How It Was When My Mother Died: Chapter 14


Hannah speaking …

She’d been in the hospital about a year. She had had a stroke before going into the hospital. She was paralyzed on one side of her body. What she died of was cancer of the lungs. She never herself smoked. She died three days before my father was put in the hospital with leukemia. In fact he was not even released to come to the funeral. I was 13.

I had a sister Joyce, who had died the year before I was born. She had died of pneumonia. She was born on June 8 and died in January of the next year.

We’d had a fire at the farm in South Paris and a lot of those kinds of records were destroyed. We rebuilt and we stayed there until I was about ready to start school. In August 1943 we moved to Norway [Maine] so I could go to school. My father was working in Norway in a managerial position. We lived in an apartment; it was quite different. We were kind of cooped up. We were used to having acres and acres of land.

I remember I had measles the first Christmas. At that point my mother wasn’t working. Lots of times my father would need help at the shoe factory. She would go in and help out for a time. I can remember my mother always being there. We always had somebody at the house. It was an open thing. We had a furnace about that high [indicating with her hand]. On top of that there was always a coffee pot––always moisture, always plants. The house was always open; I could invite umpteen friends in.

We bought a house … and I remember that furnace there … lots of room. That impressed me more because we’d been in that apartment. We had a big barn, lots of cats. My mother was always cooking. I could always smell something baking in one of those big black stoves.

My grandparents came to live with us then, in 1947, three or four years before my mother died. It was probably just before the winter. Maybe my grandfather and grandmother weren’t able to take care of the farm or didn’t want to stay there in the winter. They had lived at a farm at the end of our dirt road in South Paris. I remember the ruts. I’m assuming––I don’t remember the farm after that––my mother and dad sold their farm and my grandparents sold their farm too. I remember the apple trees.

A year or so before my grandparents came to live with us, we bought a two-story cottage in Norway on Pennessawassee Lake. It had a huge living room. It had a woodstove in the kitchen and one of those hand pumps. It had an organ in the living room, which my mother played. There was a big fireplace. We’d go there Memorial Day weekend and we’d stay there until October.

My mother loved to fish. She’d go down, sit on the dock and fish for hornpout. She’d cook them. Fish chowder, that was one of her specialties. That and nissu. We had a big boathouse there and a big inboard boat. There was a big island across the way. We had a canoe.

Mom got sick and we didn’t go back to the cottage anymore. That was in ’47-’48. I was about 10 years old. Up until that time, the house had been open, people always in at holiday time. I remember everyone always there––Grand Central Station. More than anything I remember her having to lay in a middle room. My father brought down a bed. She was always within the downstairs. When she talked it was out of the left side of her mouth. It was as though she had a line down the middle of her body.

At that point people would come in to see her, but the gaiety of the household left. I didn’t feel as free to bring home my friends as I had before. My grandmother was taking care of my mother, and of course I would do it as I recall now.

My grandmother died in 1949. My grandfather was still there, but after he remarried and moved to Hebron, it wasn’t long after that that my mother went to the hospital in Lewiston. I went three or four times a week for a year. If anybody was going to Lewiston, they would stop in at the school and the principal would let me go. The same with my father when he was at the osteopathic hospital in Portland. My father had leukemia, so he needed blood, and people would go down to donate blood and I could go with them.

When my mother was in the hospital, I remember thinking every time I saw her that she looked thinner. I remember her face going away to nothing. I think she weighed 87 pounds when she died. The first visits were better. Sometimes I’d sit there and read stories, or if I knew I was going, I’d have made a picture or a card. I tried never to let on how hard it was not having her at home. It was just small talk. I don’t ever recall having mother-daughter conversations.

I had a sense she wanted to die much earlier than she did. She knew she would never be out of the hospital. I think when she knew Dad was in the hospital, that was just the last straw. I guess she just kind of gave up at that point. I remember her saying at one point that she was glad my grandfather had found someone to share his life with.

But we had some good times when she was alive. We’d go down to watch them cut the ice. There was a huge ice house there. I remember the sawdust for the ice boxes. I remember the black stove, always something coming out of it as far as food is concerned. She used to make a pineapple cookie, and again, coffee. I remember drinking coffee at a very young age.

My mother died in the hospital. I was at home. In fact it was the minister that came. He was the Congregational minister at the time. I knew when she died. I had that same feeling––dream intuition––when Dad died. I guess that’s why, I just knew it had happened. I suppose I did have something to do with the funeral arrangements but I don’t remember. I remember riding in the car with my father’s brother. It was at a funeral home in Norway that is in South Paris now.

I can remember, thinking back, thank God we had Blue Cross Blue Shield. In fact that’s where most of the estate went––paying the bills. I know I had the feeling of, thank God she’s not suffering anymore.

After she died we sold the house and went back into an apartment on Main Street because Daddy couldn’t keep up the house. At that point I was pretty much a loner. I had to learn to depend on myself. I had two close friends. The mother of one of them eventually took me in and I lived with them until my Dad died. I was a week alone after my mother died, just wondering what I was going to do. I remember Mrs. K. coming and saying, you can’t stay here. At that point I guess I was stunned, numb, realizing she’d gone, but also realizing she was at peace and I wouldn’t have to make those trips anymore.

I remember her deteriorating each time I went to see her. I don’t think I was able to cry at that point. I knew she was there. I knew she was alive. It wasn’t as though she’d been a part of my life, it was a going to see her. What I missed most was the lack of people around after her death. When I stop and think of all the people I traveled with at that point, I was fortunate nothing happened to me.

I stayed with the K.s until Dad died, less than a year later, and then I went to live with my uncle. Going to live there was the worst experience of my life. There were mostly boys and one girl younger than I. I was expected to do the work in the house. I’d go to school and off to a job in the afternoon. I remember watching out the windows for the mail to come and knowing I was supposed to get a letter. A lot of times I didn’t get my mail when I was expecting it. I was there from the end of ninth grade through my senior year. He never per se hit me but I saw him many a time hit my cousin.

I guess I never remember my mother as a young person. She always seemed old but she was always there. The last gift I recall was an alarm clock she gave me. I don’t have it. After we sold the house, a lot of that stuff went. I have three things that were hers: a silver tray with a sugar and creamer and an electric coffee pot, and I have a Finnish doll. It’s in a pillow case because it’s so old it’s falling apart. I have a Finnish costume. I have a wooden candy dish that says Finland on the bottom.

The thing I remember most is I see her fishing. I do see that in dreams. I remember shelling peas so often with her. The family always had a garden. We always did it outside. We were outside people. She was a people person. That’s carried over with my own children. They always felt they could bring their friends home.

What I connect with my mother? Love.

She always wore her hair back in a bun. It was gray. She wore very little makeup. She had blue eyes and was about five feet, five feet one. I remember towards the end she was losing a lot of her hair, probably because of the disease. I remember her cancer was different from Daddy’s. He had big sores on his legs. She was on so much medication at the end that I’d go and sit there and we wouldn’t even talk.

She’s still there. We go up two or three, sometimes four times a year to the cemetery––the perpetual idea in the bushes, which are there with her all the time. The thing that bothers me the most is that my children never got to know her, and she never got to know them.

She was just always there and then she wasn’t.

Hannah was 13 when her mother died and 52 at the time of this interview.

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