Today my Mom would have celebrated her 69th birthday. It is a beautiful milestone that this coming Mother’s Day I will be sitting in a cinema watching sing-along Sound Of Music, as it was the first movie she ever took me to.
She sat the whole time with her hand placed on the seat of the folding cinema chair, as I wasn’t then heavy enough to keep it open with my own body weight. I have an imprinted memory: looking down at her hand on the slightly-itchy upholstery. Long, slim, piano-playing fingers. I see them again, now, as I glance down at my keyboard.
We all have a story. My Mom’s, I found out after she died three years ago, wasn’t all it appeared.
Until I was in my 40s, I knew my Mom to be a spirited, single-parent who hadn’t made the best relationship choices, but battled on, even when debilitating illness struck. The single-mindedness she displayed didn’t truly surprise me, even though her stubbornness often caused me frustration.
I wasn’t surprised because of what I knew about her: in the 1960s, after oil was discovered in the vicious North Sea off England and Scotland, she was the Geology-degree holding woman who, in horrendous conditions, would fly out to the oil rigs. Women, in those days, did not sleep overnight on oil rigs. Just in case the bromide in the men’s rations didn’t hold, or some such malarky.
Born in 1971, this was the backdrop I grew up to. In whipping wind and sea spray, I imagined her standing on oil-rig platforms, legs planted. Doing what no other woman was doing. Little wonder I believed that I could achieve anything I turned my hand to. Not through any sort of prideful need to measure my own worth. But simply because that was my normal. Women drilled for oil, flew across a boiling sea in helicopters, strode confidently around drilling platforms and held PhDs in Geology.
Until she died. Quickly, painlessly, with dignity. And in the weeks that followed, as I sifted through papers, I came to understand it had all been a fabrication. No Geology PhD. No oil rigs. She had been a secretary within the Geology department at a local University. And had been told, no, women did not do that sort of study. And they certainly didn’t fly on helicopters to oil rigs.
Was I angry? Disappointed? I thought about those feelings for about a nanosecond. Then I laughed and laughed. My Mom had looked around at her world, at the story she was being told, and then looked down at me as a baby and quietly thought, “No. That’s not your story. I want you to have a better one. Without limits.”
This Sunday, if she is alive, hug your Mother. If she is no longer with you, send up a prayer of thanks. I will be sitting in a darkened cinema, singing along to The Sound of Music. When ‘Climb Every Mountain’ comes on, I will cry. Just a little. For the woman who gifted me the crampons, rope and vision to tackle cliffs, pikes and precipices.
Happy birthday, Mom, wish you were here.