Posts Tagged ‘Mother’s Day’

A Maternal Memorial

thread spool

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Pardon me, folks, but I want to interrupt this extended silence for a  brief while to try and make some amends for the neglect I visited on my mother. She has been dead now for nearly twenty-two years, so of course I cannot justify or redeem myself directly. It’s only if one believes in an afterlife or even that some kind of resonance inheres in lingering cosmic memories that one can accept the following as meaningful to anyone but me. Regardless of the possible unreality of either of those concepts, here are my flowers for Mothers Day 2016. (Oddly, though, Mama was not a floral enthusiast; not that she disliked them, she just didn’t gather blossoms or maintain vases.)

I have written in previous blogs that Mama and I did not communicate well after the onset of my teen years. The problem, as I view it, was not that any sort of major psychological imbalance (such as stood between me and my brother Vernon) or contrary value systems (such as stood between me and my brother Elbert)  hindered our conversations. Our off-moments derived from a much more down-to-Earth dysfunction: I was frequently annoyed and embarrassed by Mama’s lack of tact, of which I have given instances in previous posts. On Mama’s side, she looked askance at my pub-crawling, drifting ways and impracticality; she said to me one day, after I had expressed an interest in majoring in philosophy, “Bobby, I think you live in a dream world. If you are so smart, you ought to be able to make a lot of money.” As usual, I did not utter a rejoinder to that.

Such perceptions, naturally, are not absolute. One morning, while I was seated at her kitchen table, she wanted to discuss Elbert, whose carpet store was in a state of bankruptcy due to the Reagan recession of the late 1980’s. Elbert had not spoken to her for two years because she had persistently tried to dissuade him from getting involved in any more of his former business partner’s get-rich-quick schemes. I did not want to talk about it, because I had opted to stay with Elbert at the store as it was going under very, very slowly and I was losing my house in West Texas in the process; I was in a heavy depression.  While she set a plate of eggs and sausage before me, she asked me to intercede for her with Elbert, whom she said she loved. I did not say anything; the weight of the whole financial disaster was too great. I don’t recall the immediate trigger for her final comment, “You’re a good man and an honest man.”

Mama and I hardly ever discussed serious matters other than those concerning the family. In fact, most of our conversations involved an exchange of something: she would want me to do something for her, like take her to the grocery store; or she would give me odd things she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales, like a lava lamp (when such was an “in-thing” during the 1970’s), a pair of binoculars (I was not a birder), and an antique walking cane (which at the time I did not need but, after three decades, do now). However, those interactions were after my own hair had started to gray.

During childhood, there were more prized moments of sharing. While I was in the Cub Scouts, Mama went with me down to Turtle Creek one Fall day to gather different types of leaves for pasting in a scrap book. And, when I had the part of Santa Claus in an elementary school play, she made a red-and-white costume for me, complete with a hat peaked by a cotton  ball. (No boots, of course.)

I have related how Mama had worked both as a seamstress in a dress factory  and as a steam-presser at a few cleaners. She also made all my shirts and pants during those early years. Naturally, she always had plenty of thread spools (like the one shown at the top of this post). One afternoon, while I was sitting on the front porch step reading a Dick and Jane book, she came outside with a saucer containing a bar of white soap, some water in a glass, and an empty thread spool. Then she showed me how to amass a sufficient quantity of soapy water on one end of the spool and blow through the other end to make bubbles float out onto the air.

And I will never forget the early morning she came to the combination bedroom and living room to wake me up. She went to the window, raised the paper blind, and announced, “Look, Bobby! It snowed last night!” When the day got light enough, Mama gathered some snow in a big pan and made some ice cream out of it. One cannot do that in Dallas anymore for two reasons: it seldom snows there and, even when it does, the snow is too shallow and too polluted to transform into healthy ice cream.

I have no authority to reference for this assertion, but I believe that only a  girl raised on a farm, such as Mama had been, would have known how to capitalize on a thread spool and a mass of fresh fallen snow.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama, wherever you are.

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Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI;  d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Now I can return to my cave.

Finis

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Mother

By Bob Litton

I thought I would write another memoir about Mother—one concentrated more on the positive things about her as a person and her struggles. However, I just now re-read my May 11, 2014, post about her and saw that, while I had indeed written perhaps too much about the emotional distance that developed between us, I had also related some of the good moments we shared. No need to repeat those.

I will mention one part of our history together that I neglected in that earlier post.

I attended a small, privately-run kindergarten with thirteen other children. One day I was surprised on being informed by our teacher that a cab was waiting outside for me. I had never ridden in a cab before, much less alone. The cab driver took me downtown where Mother was waiting at her workplace, a dress factory called Lorch’s; she was a silk-finisher there. (Mother made all my shirts while I was in elementary school.) Lorch’s was a couple of blocks from the original Sanger Brothers department store, where, each Christmas season, the delightful mechanical elves hammered away at toys in the display window.

