Ten years ago this year, my mother "The Dickey Queen" left this planet to go to the Big Dairy Queen in the Sky.
After her death, I went to pack up her house and found five legal sized tablets tucked into various drawers. She used these on which to write client notes while at work. Each one had pages of handwritten notes - the beginnings of her unpublished autobiography. These "mom-oir" notebooks riveted me. Who was she writing this for?
One of them started with, "I was born on the cusp and have been there ever since. I am neither Libra nor Scorpio. Not that I consider myself a misfit, but perhaps my peer group does."
My mother was a force of nature. She was born in 1930 in Savannah, Georgia to older parents who had no idea what to do with a child. Her mother, Margaret Jerusha McCann, was an Army Nurse in World War I. Her father was a barge captain from Wales who adored her, but who was rarely home to soften the blow of the harsh parenting her mother provided.
Another excerpt from her legal pad musings gave me a huge insight into her own upbringing.
"While my father embodied integrity sprinkled with wry humor, my mother attacked my personality as she attacked germs when she was a Nurse during World War I. I was too critical, too bold, too everything so she felt a desperate need to make me socially acceptable or as I saw it, acceptable to her." In the picture to the right, my grandmother, her mother, Margaret Jerusha Davis is the last woman on the right.
My mother met my father at Oglethorpe College in Atlanta, Georgia and loved his quirky personality. He wore bedroom slippers to class and recited poetry to her under magnolia trees on the university campus. He was also engaged to marry another woman at the college when he met my mother.
My mother got her brief moment of fame at Oglethorpe for her own unusual fashion statement. She told me that she was one of the poorer students at Oglethorpe and had only 2 jumpers to wear. She wore dickeys to change out her look. One day on her way to class she had an inspiration. She pinned a floral placemat inside her jumper and created a fashion movement at college with her placemat dickeys. Hence her moniker many years later, The Dickey Queen.
My parents graduated from Oglethorpe College in 1954 and got married. My mother had a degree in Music and was a classically trained opera singer. My father got his degree in English Literature. They got married in 1954 and I was born in September of 1956. By then my father was working as a shoe salesman at Adler's Department Store in Richmond, Virginia and was desperate to go to graduate school and get a real job.
Timing was everything, and soon my father was offered a full ride to get his Ph.D at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. It also gave him the opportunity to work with Buckminster Fuller - known as Bucky, an iconic thinker and creator of the first geodesic dome. My mother did what many graduate student wives did with small children, and started her life as a Southern Woman struggling to live among Yankees.
She often joked that this picture below, from their college days, in which she pretended to cut his head off with a hatchet, was such an opportunity.
When I was five and my mother was pregnant with my sister, Sandy, my father announced he was in love with someone else and left our family. The year was 1962. My mother was alone in the "North, with Yankees", and far away from her home and family in Savannah.
My mother rallied like the warrior queen I knew her to be, and went back to graduate school after my sister was born. She got her degree in Vocational Rehabilitation, and immediately started working as a counselor at the University. Restructuring her life in the early 1960s was not easy to do. She was the first divorced woman in Carbondale and she was a proud and very private outsider.
She was the keeper of her friend's darkest secrets. She was the champion of her client's dreams. And she was a towering figure in our lives.
While the thought of disappointing her was unthinkable, I am sure I did disappoint. And she chose not to have a life of her own, so that we would have her laser-like attention available to us, at all times. It often was suffocating and unnerving to have her live her dreams through us.
I turn 59 this year and I too, am thinking about my own 2nd Life. My mother was curious and a perfect candidate for a wonderful new life. But she did not have the options and opportunities she'd have today. As I move forward, reframing my own life, I am grateful to have her courage and curiosity.
Perhaps her unfinished autobiography dared not say what she wished she could have done. Better left unsaid, unwritten and most of all, unread.
Thank you mother for giving me the courage to be myself. I wish I could give the gift back to you so you could live and write the life you wanted to have.
I found this "prescription" in her diary while I was writing this today.