Although, living in a handful of states while growing up, I was partly raised in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was born in 1962, the same month that the Beverly Hillbillies premiered on CBS television. Mom gave birth to me on September 28, 1962. I was born in Madison General Hospital at 11:22 a.m., where I was told that I looked like a little old man, as I only had enough hair that went from ear to ear, wrapping around the back of my head. My nose was smashed against my face, completely flat like a boxer; surely due to the fact that my mother was in labor for over 72 hours! I was an overdue baby, not wanting just yet to enter the world. Grandpa even put mom in his pickup truck, racing her across the bumpy railroad tracks over and over, hoping to provoke labor. I was finally brought into the world and it’s been a bumpy life ever since.
I also lived in Chicago, Illinois, where I was actually living amongst a neighborhood of my own local hillbillies while growing up. During my teenage years, I grew up in the Uptown area of Chicago. I was a blond haired, blue eyed girl, who was more Tom Boy than girl, always playing softball with my brothers and their friends, climbing fences or performing tag team wrestling matches in the front yard. I was somewhat shy and never the outspoken one. My hair was long and stringy, with bangs across my forehead that seemed to always be too short and never cut straight. I had a face full of freckles and a set of two front teeth that, in my opinion, protruded more than necessary. My Uncle Bob called me Bugs.
I have two younger brothers, Steve and Jeff, both of which are technically my half brothers. It appeared that my mother found it challenging to see how many “halfs” she could create when it came time to creating life. In spite of this mathematical equation, my brothers and I never considered ourselves step siblings to each other. We never introduced ourselves in this way. We were simply brothers and sister. For the most part, we three kids got along well together. Although, like siblings do, there was an occasional fist fight or slap fest between us. But, the three of us considered ourselves real family in spite of all three of us having different fathers. I was the oldest, with Steve being the second born and then Jeff being the youngest. Steve was tall, lanky and good looking. With blond hair and blue eyes of his own, he had the perfect square jaw and centered dimple that sat directly in the center of his chin. The girls simply adored him. Steve had the personality that could get along with everyone and seemed to be popular among the neighborhood crowd. He was very athletic and excelled in sports; football and, baseball, in particular. My brother, Jeff, was medium built, had a head full of red hair, piercing green eyes and, like me, a face full of freckles. He, too, was sports oriented, but was also on the creative side, always making homemade movies with our 8mm camera. Both my brothers and I shared mutual friends from school and within the neighborhood. We hung around these friends and stayed out of the trouble that the rest of the neighborhood was offering.
I didn’t have the traditional life growing up, meaning I didn’t have a normal mother and definitely not a normal father, parents who would love you unconditionally, watch you blossom, bathe in your triumphs or encourage you in your endeavors. I lived with two alcoholic parents; one who couldn’t show any love and affection toward her children and the other who was a child molester and did.
My mother’s name was Elvera Lee, but everyone called her by her middle name, Lee. She was short, round and plump and missing her two front teeth. She had dirty dishwater colored hair that barely made it past her shoulders and it was thinning. She always pinned her hair up, twisting it several times and then securing it tightly with a barrette, slightly spreading the ends that would eventually flop across the back of her head, always making her look like a peacock. Rarely, did I see my mother with her hair down. She didn’t like wearing her hair down around her neck, as it made her hot. The heat bothered my mother and it seemed as if she was always hot and sweaty. My hair was always long, as I wasn’t allowed to cut it, not even a trim. I wore it down all the time and it was always in my face. It drove my mother insane and she would always tell me to put my hair into a ponytail because it made her hot just looking at me. The only thing I inherited from my mother, besides her high cholesterol, was her piercing blue eyes. My mother gave me the brightest blues. I went out with a guy on a date once, who told me that I had beautiful big blue eyes and a great set of teeth. I felt like he was complimenting a show horse!