Mother’s workday had concluded by the time I arrived. We walked from there to a hole-in-the-wall book-and-magazine store a short distance away, one of my favorite places of all time. After I had selected a couple of used comic books and Mother had picked out a book for herself to read, we continued on to a nearby cafeteria for supper. Then we went to a movie theater on “theater row”.

After we got out of the movie house, it was getting dark. We boarded a street car headed for our neighborhood, and that’s when the biggest treat of the day happened: I could view all the colorful marquee, business, and street lights; and, closer to home, smell the aroma of bread baking at the Mrs. Baird’s factory. After that experience I had a hard time going to sleep without a streetcar ride downtown to see the lights. I think I made a nuisance of myself because of that addiction.

I regret that every time I write about Mother—as in the anecdote above—her image and character seem too pale, as though she had the supporting role in a play, not the central role; but I guess that is inevitable since I am writing essentially about my own memory.

That’s all I want to add as text to last year’s essay, but I will include some photos of Mother that I did not publish before. Interested readers can find the other two writings about Mother by clicking on the titles at the bottom of this blog post page.

Maurine (right) and Dorothy Tanberg in citrus orchard, Combes, TX, in 1928

Maurine Emily Tanberg (r.) at age 18 and her sister Dorothy Irene Tanberg at age 16 standing in front of a fruit tree (orange or grapefruit) in 1928. Their father, Carl Anton Tanberg, started his citrus farm in 1913, in the Rio Grande Valley. One of Mother’s brothers, Carl Lee Tanberg, continued it as such for a few decades and then transformed it into a grass farm.

Maurine Emily Tanberg as a teen on her horse Ned in the Rio Grande Valley

Maurine on the family horse Ned. Her father, in his brief memoir, “Family Gems”, wrote that Maurine was  the only one in the family who could stay in the saddle whenever temperamental Ned took off on one of his unexpected runs. Maurine and her brother Norman were excellent equestrians, their father wrote. The progeny numbered four boys and four girls, all of whom survived far into adulthood.

Maurine Emily Tanberg-Litton-Smithart about a year before she died in Dallas

Maurine Emily Tanberg-Litton-Smithart a year before she died in Dallas, Texas, at age 84. She had suffered a mild stroke a couple of months earlier. Oddly enough, during the year after her stroke she appeared to be in the best health she had seen in decades; her cheeks were rosier and her outlook more cheerful. She liked this photo better than any other because absent is what she called her “hangdog look” that marred many of her earlier photos. (She had sometimes used a razor blade to slice her face out of photos in which she appeared with others.) Actually, all the Tanbergs had prominent indentations between their cheeks and their lips; but Mother had an absurdly poor self-image. While, yes, a plain woman, she was not nearly as ill-featured as she imagined herself to be.

Rest in peace, Mama!!!

Meditation For Mother’s Day

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton
b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI
d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

By Bob Litton 

Well, it is “Mother’s Day” here in the U.S., and I wonder how many celebrate it. Most of us love or loved our mothers, some of us had difficult relations with our mothers, and others of us either abused our mothers or they abused us, maybe even murdered some of their children. And almost every year in the past, some columnists criticized “Mother’s Day” as being too inclusive, often reminding their readers that Adolph Hitler had a mother, too.

As for me, I wish I could get my mother out of my head, Actually, I wish I could get my whole family out of my head, including my father and my two brothers. Should I include my only sister in that, even though she died nearly two years before I was born and so I never knew her? Yet, she still hovers there almost as palpable as the others because I was supposed to be a reincarnation of her, and part of my craziness is derived from the realization that my not being her was a disappointment to my parents.

“Out of my head,” I say to them. “Shoo!” But they remain, ghostly, like some giant unsolvable puzzle which I spend too much time and emotional energy trying to figure out. For, you see, they each and every one (excluding my sister) did good things for me and bad things to me. Superficially, I suppose, I attribute the impulse to write a few of my stories and poems to the ongoing, subliminal effort to seek reasonable causations in these memories or, failing that, to cast them into the nether world, never to return. But they do.

One such literary piece, a poem titled “The Widow’s Pique”, which I never published, despite some admirable lines, is in fact marred by Part I in which I painted my father too light and by Part II in which I painted my mother too dark.

But I am supposed to be concentrating on Mother here. Let me get back to her now.

The truth, as I concluded a few years ago, is that Mother was a so-so mother, and I was a so-so son. She only slapped me once, after I had accidently locked the bathroom door. (I wonder now how that can be done from the outside.) I do not recall her every spanking me, although my memory of childhood is not at all complete. She raised me practically single-handedly into my teen years, since she and Father divorced while I was still a child. Although I mostly did not trouble her, I realized only recently that my being under her wing all those years hindered any romancing she might have desired. She did find one man, however, when I was a junior in high school; and, since he and I could not get along, she decided I should leave. “Here’s twenty dollars,” she said, as she was shutting the door behind me. “Get some shoes.”

Oh, but the years of my childhood were much brighter. During my grade school years, Mother worked as a silk finisher in a dress factory called Lorch’s in downtown Dallas. I would go there sometimes after school, and we would eat supper at a nearby cafeteria. Afterwards, we would stop in a hole-in-the-wall book and magazine store. One could trade comics there — two of yours for one of theirs — or buy them outright. Mother might also buy me a book suitable for my age level. The place was full of real treats. Then, if Christmas was soon, we would stand in front of the Sanger Brothers department store and look at the mechanized Santa and his elves making their hammering motions amid the cotton snow.

Speaking of Santa, I played that role in our school’s second grade class play. Mother was a seamstress as well as a presser, so she made my red costume and pieced together a cotton beard for me. Since she had to work, however, she could not attend the play.

As for cooking, Mother did not have time to do much of that. Before she left for work, though, she would leave in the ice box an “egg nog” — just a mixture of milk and egg with perhaps some sugar or spice in it — for me to drink as breakfast. On Sundays, she always fried chicken and mashed potatoes that were tasty. She also made a mean peach or apricot fried pie. And one special treat was an ice box pie dish made with sweetened condensed milk and I don’t know what else; she placed small vanilla cookies around the edge. Neither of us could get enough of that.

Mother made most of my clothes during those years. Moreover, knowing what a fan I was of Gene Autry, either she or “Pappy” (as I called my father) bought me a leather chap and vest set. Another, related, gift was a guitar with Gene Autry’s signature printed on its body.

Once, when I had contracted measles and our apartment was quarantined, Mother brought me some children’s record albums: Erroll Flynn’s The Three Musketeers, Walt Disney’s Mickey and the Bean Stalk, a Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd story, and a Bozo the Clown record (which I could not stand, although I never told Mother that, because I have clown phobia). My playmate from across the street stuck his face up against our screen window one day and, when Mother warned him to stand further away or he might get measles, he said, “I want to get measles! I want some records, too!”

I cannot recall ever having any desire to help Mother in her struggle to make a living. I do remember one time when I saw her lying, fully clothed across her bed, counting a bunch of paper stubs. I asked her what she was doing. “Counting up my piece work earnings,” she said.

But, I did find some employment, first as an underage sacker in the local supermarket. One day soon after I got that job, I ran a basket into a poor lady’s heel and she yelped with pain. That same day I returned home with excruciating pain in my own feet because I had worn my Indian moccasins. I quit that job.

Next, I took up delivering the Dallas Times Herald to homes in our neighborhood. Those were the days when a boy could stretch his canvas bag, filled with rolled newspapers, over the front fender of his bicycle and then toss them into yards or onto porches as he rode down the street. The only bad aspects of such a job were trying to catch people at home so payment could be collected, and the size of the Sunday paper — about twice the size of the daily issues. Also, the Herald’s home delivery on Sunday was early in the morning: I needed Mother to get up about 4 a.m. and drive me around so I could throw the heavy papers. Naturally, that was a high price to pay on Mother’s part.

Still, although I was employed in those ways and in couple of others during my early teen years, I do not recall ever thinking, “I need to do this to help Mother.”

Mother had a bit of wanderlust in her…which I believe I have inherited. I am not sure why she was that way. I know she had a healthy family life during her own childhood in the Rio Grande Valley, even though she eloped with my father. During my fifteenth year, however, she took off by herself for Colorado. I do not know what she expected would become of me: that Pappy and my brothers would look after me, I suppose. She did retain ownership of her small house in Dallas, and I stayed there and in one brother’s apartment at different times.

Either at Mother’s urging or my own (again faulty memory here) I joined her in Colorado, where she was working as a cook in a Grand Lake café, up in the mountains. I worked as a dishwasher in the same café, but after a month or so I grew tired of it and wanted to return to Dallas. Mother, likewise, wanted to leave. However, she did not want to return to Dallas. “Here, Bobby,” she said at the bus station, handing me a ticket and some money, “I don’t want to go to Dallas. I’m going to Arizona.” Mother worked at a dude ranch near Phoenix for about a year, then she returned home.

That brings me back to where I started this reminiscence, where she met the new man in her life and kicked me out. She and her husband moved to California for a short while, then they returned to Dallas. Although I was largely out of Mother’s life by this time, we nevertheless stayed connected; during the last year of my high school career she sent me $50 a month from California, which I used to pay rent for a room.

I and my brothers all had our different problems with Mother, but we also recognized her many years of struggle to survive and the fact that she succeeded in doing so, if only on a very modest scale. We attended to her during the few days she was in the ICU unit at a hospital near her home. She died there in 1994, age 84. As she had requested, she was cremated just as Pappy and my two brothers have been…and as I wish to be. Now she and the others of my immediate family float around in my brain like gossamer that breaks when you try to grab it; all of them, ghosts.

Since Mother’s death, I have often chided myself for not having asked her some basic questions about our family history and psyches. It is strange how those questions can fail to appear until it is too late to get answers.

Finis

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