what was my mother thinking?

Today was the perfect day to sit beneath the trellis with a cup of tea.  As I watched hummingbirds flit in and out of the apple tree I wondered what my mother would have been thinking at my age on a day like this.

She would be sitting outside the Shack, a hunting lodge my stepfather enlarged with indoor plumbing and a bedroom when they married on a small private lake in Northern Wisconsin.  The lake would be lapping the shore and chipmunks chattering at her feet waiting for peanuts (she’d go through several huge bags in a summer). Wind would be singing in the pines and an osprey or eagle might sway atop a tall one, and she’d be laying back with a calm face to take in sun with a pack of Kents, a silver-cased lighter and a glass of bourbon and water at her side.

 While I was in high school my father left my mother, Betsy, to marry a wealthy woman, and Betsy in turn married that woman’s husband.  Her second husband, Robert with more money than he knew what to do with, collected  rare stamps, first editions and Presidential signatures along with a new Oldsmobile 98 convertible every other year. He had a drinking problem.

Mother believed a woman’s role was taking care of a man. She adored her father and cherished memories of her mother’s father, a magician. At the big charity ball each year she danced with all the men and her humor was bawdy and ironic. She started every day with a clean slate and cooked a mean fried chicken and custard pie. Her hair grayed over time but  the style never changed, except the year she bought wigs. I never saw her cry, and she never complained about getting short shrift. Her cheerfulness was boundless, and when I complained about my father, even after they separated, she said, “He loves you in his own way.”  Her taste in clothes was beige, and when she came to San Francisco to be with me after I’d been mugged, I talked her into a red dress. During colder months her days were spent in the home she designed with my stepfather, often in the company of workmen constantly fixing an early solar system and others doing odd jobs around the property.  She bowled weekly with a group of women, and when Robert started drinking when he learned a brain tumor was metastasizing, she hide all his guns so there wouldn’t be a mess.

As jays cried in the pine forest would she be nostalgic for blissful days drinking and partying with dashing young men as a Delta Gamma in Madison? Would she allow the painful memory of the man she loved telling her it was over? Or would her brain retrieve the ten letter word starting with the letter X in the daily crossword she penned in ink?

Homosexuality simply didn’t exist in a world that was informed by the local paper, her copies of Readers Digest and Jack Paar’s guests.  Mother vacationed in the Caribbean several times at a guest house run by two queens but never connected the dots.  I came out to her in a letter, and two weeks later she called to see if I was still gay.   I was her favorite, and she came to accept my decision, but she had no compartment for me, so for her last years our bond had none of the fun and camaraderie. Maybe getting no relief from being mother to three of her own and four of her second husband’s had drained her of cheerfulness. Maybe all the pain had taken its toll. 

As she suns by the lake I suspect she is not thinking about what her gay son is doing although she did ask , “There’s oral and…” I just nodded.


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