REALLY, MY MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

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

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated cooking. 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, but 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. She talked to me about everything and more important, she listened to me.

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 this country 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.

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 and 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. For all I know, it’s happening right now.

She didn’t trust the 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 (yuk) 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 appropriate 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.

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

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

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

43 thoughts on “REALLY, MY MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong”

      1. I wish your Mom had lived longer to spend quality time with us and MY Mom. I think they would’ve hit it off. It’s sad you didn’t get to see more of my Mom in her prime. She was quite a woman–and an inspiration to her 3 “Boys”. Imagine the holidays now — with our Moms holding court. I think it would be fun in so many ways.

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  1. This is a great unvarnished character sketch of a unique woman. I also see that she was one of those fortunate few who grew more beautiful with age! Good job, Marilyn, in spite of your sore shoulder.

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    1. She didn’t live nearly long enough.

      She had breast cancer when she was in her early 40s and again when she was in her early 60s … and then, it came back. Lungs. She refused more surgery. She said “What will I do with myself? Sit by the window and watch the world go by?”

      She was athletic. She played ice hockey. Bob-sledding, skiing, horseback riding, tobogganing, even tried figure skating but she preferred ice hockey and was a HELL of a tennis player, which eventually made her the most lethal ping pong player on my part of the earth. Mostly, for her, it was winter sports.

      When cancer came back I begged her to try chemo but it made her horribly sick. By the time I got it, it was early enough to remove — and they no longer did the same horrible surgery they had done to her.

      That’s why I’m alive. The very last words she said to me were “Get regular checkups.”

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    1. She was different. And she took me places. I don’t think she took my brother or sister anyplace, but she dragged me to see Broadway shows (matinees were cheap back then), LOADED me down with books to read … and I read them, including books NO ONE has read today but which were Nobel prize-winners. Try Knut Hamsen’s “Growth of the Soil” as a start and if you recover from the depression THAT causes, I’ve got a few more!

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        1. Beautiful, but complex. How she knew what would interest me was interesting. She understood me surprisingly well, though she wasn’t good at explaining how she knew. I remember when I was going to Israel and my other aunt said “It’s pretty rough over there …” and my mother said, “Marilyn doesn’t care about that stuff.” How did she know?

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  2. That’s the thing about it. Those cookie cutter moms – seen in old 50s sit-coms, always perfectly clad and coiffed, immaculate house, humongous meals on the table when Dad got home from whatever mysterious office job he did. Twin beds (if the bedroom was shot at all) and never ruffled. Always wise and caring and the confident of teenagers. Our mothers (yours and mine) weren’t like that at all. And had those two women ever met, there would have been a mini-version of Armageddon, although my mother, like yours, was liberal in her politics. The rest of the subjects might have caused a bit of friction. They raised themselves unique daughters, strong women who have come forth and taken on the world on our own terms. They did a good job even if there were dust bunnies under the beds and the dinner came out of a box or a can.

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    1. My mother had four brothers and sisters and all of them married and many had kids and grandchildren although she didn’t live to see the great-grandchildren. But even in her own family, she was different. She just wanted to KNOW about everything and I think I got that piece. I am glad I learned to cook, however!

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      1. My mother wasn’t the greatest cook either, but she tried. She was one of the few mothers that worked outside the home. She was second in command in my father’s business.
        Leslie

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  3. Your mother certainly was her own person, comfortable in her skin. She left you that legacy, like mother like daughter.
    My mother was very private, with a book planted between her palms most of the time, or a pencil grasped in her hand busy with a cross word puzzle. She never tried to make friends, having heard and believed in her teens the crazy saying,”When your friend becomes your foe, the whole world your secrets will know.” Her mother and her younger sister were her shopping and close friends. Fortunately, I didn’t follow her life style.

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    1. My mother wasn’t a very good baby mom, but she was an intellectual equal and a real cultural inspiration — and all of that stuck. She had friends, but they dispersed over time and she had no use for the local soap opera moms. They didn’t read books and she had no use for non-readers. She wasn’t anti-friend, mind you … but I think coming from a big family, they were her friends too.

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        1. I think a lot of us didn’t have that mother we saw on TV. I don’t know why we thought we should, either. But TV made it seem that all families were just like “Father Knows Best.” Turns out, Robert Cummings was a heavy drinker and plastered during half the shows. So maybe they weren’t quite so perfect after all.

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    1. When I was talking about her to Garry I said “She wasn’t a very good ‘little kids’ mom, but once I because a real person, she was a huge stimulus to learn and then learn some more.”

      But no matter HOW hard she tried, I couldn’t ice skate to save my life. AND I hated it.

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  4. What a tremendous tribute to your mum. If I’d do one on my mother, it would be totally and utterly different and yet, I have the GREATEST mother too!!!! She is a role model to me and if EVER I’ll have her kindness and wisdom, I shall die a happy person. NOt that I’m unhappy now 😉

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  5. Your mum sounds like my kind of woman. So she was different – so what? The best people are. She had a lot of great qualities and I’m not surprised you missed her. Great post, Marilyn, and a fitting tribute to your mum. 🙂

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      1. I’ve always encouraged Maddie, my daughter, to be herself and no-one else. And she is different. And I’m immensely proud of her. She’s passionate about the sea and it’s history and tall ships. I’m over the moon that she now wants to be a maritime historian – she’s followed me down the path of the past, but found her own niche. She had her first sailing lesson last Saturday, and she’s a natural. She listens to sea shanties instead of pop music, and she hates make-up. She’s the kindest person I know and all this is because she’s true to herself, and I’ve always said if other people don’t like it then that’s their problem. She’s sensitive and shy, but I think she’ll do great things.

        My mum, on the other hand, always thought I should do as she did, have the same priorities in life or do things she approves of, and that’s never worked because I’m nothing like her. She thinks she’s failed in many ways with me, and that’s hard to take, but as I get older I realise the fault is with her, not me. You have to follow your own path in life and if it doesn’t tally with your parents’ expectations, or anyone else’s, that’s just tough. So however your mum handled it with you, she was fundamentally right to give you the gift of independent identity. She sounds as though she was well ahead of her time. 🙂

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        1. My mother understood me pretty well, once I started to be a person — maybe 9 or 10. She was fiercely determined that I should never depend on any man. I suppose, considering my father, that’s understandable. She did feel dependent on my father’s earnings and she hated it.

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