Goddam Pretty

When we were leaving that life,
we were so goddam pretty, so wildly young,—
two rumpled children, parked in a scratched
blue-light mini-bus just in time for collapsing dusk–
amid popcorn and coffee,
ransacking our kid’s diapers under the murky dome-light.

You were brown in corduroy, shimmery with blond locks,
climbing to the wheel and weaving the car
thoughtlessly, pelting in and out among the beetling trucks.
The memory pleads remember me
Though now the car is locked so tight,
its door ground shut with a set brace,
that I’m not allowed even a thank-you, anymore.
That’s a given.

To look twice in that uncurtained window
would be too much–
something like death, and I will not,
if it is going to smatter of goodbyes,
or anything like that, well, no, damn it!

Yet the fiercely demanding memory
shifts the years once more however they grind and scrape,
to wherever you are,
and once again you are calming the kids as only you know how,
shaking out your shimmering hair,
taking the driver’s seat,
and turning the wheel faithlessly,
moving us away like long ago messengers to the North.

© 2015 by Andrew Glaze, from Overheard In A Drugstore

When my mother died in 2007, my sisters and I discovered a copy of this poem in her purse. It was in a zip-lock bag with other personal documents she seemed to feel were important to carry around on a daily basis. The only reason I can think of for this is that it reminded her that someone besides her children cared about her.  And the only way she could have had a copy was because my father wanted her to read it and sent it to her.

Ten years apart in age, I realized early on that theirs was a sort of Pygmalion/ My Fair Lady relationship. 

Extremely immature and desperate to escape the suffocating sheltered life she had at home, my mother had started off wanting to be a classical pianist until she was told she had the skills but not the gift. At that point she switched to acting.  She attended Birmingham Southern College and met my father in a campus choir.  They married, moved into an apartment, and she missed graduating by a single semester when she became pregnant with me. According to my father they’d originally agreed to wait a couple of years. According to her she had morning sickness every day.

Thus began a periodic pattern in my mother’s life, of blissfully unaware self-sabotage. She craved independence, but struggled more with her fear of it. Much later, in her 50’s, she decided to go back to school and finish her degree.  She got all the way up to one final course paper at Columbia University and even got an extension from the Professor.  In the end, she just couldn’t get past her own perfectionist demands and never submitted it.

My father once commented that he’d married her partly out of fear of what she might do in her desperation for freedom from her parents.  She later told me that she’d left parents, who constantly covered every mud puddle in her path to keep her safe, only to marry a man who did exactly the same thing.  She craved the freedom to make her own mistakes.

By the time I was 36, I’d already guessed that she divorced my father out of a need to establish her own identity.  The two of us had a deep conversation that summer and I asked if I was right?  She replied, “You are very perceptive” and revealed that when I was a baby. “I’d take you for walks and say we were walking all the way to New York City”.  She eventually got there with my father; it was the courage to do it on her own that she lacked. She said she felt at home the moment our Greyhound bus crossed over a bridge and she saw the Manhattan skyline.  My father said something similar many years later.

She went on to explain that when she met my stepfather it gave her a bridge that made it easier to break up with my father although her original goal was to strike out on her own.  “But then I got pregnant, and every time I got pregnant my brain went into a fog and I became helpless.” In reality, it wasn’t quite that simple. In 2004 I discovered another factor in her psyche. It was the day after a major family event when my father, mother, and siblings, were all sitting together in a garden.  My father suddenly turned to me and quietly said, “You know, I just remembered something.  When I first got together with your mother she said she wanted to have five children.  It just dawned on me that she did.”

Despite the hurt of her asking for a divorce, my father and mother maintained a good relationship and deep bond for the sake of my brother and I. Both parents attended major events and my half-siblings joined me for occasional sleepovers at my father’s place. My mother had a well-placed sense of trust in him. When her mother passed away, she called my father to tell him (he’d continued to maintain a good relationship with her parents), and he and my stepmom loaned her the money to travel South for the funeral.  Years later, in her 70’s, she decided to invest in dentures. “I wanted to be sure I looked like myself, and tried to think of who I could take with me that would remember what I originally looked like.  And then I suddenly thought of your father. So I called him and he agreed to meet me for the fitting.”  Truth be told, he was flattered she’d asked.

Her relationship with my stepfather was ill-matched, tempered by a shared interest in the theater-world, world travel, and their children. When his theater troupe permanently returned to the US, they grew distant. Although, as she explained on the night we had our in-depth conversation, “Being married gave me a sense of security, but the fact that he was never there meant I was forced to do everything for myself and made me learn to become independent.  It was by being married to someone with a totally different value system that I finally learned what my own value system was”.

By the time she was 55, all five of her children had gown and she was an empty-nester.  After four years of looking after her aging father in Alabama, she longed to return “home” and would call to see how my wedding plans were going.  One night after we hung up, it occurred to me that she could live with me for free until then, look for a job, save some money, and take over my inexpensive Manhattan apartment when I joined my future husband in Denver. She arrived on a Saturday night three weeks later, went for a walk, noticed a “Help Wanted” sign at a Thrift Shop 3 blocks away, and was hired on Monday.

She was the happiest I had ever seen her. With some amount of shock I remember realizing, “My mother, at the age of 55, is now reaching a level of maturity, self-confidence, and independence that I attained in my late 20’s.” I suddenly felt like a wise scholar observing a student. That was the moment when I forgave any resentment I’d had about the divorce. Given her freedom, she became a patient and non-judgmental sounding board for the five of us. She also went on to become a wonderful grandmother to her six grandchildren.

The ironic thing is, by the time she died, she’d become interested in writing, was taking courses for it, and was writing a book – although she struggled to find a satisfactory ending for the plot. An avid reader, her apartment living room resembled a library, and she loved attending theater performances.  She even had a small record player and the last album she listened to was the same “Little Abner” original Broadway cast musical that she’d played over and over again when I was 8 years old.  She’d come full circle back to the interests that she shared with my father.  The difference was, this time it was on her own terms.

—-E. Glaze

Photos were taken by Peggy Avadon. I was told she was a cousin of Richard. One of the summer stock actors knew her
Photo by Peggy Avadon, 1960.

1951
Dorothy Elliott (Glaze) Shari, in 1951, with Elizabeth Glaze. Photo by Andrew Glaze.
Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

620475_4263266189434_2049550616_o
With her three daughters on a rooftop in Manhattan in 1976.
Photo © by Marcia Caro,

 

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