Mom was the type of person who always spoke her mind, telling you exactly what she thought, regardless of what she said or who she said it to. She had the most ridiculous and nonsense sayings, which, at the time she said them, never seemed to make any sense to us kids. They always left us scratching our heads, trying to figure out the message that she was trying to extend. Whenever one of us kids were angry, she would always say, “You have to get glad the same way you got mad.” We never understood what she meant; we just accepted what she had to say. Thinking about it today, perhaps, she meant that we needed to put the same amount of effort into being happy as we did getting mad. One time, she saw a man with the most hideous hat on his head. Not taking into consideration that he was only a few feet away and in ear shot, she commented that she wished she had two hats just like it; one to shit in and the other to cover it up with. I was mortified, hoping he didn’t hear her. One of mom’s favorite sayings was when someone was being really stupid and had brown eyes. She would comment that they had shit up to their eyeballs and from the eyes on up was concrete, indicating that the person was full of shit and had absolutely no brains. One of the sayings that I will always remember is when she use to say, “You can’t get pregnant on spit alone.” Obviously, she was referring to woman who got themselves pregnant and them wondering how it happened. I’ve actually used this one myself. Surely, there was some sort of message in all of my mom’s quirky sayings that totally made sense to her.
Mom was not known for her fashion. She would put on anything that made her feel comfortable, regardless of what it looked like. Because she was a bigger woman in size, she would occasionally make her own skirts or tops. It was hard for her to buy skirts in the stores because of her big belly, which was due to a massive hernia she had. She would wear a loud patterned skirt filled with stripes, along with a polka dot blouse that was even louder, so much that when she wore them together, they would scream for mercy! She would complete the look by wearing dark knee high socks or leggings and a pair of red tennie shoes. The color red was her favorite color. Mom’s favorite perfume was anything that smelled like roses. She would collect perfumes, powders and creams in this flowery scent. Mom wasn’t the most “freshest” smelling woman, as her hygiene was poorly lacking. She would wear rose perfume to mask her body smell… not a great combination. Today, when I smell anything with roses, I think of my mother and her cleanliness. Shortly after my mother’s passing, I was at work. I suddenly smelt my mother’s scent. The smell was strong and I thought it was me! Taking a few whiffs here and there while trying not to make it obvious, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t me… it was my mother! I’m convinced that she stopped by to say “hello.” Whenever I smell this particular scent, I know it’s her. Sadly, mom didn’t take care of herself like she should have and it showed in her appearance. I have to admit that I was slightly embarrassed of my mother’s fashion statements when we would go to the grocery store and walk down the aisles or when we walked down to the end of the block to the neighborhood drug store. People would stare at her, not only at her fashion statements, but because she was also a larger woman. She looked like a clown who was ready to perform. Later in years, when I was earning money and had extra cash, I would buy her house dresses that they called dusters. She liked wearing them because they were big enough to fit her and they made her feel more comfortable, not to mention that they were all one color or very subtle in pattern. If there was a special occasion that we needed to attend, such as my grandfather’s funeral or my own wedding, I went and bought her a brand new outfit; a dress, shoes, stockings, so that she would look presentable. Mom would even make the effort of curling her hair and wearing it down; again, something I rarely saw. When mom made an effort, she looked very nice and quite lovely.
Mom was on welfare my whole entire life while I was growing up. I saw only food stamps cross her hands, rarely any cash. Mom, who had shit to her name, barely had an 8th grade education, was in a constant state of depression, and was a recovering alcoholic. In my eyes, she was not the role model a young impressionable daughter should have had while growing up. A young girl’s loss I never realized that I had until the day I had my own children. I found that my mother had trouble interacting with her children and more so with her grandchildren. I remember on one occasion when my daughter, Arlaraye, wanted to play dollies with her grandma. Mom just sat back, not knowing what to do with the doll that lay in her hands. Mom told Arlaraye that she didn’t want to play. I can tell that mom was uncomfortable, as she didn’t know how to engage in a three year olds make believe world. Arlaraye felt left out and couldn’t understand why grandma wouldn’t play with her. I finally told Arlaraye that grandma was tired and that she should just play with her dollies herself. It was such a shame. Her granddaughter wanted to share in a moment, but grandma just didn’t have enough care in her to want to try. Mom was the same way with me while growing up. I barely had a relationship with her and surely never a close one. From as young as I could remember, mom never opened up her emotions, unless she was pissed off and throwing something at me or disciplining me. She was a disciplinarian and it seems as we were always grounded for one thing or another. I remember she threw a butter knife at me once because I kept starring at her one day. Perhaps, she thought I was challenging her or she felt threatened. Luckily, she wasn’t a good aim and missed me with the knife, as it landed on the bed behind me.
