Friday, September 9, 2011

The Way We Were

This weekend, the country will be observing the anniversary of 9-11.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we do so.  It has been a decade since the act of terrorism that violated our territory and our collective psyches.  Healing has come slowly.  Many dreams and possibilities were buried at ground zero. 

Sometimes it is hard to re-visit the past, in spite of its therapeutic value.  I’m not always sure if it binds wounds or re-opens them.  Some seek closure.  Some seek memorials to honor the fallen. But some questions can never be answered, and some justice will be delayed until a higher Court pronounces a verdict.  Perhaps that is as it should be.

This weekend our family will also observe anniversaries. It, too, is most appropriate.  Saturday, 9-10-11, is my mother’s birthday.  One hundred years ago, she was born in Monroe, Utah, the third daughter of Kate and Sam Dorrity. 

The world has never been the same since.

The world was different then.  In-door plumbing was almost non-existent, and the telephone was a scarce commodity.  These were the pre-Steve Jobs days.  There was no Great Depression, holocaust, or Wars To End All Wars. And at this point, the Titanic had not sunk.  Life, if not exactly pristine, was, nevertheless, more innocent.

It is never easy to write tributes.  My mother wouldn’t have wanted that anyway.  So I will reminisce instead.  It’s far more joyful.

Mom was a maverick, and a true Independent, who ignored people who said it couldn’t be done.  She raced ahead, even where there were no paths.  I guess that could be considered foolhardy.  I always thought it was courageous.  She was actually a healthy balance of both.

Growing up with my mother was singular.  She didn’t think outside the box.  She threw the box away. 

She played the piano and the ukulele by ear, and could rock the standards of the day after hearing them just once.  Her favorite times were when the entire family gathered around the piano to sing songs like “Shine On Harvest Moon,” “I’m Alone Because I Love You,” “Two Little Blue Birds,” and “Try A Little Tenderness” in four-part harmony.  The song fest always concluded by swinging “Up A Lazy River” followed by “THE DUET” with Auntie Ferd playing the top hand.  These were the Dorrity songs, and woe be to any self-respecting family member who did not know by heart the lyrics from “Two Flies,” whose chorus told of insects who would “phhhhhht in the whiskers of the grocery man.”

Mom’s name is Bernice, but everyone called her Necie.  That is, until our daughters were born.  And then she was simply and always “Yaya.” 

As part of Erin and Brodi’s training, Yaya taught them to play the ukulele.  Even as tiny girls, they could strum the strings and strut their stuff while belting out “Five Foot Two” and “I Want To Be A Pal of Yours.”  My Mom’s particular anthem, however, was “Flamin’ Fanny,” with lyrics laced with double entendres, which made it all quite racy.  What a trio the three of them made. 

Although I was raised in an era when mothers wore high heels and pearl necklaces as they prepared the nightly dinners, my mother steadfastly refused to be locked into such stifling stereotypes.  She was no cook, and dang proud of it.  She figured if God had meant for women to cook, He wouldn’t have invented TV dinners.  There’s a certain logic to that that I have passed on to my daughters with stunning success.  But she made the best “Dorrity” coffee in the world, a temptation that to this day I consider an inspired addiction.  The angels in heaven would surrender their halos for one cup of that nectar.

My mother was a single parent, my parents’ marriage being a casualty of circumstance and imperfections.  Raising two kids alone was a challenge I appreciate more each day.  Understanding my life backward has given me great insight.

For instance, she taught me that I was not the product of a “broken” home.  The marriage was broken, but the home was whole.  Indeed, it was. In fact, she wrote a paper for a college class defending the institution of divorce where necessary.  This was radical for the times.  Larry and I were instructed that oil and water do not mix, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t good oil and good water.  We grew up respecting our father as well as our mother.

Mom always advised me to work a little and play a lot, again flying in the face of industriousness addiction.  I sometimes forget that nugget of wisdom, much to my own detriment.

She had absolutely no use for titles, celebrity or social caste systems.  Once, while she dated Wallace Beery, a famous movie star of the era, he asked her if she wanted his autograph.  She replied, “No, but I’ll give you mine.” 

And the best advice she gave me as a mother was, “Never get too tired to say No.”  I remembered that, much to the frustration of my adolescent daughters.

When Mom left us, we gathered around her bed with our ukuleles and sang with great conviction “Five Foot Two,” “I Want To Be A Pal of Yours,” and, of course, “Flamin’ Fanny.”  Passersby would have thought there was a great celebration taking place inside that little home on Chicago Street.  They would have been right.

So on 9-10-11, we will place roses on her grave and spend the day in simple gratitude for those who grace our lives with their light and make this world so lovely.  


LeAnn said...

What a sweet post on your mother. I don't have a day go by that I don't think about my mother, father or brother. I remember well your home on Chicago street. When we first moved back I went for a drive out to Rose Part to look at the homes we lived in, the schools and other places I went to often. It was a little sad; but did spark some memories which was good.
By the way I spent many hours in Monroe playing with my cousins who lived there. I loved that little town.
Love to you and I will see you at lunch next week.

paula said...

Beautiful post and I say ....amen.