Every year at this time, I celebrate Mother’s Day early. This year, it’s even more special.
One hundred years ago, on Friday the 13th of April, a baby girl was born in Hibbing, Minnesota to a newspaper printer named Leslie Carr and his wife, Sara. They’d already had a girl, a boy, and a girl–in that order–so they assumed the next one would be a boy. They hadn’t thought to come up with a name for a girl. For two weeks, the baby had no name. Finally, they came up with Dorothy but the effort to think of a female middle name was apparently too much for them.
Little Dorothy George Carr finally had a name.
My mother used to love telling that story. She thought having George for a middle name was an amusing mark of distinction, and even gave the name to her beloved miniature pinscher. (BTW, George bit me once. I never forgave him.)
Mom was a middle child, with two boys coming after her, and like so many others born in-between, she felt neglected, especially by her mother. Her older sister, Ruth, was Gramma’s favorite. All the boys came next. Mom was the pudgy one, the one who wound up taking care of everybody else. I used to look at her dark, soulful eyes staring sadly out from old photos. Was I the only one who saw her pain?
Genevieve, the oldest, became ill at age twelve with what was then known as sleeping sickness. Gramma turned to prayer in response but it did not save her firstborn. Twenty-five years later at age 37, Aunt Genevieve died, having spent almost her entire young life in bed. During much of her own teens and 20s, my mother was Genevieve’s caregiver.
Fast-forward to 1980. Mom died a few days after Mother’s Day, of cancer and/or diabetes–it’s hard to say which one got her first. She was only 64. A stroke had already left her paralyzed on her left side, a cruel joke after she’d cared for my stroke-crippled stepfather for the last five years of his life.
So much sadness, yet you would never guess it if you’d known her. She worked hard, laughed a lot and made others laugh too. She loved with all her heart and she put up with no shit. I was the lucky recipient of her unconditional love.
In my childhood days before air conditioning, the color of Mom’s left arm was mismatched with her right in summer, always dark brown from resting out the car’s open window as she commuted to and from work every day. She loved to drive. We often took day trips to the woods, or visited Lake Superior’s North Shore, and once, drove all the way to Yellowstone and back. That was an epic trip that eventually led me to do what I’m doing now, living and traveling in my van.
I think of my mother often when I’m driving, especially when I visit the mountains. When I remember the snow-capped Grand Tetons, Mom taking my snapshot as I posed throwing a snowball in June, I have to wipe a tear away. (I wish I still had those old photos to share with you but they’ve been lost to time.)
I miss her. But I know she would approve and be happy for my new life. I like to think she’s along on this journey with me, that I’m doing this in part for her.
They say that when you die your loved ones are waiting to greet you. I hope that’s true.
Happy Birthday, Mom. See you soon.