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Mom deserved more than she got

When my siblings and I were growing up, we would sometimes whisper among ourselves that we “must be adopted.” We could not imagine our parents in any kind of situation that required close physical contact, let alone — may I say — copulating.

My dad consistently called her “mommy.” My mother’s phrase was “when your father gets home.” That said, while he was on the road in one of the various sales positions he had throughout our growing-up years, she did not really refer to him much at all.

They married late in life. My mother was college-educated but never employed out of the home — in reflection I realize that was my dad’s preference, not hers. From my vantage point she managed the household thoughtfully on always-limited resources relying on a large garden and an abundant use of store coupons. My dad was a good man and a willing provider; I know he cared, but it was not on display.

When my father got home, he would immediately plop himself in his recliner, feet elevated, a pipe at the ready, newspaper in hand and the evening news on full blast. The pipe, ashtray and tobacco were carefully laid out for him the morning of his return — even though I knew my mother hated the smell. It was not until dad put his lit pipe in his shirt pocket and almost started himself on fire that she made her position known.

If my father had been on the road any length of time, we knew that the dinner would be something he really liked — canned fish balls with potatoes in cream sauce and freshly picked bib lettuce, topped with vinegar and sugar was usually a good guess.

Like many mothers in the 1950s, mine put her husband and children’s needs first. I remember realizing one Christmas Eve as we opened gifts — we all had some, but mother had none. It apparently did not occur to my father to gift her; my siblings and me were too young at that point in life to tend to her as she deserved.

They slept with their bedroom door open at night. And as my brother and sister and I would fall asleep in our nearby bedrooms, we would hear my mother summarizing for my dad with the events of the day, or week, and his responding grunts, until he finally said something that sounded like “Enough!” and the next thing you heard was him snoring.

The only truly tender exchange I witnessed was “I love you” scrawled in red lipstick in my father’s handwriting on the dresser mirror in their tiny bedroom. It appeared when I was about 12 and stayed there until I went off to college.

They were married for over 40 years. She was the patient presence in their marriage and the tender center for our family — never acknowledged enough; never heralded in the way she deserved.

So today, dear lovely and long-suffering mom, I gift you with loving remembrance. I salute you and the mothers of your era for your uncomplaining approach to life and the strong foundation you consistently provided. Love and gratitude abounding.

Sharon Johnson is daughter, mother, stepmother and grandmother. She can be reached at sharjohn99@gmail.com.