MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school. She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

1963

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

35 thoughts on “MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Given the unhappy blog I read before yours, which centered around someone who never should have been a mother at all; this was so refreshing. No wonder you turned out so very well and are now illuminating the path for so many. Your mother did a great job. And yes we should celebrate.

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    1. It was a bit strange being raised by a “non-cuddly” mother. She was mostly mind and seeking intelligence. It was good for me since I’m so much like that too … but probably harder on my siblings. She was complicated, too. And who am I to discount the complexity?

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      1. My mother and father both were not touchy-feel-y sorts of people, UNTIL they got into their late 60s and 70s. Perhaps they knew they’d be gone soon (Pop at 72, Ma at 78), and wanted to make up for lost time. I found it highly uncomfortable to suddenly be expected to hug and kiss these people. Not anything I knew about.. Your mother was certainly far ahead of her time..

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        1. Emb, my Parents weren’t touchy-feely. Both are gone. I was shocked when, going through their things, I found love letters from Dad to Mom when they were dating.

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  2. Your mother sounds awesome. Cookie-baking, boo-boo kissing mommies often don’t raise strong daughters. From what I know of you, your mother did ok by you, when all is said and done.

    BTW, J. Edgar did, in fact, have a list, and you’d be surprised at some of the people that were on there. There was a whole subdivision at FBI HQ dedicated to keeping track of those people (or so I’ve heard). Of course, J. Edgar had his own secrets. Maybe that’s why he was so paranoid.

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    1. I think my mother was , in the end, right for me. But it took a look time for me to really understand. She died too soon before we really had a chance for an adult relationship and it took me many years to work through all the little twists and turns.

      But I think any mother who gifts a child with what they need — whatever it is — will have a strong one. Or maybe that is merely what I want to be true.

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  3. She sounds a real character–maybe not the easiest to get along with, but an intelligent lively person whose views sound mostly very interesting and acceptable to me. I won’t go into the ones I differ with, since it doesn’t matter!

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  4. My mother was similar. She had strong beliefs about most things and never once said I loved you or gave me a hug or a kiss or pat on the head. How I became so demonstrative is beyond me 🙂

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  5. I loved your true, unsentimental portrait of your mother, Marilyn. I imagine at times it would have been hard to be her daughter, but I think I would have liked her. Happy Mother’s Day, now that it is over. I had a film night here so didn’t get to my blog reading until late.

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    1. My mother was opinionated and stubborn. I suppose so am I but I’m better at changing my mind if I get sufficient evidence. She was a lot more rigid than I am … but she was also a formidable person to grow up with and I’m sure I learned a huge amount from her.

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  6. I just reminded my daughter today that every year on Mother’s Day since my mom passed, what I remember most about her in regard to Mother’s Day was that people would drop by to have drinks and when a man came through the door my mother would say “Happy Mother’s Day………..Mother” in a snide voice. That was my mom. She could also be “very charming” when she wanted to be. I stopped kissing her when I was eight. Until the day before she died when I kissed her on her forehead. Because like you said, she was my mom.

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  7. Very neat article! I believe the greatest gift your mother gave you was the gift of talking to you like an adult. I too, was lucky enough to be valued and treated with respect from a very young age. Thank you for sharing!

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