My Mother’s Shoes

My Mother’s Shoes — Vicki Panagotacos PhD, FT

Those shoes “above” are my mothers.

She wore them in 1917, two years before her father fell ill after inhaling hay dust during “haymaking season.” He died of pneumonia two weeks later. The death was not unusual as penicillin was yet to be discovered. What was unusual was my grandmother putting my 4-year old mother on her father’s bed and telling her she that she could make him well.

Obviously she failed.

After Pete’s death my mother insisted there was something wrong with her lungs, and continued to complain throughout high school. No physician could find a problem.

Today we would understand the toddler was somaticizing her grief (mimicking her father’s illness), and we would get her appropriate support before she actually became ill herself.

Ironically my mother started to developed pneumonia 2–3 times a year by the time she was 40. She died at 77 on steroids and oxygen.

“Smile and be nice, and you will be happy”

Surprisingly, when I think of my mother I don’t think of her as being ill. Instead I remember her as loving and above all — fun to be around.

With little money, she somehow gave me opportunities my more affluent friends took in stride. In retrospect, I realize her primary focus was on raising a decent kid who would feel comfortable with anyone anywhere.

She would often quip that if I wore clean underwear, smiled and was nice to people, life would treat me well. Certainly she knew better, but I now realize she was buying time to teach me to be resilient — by example.

Sadly we had a serious 5-year falling out when I was in college that plagued our relationship for decades.

Getting to know the woman called mother

Mothers aren’t always who we want them to be. Many mothers aren’t who we need them to be. Sometimes the mother/child relationship breaks over something senseless. Sometimes it’s best to break for the child’s sanity.

Thankfully ours didn’t, mainly because my mother agreed to write a family history because I had been told so little. I ended up with 350 pages of handwritten stories that went back to the late 1700’s. From those pages I came to know both my mother and grandmother as women and once that happened, my heart opened and old issues disappeared.

We don’t think of our mothers as having feelings except for those that revolve around us.

What do you know about your mother as a child…and as a young woman? Has she ever told you about when she was –

  • filled with joy
  • brought to tears
  • embarrassed
  • defeated
  • mistreated
  • proud
  • angry
  • self-conscious?

If she is still alive, why not get to know the woman underneath your mom? If your relationship is strained, knowing her better won’t always make things right, but you will better understand why things went wrong — and then you can get on with your life.

A reason to smile broadly

In the book Run by Ann Patchett, the central character is a young girl named Kenya whose mother is a cleaning lady in NYC. Kenya’s mother’s priority is to spend her hard earned money on taking Kenya to cultural events and lectures. Tragically the mother is killed by a car as they leave a Jessie Jackson speech.

Kenya runs, literally, to cope with the death of her mother. And as she continues to run people notice her grace and speed, and her life is forever changed.

As the book comes to a close, Kenya is getting used to being the focus of cameras. She decides to never let anyone take her picture without smiling broadly — because if her mother was willing to go through so much to give her what she thought would be a better life, the least she could do was look happy.

A real nice idea on this Mother’s Day, isn’t it

Note: I can’t recommend Run because it isn’t as tight as most Patchett novels, but if you love Patchett, and you love a sweet story, you might enjoy it.

Read a wonderful article about another pair of mom’s shoes:
 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/walking-home/

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