This is the fourth installment of a series about my mother. The previous post is here.
I love my babies, my babies love me.
We are as happy as happy can be.
I love my girl and little boy, and they bring me so much joy.
~Margaret Ellen Wilson
She got a job working in a drug store. I don’t remember much about that, except the name of the pharmacy, and that I believe that’s where she met this lady who owned a little Chihuahua. I’d never seen a dog so small.
She needed someone to look after me, help with the housework, and just be her general all around person she could count on. Had she had her babies straight out of college, this person would have been her mother. But her mother was gone, so she found Ettie.
Ettie’s name was Ethel, but I couldn’t pronounce Ethel, so I said, “Ettie.” And from then on out, she became Ettie. Even all of the children she took care of after me called her Ettie.
Ettie was a middle-aged lady who did everything for my mother. She sort of fit the role of a nanny, although she didn’t live with us. I guess we later called her our babysitter, except my mother had no money to pay her – not until the full settlement from The Lawsuit from That Wreck, which came in 1969.
Ettie was with us when my brother was born and through our entire toddler years. She kept us fed, clothed, and scrubbed. She was a bit of a perfectionist, and my mom called her a “screamer.”
Like the time I locked her out of the house when I was three (the door was supposed to be locked). Or cut my brother’s hair when I was four (I thought I was being so grown up, and he held very, very still). Ettie’s screams stick in my head to this day. Think I Love Lucy. Or a cartoon. Ettie was sometimes like a cartoon of herself.
In the summer of 1969, the settlement from The Lawsuit from That Wreck came in. My mom received about $10,000. She paid Ettie, paid bills, and bought a house. I remember the move. It was in the same part of town, but about ten blocks away. I don’t know who it was, but somebody painted my new bedroom pink. I remember seeing him do it. It was a light pink, and to this day, I still feel the most at home in a room with shades of pink and purple. My brother’s bedroom was painted pastel yellow, and my mother’s was an olive green.
She had given me the biggest bedroom. She gave me the best of a lot of things. I will say that it was not her intention to play favorites or to focus more attention on me than on my brother. But he and I, although only 19 months apart, were born into two different of her worlds. I was born as her saving Angel Baby when she thought her future looked bright, and he was born four months after she removed my dad from her life. It took a blunt comment from a friend to get her to realize what she was doing.
My brother was an infant. He was crying and hungry, and she walked over him to get to me to give me something I wanted. Her friend said, “Margaret! Feed that baby! You just walked right over that crying baby boy. You need to give him some attention!” And she was right. It was a stark reality that my mother had to accept. She was favoring me.
She got settled into the new house and got some shelves put in her front plate glass window for her colored glass. She was still working at the pharmacy, and things were not too bad. Ettie kept us going (except for that time she couldn’t get back into the house for some reason when I was three), and all seemed to be quite well.
When we were very little, she bought these ceramic figurines that were just for us. She taught us to be very careful so they wouldn’t break. Here they are today. They are not even chipped. She taught us well.
We would snuggle up with her on her big bed, and she would sing us songs that she grew up with. She also made “I Love My Babies” just for us – the one in the opening quote of this post.
Or this one that came from somewhere:
I’m a little acorn brown
Lying here on the cold, cold ground.
Somebody came and stepped on me.
Now I’m as cracked as I can be.
I’m a nut in a rut. I’m a nut in a rut.
This English folk song (thanks to my brother for the reminder), and her words to it:
Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea;
Silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Little Bobby Shaftoe.
And so many others that I’ll probably remember later.
She had such a beautiful mezzo voice. She always sang in tune.
But the most loved, and most sad, of all the songs she would sing to us was “Mr. Frisk.” I believe it had been handed down through several generations, perhaps even on the direct maternal line. It is one of those songs that feels like it belongs only to your family. There came a point in my childhood where I couldn’t listen to it anymore because it was so sad. I could kick myself for that. I have lost the words in my head, and the sheet of paper that she typed them on. “Don’t lose this!” But I once took it out of its special place to make a copy for my cousin, and I didn’t put it back.
“Mr. Frisk” must have been designed to give children a love for animals and a hatred of hunting. At least that is what it did for me. The first verse (roughly):
In the woods, in the woods, in an old hollow tree
Lived Mr. Frisk, his wife and squirrels three.
Mrs. Frisk stayed home and kept the house neat
While Mr. Frisk found something to eat.
There will come a time when I find her words to this precious song. I know the tune she used by heart, the tempo, and I can hear my mother singing it. I can feel her chest vibrating as she sang to us, and I can smell my mother, her special smell, that permeated her bed even when she was elderly. Her bed, her smell, the songs – they are a part of who she was to the little-girl-me.
I need to know the source of this song – it requires a genealogy in its own right.
My mother’s sentimentality is what made me so sentimental. Rather than thinking of these old silly songs as old silly songs, I think of them as nearly lost treasures. All that she told me and taught me about her life and life in general has influenced who I am today. Sometimes I have to work hard to keep from falling into an unnecessary state of melancholy like what she had throughout my childhood.
During my Kindergarten year, it came that Mom had to have surgery on her left hip to replace what had been done in 1964 after the auto accident. The surgery was going to be extensive, with a steel cup hip replacement and significant physical therapy. She was going to be in an Indianapolis hospital for six weeks.
She set up an entire system of getting me to and from school, and found a family who would take my brother and me in for that time period. Sadly, very sadly, extended family was not an option. In universal time, six weeks does not exist. To a 4 and 6 year old, it is like forever.
It could have been so different, although perhaps she did the best she thought she could, and certainly she thought she was doing the right thing by both of us. She couldn’t have known the bad things that were going to happen at that house. I won’t go into them, but they left a hard mark on us. It was particularly difficult for my little brother, who would often ask where Mommy was or when Mommy was coming back. I had to try to keep track of how long it had been so I could tell him. I did that based on who was taking me to and from Kindergarten that week. My mom had written it down for me.
When she finally came home, she looked different, smelled different, and was walking on crutches. She did not seem like my mom.
The day I first saw her, she cried for me to come to her, and I would not. I could not. I wasn’t sure why, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was stare at her. Her heart was broken. Her Angel Baby had changed in those six weeks. She said I was angry and distant – that I was never the same loving and cuddly little girl again.
Her physical pain was overwhelming. At that point, in early 1972, she became what she called “a cripple.” She was not able to work at all. She had girls here and there come to live in with us, but they didn’t last long. I think one of them might have been a runaway. Another might have stolen something.
I don’t remember exactly when it was that Dusty had her first stroke, but of course my mother’s heart was broken. Dusty was such a part of her life, but it became time to let Dusty go.
It all jumbled in together – losing Dusty, losing me, losing her mobility, and basically losing her sanity. She wasn’t exactly sure what to do next, but she slept – a lot. She took pain killers and nerve pills and she would lock herself in her bedroom and cry. I would hear her, but it was foreign. Hearing your parent cry is foreign.
At this point, she had hit rock bottom. From 1959 to 1972, everything had changed, and inside there was the emptiness, the sadness, and the loss of hope that had become paralyzing. The surgery was the limit. I have to say again that the physical pain was overwhelming. When smashed on top of an already beaten down and very fragile self image and emotional state, physical pain is a burdening and destructive force.
She had nowhere to go but forward, and she brought us along with her.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
~C. S. Lewis