Mom would have a large flat stick that she would spank us with. She proudly wrote each of our names on the stick… Jackie, Steve, Jeff, and kept it beside her, as to remind us that’s what our asses will get beaten with it if we misbehave. Believe me, she used it, too! Why she wrote our names on the beating stick, I’ll never know. It’s not like our asses could read our name as the stick was swatted across our asses. As habit would take over, we always blocked our rear ends with our hands, in hopes that the beating stick wouldn’t make contact, only for it to crack the tip of our knuckles instead, which hurt even worse. Once, I took mom’s beating stick and scratched my name off and added hers… M-o-m. I’m not sure if she found it humorous, but I did.
On rare occasions, I do remember mom having a sense of humor, which was witty and dry. She loved to hear a good joke, especially a dirty one. When she was in the mood, she would act silly or do silly pranks on us kids. One night, I was getting ready for bed and decided to put my pajamas on for the evening. While in my bedroom, I noticed that I was having a tremendous amount of trouble putting my feet and legs through my pajama bottoms. After some inspection, I realized that mom had sewn shut my pajama bottoms directly across both legs so that my feet could not enter the pant legs. I thought that was funny and it only led me to my own prank adventure. I decided to place her hairbrush and a few other items inside her pillow case so that when she lay her head down for the evening, she would get a knock on the noggin. Surely, she discovered it because days later, she pulled another prank on me. Needing to go to the bathroom I sat down and peed. After finishing my business, I was looking around for the roll of toilet paper, which usually resided on the back of the toilet tank. Looking around and then finally up, I discovered that mom had tied the roll of toilet paper to the pull string that was hanging from the ceiling light. In order to use the toilet paper, which I needed to do, I had to climb up and onto of the toilet seat and untie the roll. I enjoyed that prank very much. My mother would also use my brothers as a messenger to send me silly notes or drawings and, in return, I would do the same. As a child, I found these pranks funny. It was my way of interacting with my mother. It was our time for a connection, a play date. Sadly, though, this was the only time I found my mother to display any type of joyful emotion. Mom didn’t make it a habit of expressing herself. I never remember receiving hugs or kisses. I never heard the words you’re doing a great job, you’re beautiful, I’m proud of you. Even more so, mom never shared the words I love you except for only one time in my life.
Mom was a recovering alcoholic. She was basically drinking herself to death. I would watch her roll one of those folding two-wheel shopping carts home from the liquor store loaded with cases of Schlitz beer; case stacked upon case. It seemed as if she was always drinking, always asking us kids to go get her another one from the fridge. Shortly later, Mom developed a hernia, which caused her enough trouble to where she needed an operation to correct the matter. It was during her surgery that she almost died; not once, not twice, but three times while on the operating table. Perhaps, once for every one of her children and almost lost; children that she was slowly pushing away because of her drinking. The doctors told her that she had three young children at home to take care of and, if she wanted to see them grow up, she had better stop drinking, as it was going to kill her. These words from the doctor must have scared her and woke her up enough to finally stop drinking. Mom wanted to live. For the rest of my mother’s life, she never had another drink of alcohol. My mother was a recovering alcoholic for over thirty years. I couldn’t tell you if this made her a better person, a better mother, or if it just made her more bitter and unhappy. I’m sure with alcohol, she was able to numb her pain, hiding herself in the bottom of the beer can, taking away any anxieties or frustration she may have had with everyday life. Most of the time, I remember mom being quite, reserved, hidden within herself, as well as sleeping a lot. It seemed as if she was always sleeping the day away, as if the day and her family weren’t worth getting up for. She was sleeping when we left for school and she was sleeping when we came home.
Regardless the lack of participation in her kids’ lives, oddly enough, my mother made sure us three kids had manners. We were expected to say please and thank you, along with you’re welcome; this, she demanded and wouldn’t accept it any other way. Mom made sure us kids were respectable. If we weren’t she was fast to remind us. We couldn’t even cut a fart without following with the words, “excuse me.” My mother couldn’t express her own feelings or show emotion, or even say the words, “I love you,” but she did make sure that we three kids were respectable and showed our manners. Perhaps, in her own mind, this is all she had to offer us. This was my learning lesson. Realizing the importance of such politeness, I have instilled this same behavior in my own children. It’s important to be polite and respectable, regardless of the situation. I always said that the first words that my children will learn when starting to talk were the words please and thank you. I am very proud to say that they have never disappointed me. The other words I added were, “I love you.” Growing up, my family did not express these words. These were words that I longed to hear but just weren’t a part of my mother’s vocabulary. Today, my favorite part of the night when heading off to bed is when I hear my kids say good night, kissing each other, along with a hug and saying the words, “I love you, Arla… and I love you Tanner.”