My Mother's Hands
Because my twin brother and I were only two months old when our father left, I didn't hear the shock in my mother's voice when she picked up the phone and he told her he was moving out. I didn't hear her cry. I didn't understand the despair she felt as a suddenly single parent with no job, no money, and no help from her family or the government.
It was 1952, and the divorce rate then was four couples per thousand. No, that's not a typo. Per thousand. Suddenly she was not only in a minority, but also in a minority that at the time was looked down upon by the vast majority of society.
But my mom didn't curse God. Or even my father. (I was always amazed at how respectful she was of him as I grew older). She dried her tears and started business school. She became a career woman in the early 50's, a pioneer by circumstances, not by choice.
She was the thirteenth employee at First Federal Savings and Loan. She would ascend to the level of First-Vice-President before being forced to medically retire. Because of her accomplishment of opening almost 20 branch offices in one year in 1956, the Wall Street Journal did a story on her. Including their famous "pen and ink" picture on the front page! And she became the first woman "loaned executive" to the United Way in the United States. She rated an article about it, because it was such a breakthrough in business. But despite all she accomplished in business, her career was always secondary to her three sons, Joe, Jeff, and me.
Although she was solely responsible for supporting my brothers and me, she also got us involved in sports, took us camping, put posters of sports heroes up on our walls, and took us to see the Dodgers and Giants when they came to Phoenix for spring training. We got to see baseball greats like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (Yes I still have their autographs!). We met "Dizzy" Dean and Pee Wee Reece. At the time they were CBS baseball announcers—but if you've seen the movie, 42, you'll know the name, Pee Wee Reece. He was the Dodger short stop who put his arm around Jackie Robinson in one of the most famous sports photographs in history. (And yes, I have Dizzy and Pee Wee's autographs, too).
When I think of my childhood, my thoughts range over a thousand pictures. The ways her eyes would "brighten" every time she saw us as she drove home from work. The way she really LISTENED to you and acted like what you said was important—and it was to her.
But then came a number of pictures I remember that weren't so pretty: of her in doctor's offices. Then all the hospital stays. She had been stricken with rheumatoid arthritis when we were still in grade school. It would rob her of her career and more and more mobility by the time we were in high school.
She would end up with two artificial ankles, two artificial knees, two artificial hips, and an elbow replacement that didn't work—so they had to "freeze" that arm. Why two? Because surgical implants back in the 50's and 60's aren't what they are today. Her artificial ankle would shatter... and so another surgery to put a second ankle in. And on and on.
I saw my mother lose so much.
I cannot remember a single night growing up when she didn't cry out in pain. I'd get up sometimes, and walk to her bedroom door. I'd even open it slightly sometimes and peer in. She'd have rolled over and cried out in pain... but then gone back to sleep... until the next time.
But during that time, I also saw something else. Something that was and still remains in my mind and heart—a tremendous "blessing."
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