she was there at the other end of the phone. When marriages ended, her door stood open (and in the instance of my first husband, her wallet as well so I could pay the filing fee for the divorce). With every year that’s passed, the woman continues to surprise me.
Yesterday, it happened again.
I was sitting in Boulder prepping for a consulting session, doing some inbox triage on my iPhone. I saw an email from my mom with the subject, “A Thought About Time.” Curious, I popped it open. A few minutes later, I marked it unread, did that oh-it-must-be-my-allergies-no-I’m-not-crying eye wipe and pretended to fuck around with my laptop before my client arrived.
She’d surprised me again (damn you, woman) and with a completely different smack upside the head.
Welcome My Mom, Karen, to the blog.
I’ve thought about time a lot since Aunt Liz passed away last month. Both she and Vic were born at the end of World War I. When Liz and Vic got married in 1940, she was 20 and he was 21. That was just before the start of World War II and both had been kids and teenagers during the Great Depression. Both of them came from farming families so they knew what it was like to have to work hard to become even semi-successful. Still, they chose the life of farmers for many, many years. They never had kids but did have each other.
Vic had one of the only successful farms in the entire area and never raised livestock, crops only; he worked hard – mostly by himself – but Liz also drove the tractor when needed. Several of us nieces and mostly nephews also helped on the farm, especially when it came to hay and straw baling time. A big attraction for us kids was Vic’s pool table in the basement of their house. We didn’t really know how to play correctly but had great fun trying to do it “grownup.” Sometimes one of us got to spend a night or two with them in the summer; if we were quiet at night, we could hear Liz and Vic quietly talking and laughing together in the next room. Their home was a happy place where many members of our family got together for card and board games. There was always conversation, food and coffee (of course — we’re all Danish). When Vic finally retired from farming they continued with their long tradition of living in Florida over the winters. Back then there were still lots of relatives down there to get together with and spend more time playing cards and board games.
When Aunt Liz passed away last month, she was 93 and Uncle Vic is now 94. They were married an amazing 73 years. To many of us, that is most of our life. They did the things together that they both enjoyed and never let time stop them. Oh, yes, they did slow down eventually and Aunt Liz resorted to using a cane after she broke her hip and had to have joint replacement surgery. They still went to the Moose Club every week for dinner and to the Ponderosa as well. The house was cluttered with the myriad of items that Liz collected but it never seemed to bother Vic.
When I went up to New York for the funeral, Uncle Vic had one thought: “What am I going to do without her?” He had spent pretty much his whole life with one person and was going to have to learn how to be alone.
I found out a couple of days ago that Vic fell in his backyard and broke his collarbone. Thank goodness he has a nephew who got him to the doctor and convinced him to stay at his house until his shoulder heals. I hope I will be so lucky when I grow old and weary. I am just thankful that one couple had the love and conviction to stay together for 73 years. Very few people can do this and many cannot due to the death of a partner. Still, it must be comforting to have a partner that you know so well you don’t even have to ask a question – you already know the answer. I am sure my Grandpa Larsen came to take Liz home and, when the time comes, Liz will come to take Vic home to her.
Time is a precious thing and we all too often take it for granted. There is always another day to do something or go somewhere. However, one day we will run out of time and will have to accept how we lived it – no matter how many or how few years that has been.
And while Mom’s probably going to smack me upside the head for posting this on my blog without telling her, I need you to know a few things:
- This is — and always will be — the most important and influential person in my life.
- She’s the smartest woman I know.
- For every “lean in” conversation floating around the ether, this is a woman who stood up while standing by — which I feel is far more important than leaning in one direction or the other.
- She lives a good 800 miles away and can still give me a smack. And I’m glad for it and have never forgotten it.
There’s never been a Fuck Yeah, Friday post filled with more Fuck Yeah than this one. And I do feel it’s more than deserving of being filed away under “Bitch Slap.” So thank you, mom, for every single smack upside the head over the past 40 years.
And yes, I do know that I’m grounded for not asking you whether I can post this first.