Sunday, March 13, 2011

Main Street

I just finished reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. This is a classic I've always wanted to read, but never got it done. It was free through ibooks so I downloaded it and read it on my iphone.

I found the book a fascinating take on the agony so many, especially women, faced in the early 1900's. They moved from the east, from cities, from society, and settled in upstart, unkempt communities filled with prejudice, gossip, small-town thinking, ugliness, and unending hard work. Anything and anyone who did not fit into their little "mold" was disparaged and ridiculed. Though I grew up a half century later, I could see that many of the shackles spoken of in Main Street were still alive and well in my main street.

Thankfully, many of us kicked against the "norm" and pushed for a different type of thinking. In my little corner of the world, at that time, it was a travesty to go to a non-Lutheran church, to believe in equality of all races and both genders, to wear pants off the farm, to want to travel to other countries, or to want a career other than teacher, nurse or secretary.

Oh, how the world has changed...especially in the past 100 years! But ... is it better? Or have the issues, the prejudices, the lack of acceptance, the smallness just moved around? Rather than tight family units with a defined set of mores all must adhere to, do we now have tight ideological units that are superior to all others? Do we still try to make others think and believe and act just like us? And when they don't, do we disparage and ridicule them?

Sometimes I think we haven't changed that much at all....

Monday, March 7, 2011

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Addendum

A few years ago my mother gave me her mother's Bible. She used this Bible for a long time, but eventually started using a different one. Tucked in the leaves I found the following "poem" that she identified with. All those years that I was feeling emotionally estranged from my mother, she had her own emotional deficits. She spent 35 years being a widow. 35 long, lonely years. Sometimes my heart breaks at the lost years when I could have done a better job at alleviating that loneliness. If only I had "broken the barrier" years earlier.....

Minnie Remembers

by Donna Swanson


My hands are old.

I’ve never said that out loud before,

but they are.

I was so proud of them once.

They were soft

like the velvet smoothness

of a firm ripe peach.

Now the softness is

like worn-out sheets

or withered leaves.

When did these slender,

graceful hands

become gnarled, shrunken?

When, God?

They lie here in my lap,

naked reminders

of the rest of this old body

that has served me too well.

How long has it been

since someone touched me?

Twenty years?

Twenty years I’ve been a widow.


Smiled at.

But never touched.

Never held close to another body.

Never held so close and warm

that loneliness was blotted out.

I remember

how my Mother used to hold me,


When I was hurt in spirit or flesh

she would gather me close,

stroke my silky hair and caress

my back with her warm hands.

Oh, God, I’m so lonely!

I remember the first boy

who ever kissed me.

We were both so new at that.

The taste of young lips

and popcorn,

the feeling deep inside

of mysteries to come.

I remember Hank and the babies.

How can I remember them

put together?

Out of the fumbling,

awkward attempts of new lovers

came the babies.

And as they grew, so did our love.

And, God, Hank didn’t seem to care

if my body thickened

and faded a little.

He still loved it.

And touched it.

And we didn’t mind

if we were no longer


And the children hugged me a lot.

Oh, God, I’m lonely!

Why didn’t we raise the kids to be

silly and affectionate

as well as dignified and proper?

You see, they do their duty.

They drive up in their fine cars.

They come to my room

to pay their respects.

They chatter brightly

and reminisce.

But they don’t touch me.

They call me “Mom” or “Mother”

or “Grandma.”

Never Minnie.

My mother called me Minnie.

And my friends.

Hank called me Minnie, too.

But they’re gone.

And so is Minnie.

Only Grandma is here.

And, God! she’s lonely!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 5

Fifty years.
Half a century.
Most of a lifetime.
Why did it take me so long to get it?

Why did I spend most of my life focused on me and my needs instead of trying to understand her and her needs, her culture, her heart? Yes, I was 50 before I could move beyond my perceived injustices, my slights, the lack of affection, my own needs. She was 85 when I realized that it was within my power to change that.

I will never forget that phone call. Before I called her I determined that I would tell her, "I love you." Something I never heard her say to me; something I had never said to her. We talked about many things for about 20 minutes. Then it was time to hang up the phone. The time had come. I was a bundle of nerves and I was afraid of the reaction. "Well, I better go," I said. And then...I blurted it out..."I love you." There was the slightest hesitation, then, "I love you, too," she said. And we hung up. And I cried. And I cried.

It was so hard, yet so easy. The barrier was broken. Over the next eight years of her life, I strove to make up for lost time. Before I could really forgive I needed to understand her better. Speaking with her sisters and brothers, I learned a lot about my mom and the times and events that shaped who she was. I better understood the culture of emotional repression. And I discovered that my mom was a lot like her mom. I forgave.

How thankful I am that I had eight years of not only telling my mom I loved her, but showing her that I did as well. I did what I could to be there for her, to listen to her, to advocate for her. I hugged her, I thanked her. And I'd like to think that in some small way I opened the door for her to express her feelings as well.

August 7, 2010, when my mother died, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she really did love me. I thank God for giving her a long life. I'm so glad she didn't die in her 80's. If she had, I would never have known the loving bond of a mother.