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Lament for My Mother, Florence

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

‘When I was a child, I spake as a child. …. My mother was angry when  I came home from secondary school with a grade D in maths class. Raging with frustration and fear, she railed, ‘You’ll never go to university. You’ll be just a secretary. What will you do with your life?” Good question. I had no idea what I’d do with my life. All I knew was wanting a life unlike hers, constricted as it was by not enough money and too many tasks. Along with working as a bookkeeper and rearing me and my sister., she tended her sick parents and kept my labourer-father from totally giving in to recurring despair.   It was a dismal time, that long-ago childhood. Would those long-ago turbulent memories would leave me. But childhood memories  don’t go away. My internalized mother doesn’t depart. Sometimes it’s as though I never left our drab living room with its large black and white television set, red bound copies of  Encyclopedia Brittanica and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, the green plush sofa with scratched wooden armrests, lamps that never fully lightened the yellow-beige interior. Hot Florida days when I had to water the lawn, trudging in the humidity in my schoolgirl shorts and badly cut hair. 5 o’clock meals of frozen peas and overcooked beef. The sight of medical paraphenalia in my grandmother’s back bedroom. What did I learn from my mother? That  I was smart though not pretty; my curiosity was a trial and my uneven temperament was cause for dismissal—but that something better was out there and I had to look for it. My mother gave me life but she couldn’t give me succor. My mother gave me goals but she had no balm for sadness. My mother wanted love but  knew I wouldn’t give it. My mother bade me go. I released her hand and left home. What can I give her now? Of course, I’m asking what to give myself as forgiveness for the hateful indifference I felt towards her. There’s a notion that the child can redeem the parent, his or her life making up deficiencies that came before. I don’t know that I’ve redeemed my mother’s life. When I knew her, whatever dreams she had were squashed by circumstance. But though she had so little, she asked for even less. As if to atone for her shortcomings as a parent, she was oddly self-sufficient and sought little from me or my sister. It came across as selfishness and disinterest in us. It still feels that way. She was never one to praise or delight in her daughters’ triumphs or soothe them in their pains.  As I reflect now, trying to understand what a child could not, perhaps her withholding was a way of protecting herself and us. Perhaps her mind whispered ‘don’t ask anything of Rose or her sister Maxine, nor of anyone else. Get on with it. Do it alone.’ What’s the point I want to make? Primarily it’s to acknowledge what I think is a truism: we never completely leave our mothers ,no matter how educated nor accomplished we are. If childhood is remembered positively, those memories are filled with pleasant longing, a desire to re-visit the past, . If childhood was fraught, we seek to obliterate it or at least  loosen its hold on how we see ourselves. The desire to soften the harshness of a bad childhood, to run from it, can smudge the adult as she struggles to grow up. Whether we wish to return to childhood figments or rub them out, our mothers remain until they vanish with our final leavetaking. Perhaps that’s why I want to atone for not loving my mother, whose name was Florence. I fear not being loved by those who may, at least for a little while, remember me.

Rose Levinson, Autumn 2018


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