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.
She worked full-time my entire life, and when she finally did retire after my fourth child, I was elated, anxious to finally have more of my mother’s time and attention. As the sixth child out of seven, I was ready to have some one-on-one time with her, to not have her tired at the end of a long work day, to not always have my sister tagging along on excursions. I loved my sister, but really .
But my mother died just a few short months after that in a car accident right beside my father.
I was angry and lonely about that for a long time. Just when I thought I would get more time with my mother without the distractions of work or siblings, she left. She left me alone. What kind of mother does that?
But slowly the tender mercies of the Lord began to seep in.
I remembered the nighttime cuddling and reading, falling asleep in her arms until my father carried us into our beds late at night. I remembered how she sneaked away from work during the day and stood in the very far back to hear me sing in a first-grade program. I remembered how she wasn’t comfortable saying the words of how good of a job I did in the high school play but instead came to every performance. But most of all I remembered the conversation we had about how she and God conspired to bring my best friend into the world. I remembered how she promised I wouldn’t be alone.
After their death, my sister and I leaned quite a bit on each other. We had four older brothers but they were — well — boys. We became each other’s mother, often giving comfort and advice but also knowing when one of us needed a swift dose of reality. We both have different aspects of our mother’s way about things.
She won’t indulge in my whining for very long, and when she asked about teething with her first baby, I shrugged my shoulders and said I couldn’t remember when it happened with my four. “You’ll figure it out,” I so compassionately offered. But we still talk and laugh and make fun of the rest of the world together.
I can still hear my mother’s voice telling me even now, “I gave you a sister so you wouldn’t be alone.” And despite feeling abandoned at times, or lonely for a parent, or missing the days when I used to fall asleep in my parents’ bed, I am grateful for the promise that I would never be left alone.
And I’m not.
Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer who has published articles in Belgium, Angola and the United States. She lives with her husband in Houston. Her website is at ramonasiddoway.com.