MARY AND HER MOTHER, MARY NOELLA
Mary speaking …
Every time I see somebody who mistreats her mother, I think, if only you knew how it’s going to be when she’s gone, you wouldn’t do that.
It was Friday night, 11 o’clock, super foggy. I remember hearing the door close and the car go out. I’d gone downstairs and she was in the kitchen. She screamed at me to get back upstairs and leave her alone. It scared me when she said that to me. I was up the stairs and was gone. I think she had snapped from everything. Anyone can take just so much.
What I could never figure out was why Dad didn’t notice that the car was gone. We got up at 7. Donna [sister] got panicky and told my father who called the State Police. Dad called my grandmother and she and my grandfather both came up. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I was really messed up, very depressed at the time.
Dad sent me right away to the drugstore to get a prescription for some medication which he would take when he got the urge to drink. Then he took the beer bottles and dumped them down the kitchen sink.
Dad got the phone call from the police. She’d taken a wrong turn in the fog on a dirt road and landed in the gravel pit. The car sank in the soft sand enough that they had to tow it out. The farmer who owned the gravel pit was the one who had found her. If he hadn’t, I don’t know that anyone ever would have. It was so far off the road.
When I came back from the drugstore [with Dad’s medication], everyone was sitting there in tears. Nobody had to say a word to me. I knew what had happened. We all cried. It was just plain absolute shock. They said they’d have to send her to have an autopsy done if they didn’t know the cause. One of the doctors who did the autopsy said it was a major stroke.
I’m glad He took her when He did because she would have been a vegetable. She was under a lot of tension. Mom used to take in state kids for the extra money because they couldn’t make ends meet and she liked kids. I remember there were times there were seven of us in the house. The biological mother of three of the foster children would come over once a month and the three little boys turned into nightmares. The social worker said that she had done that with every foster situation.
Also, Dad was a drunk. He had been drinking. I always thought it was my fault. She had tried to get him some help but the psychologist said he had to ask for it himself. He would spend hours in the truck smoking cigars. After she died he went through the d.t.’s for quite a while, the shakes and shivers and the whole bit. He didn’t use A.A. He went cold turkey. I always give him credit for that, but it was a little late.
At the wake, when I saw her, I didn’t want to look––not watch as we were going in––didn’t want to admit it––deny the whole thing. That’s one of the stages of grief: denial. She had a hard expression on her face. She didn’t look peaceful at all. It made you realize that, yes, it really happened. You couldn’t deny it. It was there.
At that first wake––there were three––you’re starting to calm down and everybody comes in and gets you going again. Just have the funeral and get it over with. Having wakes just extends the grief. Donna helped Dad pick out the casket and headstone. There was a funeral Mass. She was a WAC, a veteran, but Dad wouldn’t allow the 21-gun salute. The VFW women who came to the funeral home presented the flag and went to the cemetery but he would not allow taps.
I was in pretty bad shape on medication––tranquilizers. I was working for the state with profoundly retarded children. I know I went right back to work, about a week after. It was the best thing I could have done, to take my mind off what had happened.
Right after she died I took over. Dad worked at night. I had to do it. Donna was at school. I worked and did the shopping, housekeeping, cooking, screaming and hollering at my brother. He was only 13 when she died. You could have heard us 10 miles down the road. It’s amazing we still get along. Dad slept days and worked nights. I’d call him up at night and have him tell Joe to do his chores.
Things were really bad with me after Mom’s death. My mind was set. I was starting to want to go. I used to go into my room and spend the whole weekend with the door locked. I used to talk to Mom constantly. I remember telling her, “I just want to have somebody like they’ve got.” Dad was dating T. and Donna was dating B. I’d never had a date. About three months before I met Larry [husband], I remember being really bad. I’m sure if he or somebody didn’t come along, I wouldn’t be here. I’d have come up with some means…
When Larry came along, I opened up. He would draw it out of me. I just needed somebody to talk to. I needed a place to vent. He was Mr. Right because it was just too coincidental. I’m sure if my father had listened, I’d have straightened out a lot quicker. The grieving just kept going and going. I was stuck in the stages of grieving. I couldn’t get rid of it. I was stuck in the grieving and the anger.
I can remember up until the time I was married I used to go to the cemetery all the time and talk to her. Right from the beginning, even before Larry. I must have realized something, or I wouldn’t have gone. It would have been a functionless mission, you might say. Nobody can tell me that’s the end of you. Something’s still floating around, and the ears must be working because when you say something, somebody hears you. You never forget, really. I always have the feeling somebody’s watching out and knows what’s going on.
A hard thing to forget is her in her casket. You can’t remember what she looked like, her face or her voice. But you remember how she looked in the casket. On Friday night when we were kids, we’d all get in the car and go to Meme’s for “Friday Night at the Movies”: family picnics, christenings, submarine base day. There was no sound. When we watch the home movies now, we sit there and say, “Hi, Mom.” And Meme will say, “Hi, Noella.” And we all tear up. In the movies it brings back a lot. When I see her, it’s what I’m trying to remember that I couldn’t picture myself. It’s like she’s been gone forever and ever. It’s a strange feeling. When we watch the home movies, it all comes back.
I remember blaming myself for a while. When she had gone to the psychologist, she came in my room, and I remember her asking me if I wanted her to leave him. I wish I had been less into religious ethics at the time. I said, “No, you shouldn’t get divorced.” My ideas about divorce have changed.
Mary was 22 when her mother died and was 40 at the time of the interview.