No, not that Marilyn, my Mom Marilyn. There are countless stories and memories I can recall about this woman, but I thought I’d just hit some highlights from her later years, but first, let me provide a little background. Stick with me, it’s really an interesting bio. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, her Mom’s hometown. At the age of 7 her family moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where my Grandmother Agnes was a housewife and Grandfather George was a commercial IRS agent. A young sister Janice was born a few years later and life was blissfully happy in this picture-perfect Midwestern setting. Then one night the girls were put in the back of a sedan, not allowed to take anything with them not even a doll or a toy and driven non-stop to her father’s hometown, Bowling Green, KY. She adored her father, but all of a sudden she found herself living in the modest home of her grandparents who were virtual strangers. Her father was in the veterans’ hospital not far away and was not coming home. Grandpa had contracted tuberculosis while serving in WWI France. It was a disease that found its victims institutionalized and except for family-day visits, kept him from her for the rest of his life. Marilyn was 12 when she moved in with her grandparents. Her sister and mother lived in a boarding room house in Dawson Springs which my Grandma managed providing room and board for her and Janice. Her father passed away when she was only 15. It’s a loss from which she never recovered.
Marilyn graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1941, and then went to Western Kentucky University in town taking secretarial courses. Once she had successfully completed her studies and achieved a secretarial designation she boarded a train to Washington DC with literally $5 on her. Grandpa’s sister Margaret a/k/a Peg lived in Virginia and was a well-respected accountant and tax advisor in DC. Mom called Aunt Peg and promptly moved in with her, and had the time of her life. Mom took her civil service exam and was hired as a civilian secretary in the Army working directly for General Ulio and was one of the first employees ever to set foot into the Pentagon. She took dictation over the phone from General Eisenhower, met Clark Gable, was the host escort at appearances for Ira Hayes one of the famed Iwo Jima soldiers, she was a personal page to first-lady Eleanor Roosevelt representing the Army Branch while accompanying her to War Bond Drive rallies, and climbed a tree in a suit, hose, and heels to watch President Roosevelt’s funeral and pay her respects. FDR’s death was very hard for her and she mentioned it often. Mom resigned from the Army at the end of the war and embarked on an airlines career by enrolling in American Airlines classes in New York City. She was eventually assigned to Chicago where she loved working as a ticket administrator meeting celebrities, enjoying free trips everywhere on flights not fully booked, and just generally loved her job. She had a run-in one very early morning in Chicago with famed serial-killer William Ayers. He had apparently just murdered a child and stuffed her into a drain shortly before running across Mom alone waiting for the bus. She said he had a folded newspaper with something rigid tucked inside that he kept slapping against his hand while trying to strike a conversation. The bus showed up at the right time,and his parting words to her were, “I’ll see you here tomorrow.” She notified the police about this strange man, the police investigated, the airlines gave her a later shift and reviewed their shift scheduling of single women. Mom’s best friend at the time was Lorraine. Lorraine’s brother Bud was in the Coast Guard on a prisoner of war transport ship in the Mediterranean Sea and they had an extra room if she wanted to move in with them. She did. Bud came home from war, Lorraine and Mom bunked together, and the brother took his room back. Lorraine’s folks thought it would be a good idea if Bud would escort Mom to and from the bus stop. That’s how my parents became acquainted, fell in love, got married and had three girls.
One day all our lives changed. The day my folks closed on a house in the Chicago suburbs, Dad found out he was being transferred to Central Illinois to help get the computers online for the company’s relocation. So we only lived in the suburbs for a couple of years. One of which found Dad traveling back and forth between home and the new location quite consistently. We moved to a tiny town of about 800 people located literally in the middle of cornfields. A German farming community. Culture shock. Um, absolutely. I have never really gotten over that move.
Mom delved into being a housewife with coffee clutches with other housewives, Catechism teacher, Girl Scout Leader, PTA Secretary, Homeroom Mother, Officer in the church’s Rosary Society where we would take turns with the other families cleaning the church and rectory, pretty much everything I was involved in, she was involved in. She was by my side for just about every part of life. Having gone through all the ups and downs of life, her children were grown but her husband was retired and now had Alzheimer’s Disease. An awful thing, but she was his caregiver until his death at the age of 70. Mom had a restless soul. During our upbringing roadtrips were the norm. We went everywhere and saw everything. The Griswolds had nothing on us. However, she also had a parcel of cockatiels which she bred and hand raised and a cat. Mom was the Illinois Cockatiel Society’s Secretary as well as the local American Legion Secretary. She asked me and my husband and family to move in with her to help with the property and to keep an eye on her menagerie while she traveled. She met family from California in Las Vegas, she stayed with my sister in LA for 6 months at a time, she was out and about.
As Marilyn aged, she still had her cognizant abilities but was slowly losing them. Her hearing was awful although she wouldn’t admit it. She had a ‘thing’ for the phone. She felt the need to call somebody every day to ask about insurance or buy something over the phone or make doctor appointments she didn’t write down. She couldn’t really hear the other party and most often didn’t understand them. The new world of computers, cd players, VHS players, digital clocks, to infinity and beyond were way confusing. We’d show her and show her, but it never stuck. With family including grandkids of my own, a fulltime job, a large garden, activities, etc. I felt as though I was torn in a thousand directions. Total chaos at all time was the norm. I was definitely a Sandwich Baby Boomer.
