Today was the end of a long road for a special person in my life. No amount of money, time or effort could ever repay this person who through the years sacrificed just about everything she could to meet my needs and keep me safe from all that which the world can throw at you.
Life is seldom fair and there were ample opportunities to see that first hand as I grew up. Mom was the youngest of 9 children born into a life before the 1929 depression. Once the economy tanked in her little town, dad said adios leaving her and his wife behind. From then on her mom provided for those still at home. It was a mixture of working odd jobs and taking care of chickens which provided eggs for them. Her mom took on the unenviable task of cooking for men lumbering for the WPA.
As she entered her teens, she was athletic and became a part-time life guard. All the brothers were older. When WWII broke, all that could went into the service. She being the youngest, needed to finish her education. She went on to graduate high school, the only one in her family to achieve that distinction. The girl had spunk.
The war ended, she soon finished school and after working a few years cleaning up at a TB sanitarium, she thought small town life wasn’t going to pay her way into a fiscally secure future. One brother had moved to Chicago and took up with a small cadre of ex-soldiers. She was invited to move and without hesitation it was goodbye to the Prairie Home Companion lifestyle and ‘Hello Chicago’.
Mom wasn’t much of a party girl but knew how to hold a conversation and attract men. Pretty, quick-witted and athletic, she soon gained a following, but not good at picking the right type of men. She wasn’t looking for Robert Young, rather ended up with a Gig Young. With an optimism perhaps only sustainable with youth, she married my father. The only thing that came out of that relationship of any value was me. Dangerous and impulsive, once he drank, my mother became a target for his forceful, abusive and aggressive behavior.
One evening in 1956, she had enough and rather than wait for him to arrive home in the late evening or early morning, she packed bags and promptly took us on a train journey lasting more than 12 hours in the winter. Frost was on the interior windows as I drew designs with my fingers on the glass. It was my etch-a-sketch, whenever the drawing filled the window, I could wait awhile and the frost would reform or I could accelerate the process with my breath.
Arriving in the frozen darkness, we were greeted by a school friend who drove to the station in her hand-cranked Ford. How she ever got that started must have been a miracle if you’ve ever experienced starting anything with hand or kick-start while it’s 10- 20 below zero. We arrived at her mom’s house and for the next year I lived with grandma and aunt. I later found out this was excellent preparatory training for the Marine Corps as her older sister was meaner than most of my drill instructors.
After a year of living with broom Hilda and her mother, mom came and swept me back to the ‘big city of Minneapolis’. We lived in a shared room at a boarding house with only men down the hall and a woman running the house. In a relatively short time we moved next door into another home sectioned off as apartments. This was upscale for me as I didn’t have to share a bathroom with as many people. For the next 7 years her life and mine were as connected as two people can get having to share the same room and only getting a small amount of privacy trundling down the hall to a shared bathroom. Timing was everything and one hoped not everyone in the same house came down with a bug simultaneously.
Slowly as I grew up, I started to realize I was making decisions for both of us. They say men have it stressful because they’re the providers and need to work to support themselves and their family. That may be true to an extent but there’s a lot of women doing the same and being paid small wages because their contribution isn’t as valued. I watched the stress and the strain creep up on mom just as a thief, robbing her of many of life’s pleasures. Hers wasn’t an isolated situation, there were many single parents struggling to provide, nurture and protect their children.
Mom was a tender leaf in a world of leaf blowers and many of those were men. I acquired a more coarse response to the world in which we lived, but as an outgrowth of that experience it probably made me a different parent. I vowed that if I ever raised daughters, they were not going to be wall flowers. They would have employment skills but most of all, they were never going to be a second class citizen. Perhaps the men in my daughters paths today aren’t thanking me, but after witnessing how my mom was patronized, criticized and reduced to a barely coping human, I didn’t want that to be their legacy. I find sometimes people treat animals better than humans.
I was helped today by two of my children living within the area. Each of them came down and helped pack the last of her belongings. We talked and I reminisced a bit about my childhood. I lamented that I was an obstreperous, cunning son but fortunately she wasn’t aware of most of the things I did when in my later teen years. I hoped that I gave her more pleasure than pain.
Age and instability caught up with this little sweetheart. I knew things were not going well when she no longer wanted to go anywhere or see her great-grandchildren. The past three weeks, she no longer seemed interested in visiting with me. I wanted to deny it, but the end was near.
Today as I approached her bed, I knew she was no longer in the room. That spirit was gone. I walked up to an empty shell, formerly my mother and wept for a moment uncontrollably. You hear of soldiers in the battlefield weep for their loss of comrades and of course that’s true. Today I lost more than a mom, I lost that comrade, that soldier in life who bore my burdens at an age I was unable. She fought the good fight in a never-ending war of attrition for us all.
May God hug that dear soul even for a moment and tell her she will be missed by a son, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Some thoughts from her grandchildren.
Violet Ione Livingston – Sept. 4, 1928 – November 4, 2013. My last blood-related grandparent passed away today, at 12:05 p.m. The youngest of nine children, she outlived her siblings. She loved the Vikings, Twins, Falcons, and Braves, reading mystery novels, and fudge. She remembered birthdays, bought Christmas gifts even when living on Social Security, and made a mean German chocolate cake. Goodbye, Grandma.
I am grateful for my grandma Violet. I am grateful for grandparents and parents, but this is for her. She was always a ray of sunshine despite a lifetime battling a personal struggle. She remembered every birthday and as a little child she really listened to me where most adults just made the equivalent of small talk. She was a wonderful, amazing woman. I’m proud of her and happy she is at peace. I love you grandma!
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost