It seems my Mom was always a mother.
The woman I only knew as "Mom" and nothing else seemed as if she had been born into the role, that it had been pre-determined through some cosmic game of roulette. In my mind, she was always a grown-up, always taking care of us, and always wearing polyester pants and shoes with no socks (I guess I know where I get my disdain for socks from). In my mind, she dropped to this earth and landed in our house just in time to whip up a batch of chicken & dumpling soup.
Her mother, Ellen (pictured above with Grandpa "Joe"), died suddenly at a young age, leaving her devoted and hard-working full-blooded German husband to care for all four of their young children himself. My mother, being the oldest, was quickly thrust into the role of the "woman of the house" as she was the only female as well. She learned how to run a busy household in her early teens- cooking many of the family meals, cleaning the large 2-story house, doing laundry and such, all the while going to school and trying to lead the "normal" life of a pre-teen/teen.
Grandpa never remarried, though from stories I've heard there were plenty of women trying to catch him in their lady-nets. He was charming, intelligent, honest and witty as hell. His thick accent and straightforward manner let you know that what you saw was what you got with him. No bullshit. That trait, one I admire and seem to have inherited, carried over to all four of his children, including my Mom. In my teens, my Mom's seemingly nonexistent brain-to-mouth filter was the source of endless embarrassment and entertainment. You never knew what she was going to say, usually too loudly and often followed up with her infectious laugh.
She and my Dad grew up near each other- my Dad lived off of one side of Raleigh Street in West Duluth, my Mom grew up off of the other side. They shared many of the same friends and by default, much of the same history. It just made sense for them, in a time where nearly everyone got married, settled down & had kids right out of high school, to get married, settle down & have kids right out of high school.
Then Vietnam happened, and my Dad went off for what was his first tour of duty, leaving my Mom behind to finish her last year of high school and wait for him to come back.
Luckily, she had a great support network: several close girlfriends, her brothers, her future in-laws, and my Dad's three brothers and one sister. The picture above is my Mom and my (also deceased) uncle Iver going to prom. I don't know the whole story, but I believe that Iver took her to prom because he was "safe". My Dad didn't want her going with just any guy (especially one certain guy who was very good-looking and had his eye on my Mom, I would later learn), so his closest brother was her date. My Mom & Iver were good friends anyways, and he was funny as hell so she ended up having a good time after all.
Dad made it back, they got married, then came the kids. She didn't really think about other "options" for her life. I don't think that (at the time, anyways) College ever crossed her mind- it was time to grow up and do what you're supposed to do- set up house, fill the house with kids, live happily ever after. Later on, she would tell me that, though she loved us girls dearly and couldn't imagine her life without us, she sometimes wished that she had been given more choices for her life. She said that she never felt that there were any other options, and she was so very, very glad that we, her daughters, had nearly limitless potential for our lives. I think about her saying this often- I hope I've lived up to what she would have wanted for me.
It's been almost 18 years since she died, but I still think of her almost every day. I miss her bright hazel eyes and freakishly perfect fingernails. I miss how she sometimes cussed like a longshoreman, but would never, ever drop the f-bomb. I miss how one glass of wine made her goofy. I miss how she'd just barge into the bathroom and pee while we'd be primping at the mirror, talking to us about our day the whole time. I miss her sometimes misguided attempts at "ethnic" cooking.
Mostly, though, I miss her unfailing devotion to her girls, her family. No matter how goofy we'd dress, how moody and PMS-y we were, or what ingrates we could be, she was always, always on our side- ready to defend us or knock some much-needed sense into our noggins. She kept us humble and she was our biggest cheerleader. She was a pretty cool broad.
Since it's Mother's Day, I guess I was just thinking about mine...