Forty-four years ago today my life changed and it would never be the same. I remember it like I am there now. I was eight, my sister was 10 and my brother was 14.
I woke-up to my sister telling me she had to use the bathroom. I rolled over and told her I didn’t want to go. My sister and I had single beds but each night she would jump into my bed. I was not a fan of the dark and she would sleep with me so I wasn’t scared. Every morning one of us would wake up and then wake-up the other one and walk to the bathroom together. For some reason, I didn’t want to get up that morning so my sister went without me. The next thing I remember is my sister crawling in bed with me and telling me, “Don’t tell anyone but I think Mom is dead.” When I think about what she said and how a 10 year old today would react I can’t believe how innocent we were.
We stayed in bed and didn’t move until my father came in and laid across the bed. He was crying and told us that Mom had died. I remember the uncomfortable feeling of seeing my father crying and wanting to get out of the bed. I was hanging off the side just waiting for him to get up. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I knew it wasn’t good. After what seemed like forever, my father stood up and told us that two of his friends were going to come in and take us to our neighbor’s house. Mr. Kilham picked me up he told me not to look as we walked through the living room. I wish he had never said that. Telling an eight year old not to look at something is like giving them permission. We walked through the living room and I looked. There was a figure on our brown vinyl coach with a yellow blanket over it. He stepped outside and carried me across the front lawn to our neighbor’s house with my sister right behind. We sat in the kitchen and talked with my friend and her brothers and sister. I don’t remember where my brother was. I don’t remember seeing him for most of the day. We ate breakfast at the table. I remember putting on my friend’s blue cotton bathrobe when I first got there and how scared and upset I was when I spilled grape jelly on it. Her mom told me not to worry but I did anyway.
A little while later we were playing at their house and we wanted to use my friend’s toot-sweet machine. It was a machine that took tootsie rolls and molded them into things. We didn’t have any tootsie rolls so my friend’s mother sent her brother “down town.” He was worried he might get in trouble for not going to school but his mother re-assured him it was OK. Before you know it we were eating candy in the morning. I remember thinking how cool that was.
We lived in a small town where my father was a Captain on the Fire Department and my mother was active in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Everyone seemed to know everyone. I had no idea how many people would quickly descend upon our house over the next few days. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day but my sister, the family memory, told me we went shopping later that day to get my brother some clothes for the wake. I didn’t know what a wake or a funeral was either. I think about how aware children are today and how sheltered from life we were in 1970. It wasn’t a bad thing; in some ways I think it was a blessing.
My father sat with my brother, sister and me and told us that we could go to the funeral home to see my mom before all the people got there. I didn’t want to go that night but he told me I could go the next day if I wanted. I remember being on the front lawn playing when a car drove down the street and stopped. The back passenger door flung open and out came my sister and brother crying. My sister ran across the lawn and into the house. As my father got out of the car and walked to me and I clearly remember telling him I didn’t want to go see her the next day. He told me I didn’t have to; he understood. My sister and I were not allowed to attend the funeral; my father felt we were too young. Instead we went to our neighbor’s Aunt and Grandfather’s house so they could watch us. I remember feeding the chickens. It was fun but I couldn’t wait to get home and be with my brother and father.
I have vacillated between whether or, not not going to my mom’s wake and not being allowed to attend the funeral was a good thing. I now believe it was a blessing. I can still remember seeing my mom lying on the couch under the yellow blanket as I was carried out of the house. I am so glad I don’t remember seeing her lying in a casket. I am not sure I could have handled that as a young child. I am glad I didn’t have that vision to fixate on over the years.
My mom’s funeral was on May 30,1970, two days after she died. When we left my friend’s Aunt’s and went back home there were a lot of people there. All my cousins, Aunts and Uncles and so many adult friends of my parents. I remember people standing around eating, drinking, laughing and crying. And I also remember my birthday celebration. My birthday was May 29, the day after my mom died. It was celebrated on May 30, 1970 at my house after her funeral. There are only two gifts that I remember receiving that year. One was a fringed pocket book that my cousin Kenny decided to pass around and everyone put money in it. I ended up collecting $50. The other gift I remember is a one piece, green flowered. cotton jump suit. It had no sleeves and shorts. I remember it because my father handed it to me and I opened it. I wasn’t that excited over it but I remember a lot of people started to quietly cry as I opened it. Later on I was told that my mom had purchased it for me as a birthday present.
Remembering this day today is different than it has been in the past. Today, 44 years since the day my mom died, I am sad but it hasn’t consumed me. I am done grieving and mourning. I have moved on to celebrating my mom’s life. I am looking forward to tomorrow, and the next day and the one after that.