I wasn’t exactly my mom’s favorite. Oh, she tried to make sure I felt as loved as my younger sister, but even as a very young child I knew I wasn’t in the top running of my mom’s affections. I’ll admit it. I was a more difficult child who had mousy brown hair, manure green eyes (as a boy would later describe them), a ski-sloped Roman nose, and was not nearly as cuddly as my blue-eyed, blond-haired, perfectly straight-teethed younger sibling. (Not that I’m bitter .)
But my mom tried really hard. In an attempt to avoid the favored-child syndrome, she treated my sister and I exactly like twins. She dressed us alike, fixed our hair the same, and we had the exact same rules and consequences. If one child misbehaved, we both got the boot.
I think she was often lonely. My mom moved from sunny Arizona to the cold and frigid winters of Idaho. The entire rest of her clan stayed and lived within a few miles of each other back home. She was the only transplant. She told me once that in her patriarchal blessing she was told that she would be as “Ruth of old,” leaving her own family to live where her husband was and becoming a part of his family.
“Is that good or bad?” I asked.
“It’s all in how you look at it,” she replied. I often wondered how she looked at it. My father’s family was not an easy lot.
I remembered how she once told me about my sister’s birth. I was a “surprise!” after they thought they were finished with their family seven years earlier.
“What did you hope for?” I asked, cuddling into her arms one night.
“I hoped you were a girl.” I smiled, feeling happy that at least in that I had pleased her.
“If I was a surprise, what about my sister?”
“I told your father we needed to have another girl as a companion for you so you wouldn’t be alone.”
“Really? What did he say?”
“He said, ‘What if it isn’t a girl?’ ” With a track record of four boys in a row, he had a right to be dubious.
“I told him, ‘It’s going to be a girl.’ I knew that the next baby would definitely be a girl.”
She knew. Somehow she just knew, and 18 months later my younger “twin” sister was born.
My sister and I became best friends, companions in an often difficult home and family. Older siblings grew and left before we were even out of elementary school and they never looked back. We had a tired mother and dealt with a not-so-affectionate father who still lived with issues as a World War II vet.
But we both knew our mother loved us. She was tired and struggled with her weight and worried about money and wished at least one of her adult children would live closer. She missed her own sisters and picked up the pieces when her firstborn died as a young mother and helped to raise the grandchildren.
She wasn’t overly affectionate herself, hated heart-to-heart talks and overly sentimental movies and moments. But she loved us. She had a crush on Bert Reynolds and Steve McQueen and loved spaghetti westerns. She had a killer sweet tooth and our kitchen was always stocked with sweet rolls, and she was a regular at our local Dairy Queen for their ice cream bars.
As frightened as they were of our father, our friends were equally enamored with our mother. Our friends loved my mother. She made them laugh, made them feel special, and always welcomed anyone into our home no matter what they looked like or what they had done in their lives. She loved more and judged less.
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