Then Mom’s balance progressively worsened and she needed a walker. Her arthritis deteriorated and ability to do many things for herself were very difficult for her. In spite of the chaos of a busy life swirling around me, I would get up every morning and make her a pot of coffee, fix her dinner every evening after work, help her change the sheets on the bed, empty and clean the commode in her bedroom, give her baths, cut and style her hair, get her to her doctor appointments, make sure she made her pedicure appointments because taking care of her feet was too difficult, take her to the store, to lunch, wherever she had to go, to the point of exhaustion.
Marilyn was definitely not the person she once was, but hey, who is? She had become my responsibility. My sister Donna would come out and help when she could, but the major day-to-day responsibilities were mine. Some of the humorous times I call Marilynisms, and by that I mean humorous to me follow:
There was the time we were in a restaurant when the tornado sirens went off, she stuck pieces of a torn napkin in her ears which were hanging down like crepe-paper decorations at prom because the noise really bothered her. The staff came in and made the announcement of where we could be relocated in the building for safety. People were moving around, and my Mom says rather loudly, “You’d think they’d come in and make some kind of announcement about all this.” “Well, if you’d take the streamers out of your ears maybe you could have hear them.” “Oh.”
There was the time when she came down with a mysterious rash on her face. I had just taken her to the doctor a couple of days before and she was fine. But now her face was all red and irritated. She said she thought she needed to go to the doctor. This was a very difficult thing for me I would have to ask for time off work because she and the doctor were in separate towns both 25-30 miles from where I worked. I said Mom it must be something you’re allergic to that you’re using. Are you using anything new? No. I gave her hydrocortisone cream and a Benadryl hoping it would help. It did not. She was insistent that we go to the doctor. Okay, I give. That’s when I went back the bedroom to grab her coat when I saw a tube of something on her nightstand. I picked it up and took it out to her where she was sitting in the living room impatiently waiting for me to get ‘the show on the road.’ “Mom, is this what you’ve been using on your face?” “Yes,” she says. “Okay, it’s shower gel, and that’s what’s breaking you out. When you discontinue putting soap on your face and not washing it off, your skin problem should clear up.” Oh how dumb she said.
The purse thing. Yes, it was its own ‘thing’. Every purse had to match every outfit. She was changing her purse for every outing, which became impossible because she was always losing stuff and not getting things transferred and didn’t have her insurance cards when she needed them or whatever. A rule was made and never followed to stick to one purse and one purse only. No way, Jose.
She was hard of hearing but would be insistent that anyone speaking needed to speak directly to her. She would tell them to quit talking to me and talk to her. Okay, so they’d start talking to her, and she’d say, “Could you repeat that, I can’t hear you.” Then the questions and not understanding what they were saying which inevitably led to the person talking to me.
She had a thing for presents. As long as someone had a job there was no excuse to skip present giving on her birthday, Mothers’ Day, Christmas, Valentines’ Day, or Easter. I have a job, but I had to replace 4 tires this week. Her crushing disappointment and disapproval would engage the Catholic-guilt cloud to the point that it was worth paying the water bill late just to be sure she had a present.
She loved Harry Connick, Jr. and bugged us until Donna bought her the tickets to his concert for Mothers’ Day. Mom had no comprehension of what it took to pull this off. For her she just needed to get in the car and go see her favorite handsome crooner. For me it was coming home from work, her bath, dress, make-up, hairdo, meal, walker in and out of the car, wheelchair in and out of Donna’s SUV, many bathroom visits, being out late at night on a work night, driving in the dark on lonely country roads, et al. She enjoyed the concert and was even more crazy about Harry than before while I was trying not to hold this whole event against him. She was grateful and thanked Donna very much for the tickets.
Like I said way earlier in this article, there are literally countless recollections of Mom and my 58 years together. She was who she was. Deathly afraid of storms she loved her family, traveling, volunteering, fashion, big bands, dessert, coffee, crossword puzzles, jewelry, all animals particularly cats and giraffes, yellow flowers, Atari backgammon, CNN, the Today Show, the tennis channel and Roger Federer, Nelson Eddy, Eddy Howard, Bobby Darin, Whoopie Goldberg (who she always called Hoopie), John Belushi, Michael Douglas, Julia Roberts, Harry Connick, Jr. , and The Price is Right. She would remark in frustration, “The President always has his TV conferences during the Price is Right!” Interesting, complex, smart as a whip, dumb as a rock, clumsy, smooth, funny, outrageous, surly, pleasant, mean, polite, impolite, patient, frustrated, sweet, acerbic, friendly, stand-offish. compassionate, cut-throat, generous to a fault, stingy; caring, callous, you know, everything that makes up a human being. In her later years her idiosyncrasies each one naturally became more pronounced as she aged.
One Saturday in March 2011 as with most Saturdays we were running errands and I was taking her to the small grocery store in town stopping at the local restaurant for breakfast first. She loved the strawberry pancakes with mounds of whipped cream they served. (This tiny 4’11” 100-lb woman had a sweeeeeeet tooth.) A trip to the bathroom resulted in her losing her balance, hitting her head on the stall door breaking her neck, and eventually not recovering from resulting surgery. It was a sad end to an otherwise fully lived life. She passed a legacy on to me that is as complex as it is interesting, as it is entertaining, as it is joyous, and as it is heart-breaking; of which I am still examining and searching for that one lasting legacy. That may never come, it’s complicated… Sandy