Category Archives: Mom

Mother

There is something about this introduction to This is Love that freakishly makes me think of my mother.


Introduction to the This Is Love podcast

Freakishly, in that I wonder if other people have similar flashes on the things their parents gave up for them? It’s not that my mom ever quantified her sacrifice for the children she had, at least not consciously or as an attempt to persuade. I know some people have had that experience, I’ve had the experience myself with other relatives. Our grandmother would tell us she was dying each year around Christmas, and oh, this might be your last chance to see me. Don’t you remember how I made time for you when you were growing up? We would laugh and roll our eyes, and then try to make time to visit at some point during the season.

But not mom, at least not when she was parenting us. Guilt never seemed to work for us. I remember distinctly her wanting us to clean our plates at mealtimes while I was still in primary school, and so she put a coin jar in the center of the table labeled for the starving children in other countries. We had a great laugh at that as we crammed food into the slot on the jar. That is the one time I remember her attempting to guilt us into anything and it failed, spectacularly.

When I was a teenager and could finally drive and own my own car, I would take long, meandering drives in the country, sometimes for several hours at a time, just listening to music. I’m not sure what I was looking for out there on the road. Release from the pressures of herding three other children around, most likely. On a few occasions mother grew concerned about my spending so much time alone, and so I invited her to come along on a drive with me, just so she could see what I was doing.

While we were out there together, me just driving aimlessly, we would talk. Mom and I could always talk. We’d talk for hours on the phone sometimes. I never could recall the particulars of any of our conversations, it was always small talk. Just impressions of concerns of the day, plans for the future. Musings about the days gone by. It is these times that come to mind when I listen to the story of the mother spider calling its children to itself, sacrificing herself to them so that they could survive. Feeding herself to them on purpose.

Mom was an artist before we children were born; or more precisely, before I was born. She left college to travel with her then-husband, my father, going overseas for the first time in her short life. I can imagine what her hopes must have been like at the time. Visiting places in Europe, possibly even going to Paris. She did talk to me about wanting to visit Paris, as I sat in vigil with her over the last months of her life. It wasn’t the first time we had talked about her young dreams, I know. I know because in those long drives as a restless teen she had told me of her dreams when she was a restless teen. Traveling. Painting. Exploring the world. I can picture her in Europe right now if I close my eyes, sipping coffee at a cafe near a river, trying to decide which scene deserved her artistic attention.

But that never happened. Instead she had me, and her husband didn’t prove to be much of a father, so she left him within six months of my birth. She married the man I called father for my entire life and eventually settled with him in the middle of the Kansas plains, pretty much as far away from the lights and glamour of Parisian culture as it is possible to get. She set about raising me and the three children that followed me, burying a miscarriage somewhere along the line. When dad’s wayward eye got him in trouble about the time I turned thirteen, she simply switched to the next person she thought could keep her children fed. And so on.

She worked her fingers to the bone at odd jobs as a single parent at the time that inspired this writing, when I was a senior in high school and then attending the local trade school. Two, three jobs at a time if required. She never complained, other than to say how tired she was. Never guilted us about what she gave up so that we could live. She just set about getting from where we were today to where we would be tomorrow, a progression in time that saw us all graduate high school. Some of us went on to college and all of us eventually had children of our own. She helped raise those children, none of us ever asking her if this was what she wanted to spend her life doing. Never once.

Until the end of last November, when her world crashed down around her. Stage four transitional cell carcinoma. Months to live. She could have gotten treatment. She could have still been here with us. She couldn’t pay for the treatment. She wouldn’t even dream of asking us to pay for it, and she didn’t want the government to pay for it. In some weird way, she thrummed her web, and we great mass of the living consumed her without even questioning why things had to be this way.

Now she’s gone. I have become the eldest of our little band of misfits, a natural leadership role that I never wanted and go to great lengths to avoid when I can. What form is the web that I’m now the center of? Will I be called to sacrifice myself to the greater good? Do I want that to happen? Do I have a choice? …And I can still see her youthful, hopeful face among the crowd that I envision along the banks of the Seine. Sipping coffee and deciding what to paint next. If I could tell her one thing now, what would that one thing be? Paint as if your life depended on it. Because ultimately it does.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

This poem ran through my head for weeks as I watched my mother slowly fade away. As I watched my dad die. It is the only answer I have.


Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Copyright © 1997-2002 by The Academy of American Poets

(Yes, I realize that posting the poem here constitutes a probable breach of copyright. The widget that allows for embedding the poem does not function. I would happily use that function if it worked. It would have been easier.)

Barbara Ann Polk 1941-2018

Barbara Ann Polk left this earth on February 9th, 2018 to be with the angels, while in the company of her family. Born June 8, 1941 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she was her mother’s youngest child and her father’s second child. Barbara moved many times in her life, Sacramento, CA; Leoti, KS; Sweetwater, TX; San Angelo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; and Buda/Austin, TX. She graduated from Angelo State University in 1992 with an RN and worked as a nurse and hospice care supervisor for many years. She was preceded in death by her mother – Lucille R. Lavo Zonge, her father Randolph Daniel Zonge Sr., her stepmother, Marie Mendler Zonge, and her brother Kenneth L. Zonge. She is survived by her brother, Randolph Daniel Zonge, Jr.; her children: Ray Anthony Steele, Jonnette Ann Kraft, Dawn Marie Wostal, John Russell Steele and her seven grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren. The family will have a private memorial service for her in the fall. She requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to World Vision. (www.worldvision.org)

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It Is Not Fair.

It is not fair.
The strongest of women, the weakest of which are stronger than any man while lying on their backs receiving the obeisance of men succumbing to their own mortal lusts.
She was the strongest of women, now struck down by the power of creation itself.
The mad hatter of genomic mutation, cancer, consuming her from inside.
She who could not be broken breaks herself from inside.
It.
Is.
Not.
Fair.
But she succumbs anyway.
Fair is not a word nature understands.
She who consumes the innocent and the guilty, the survivor and the wretched fool alike.
Nature claims her anyway, fair or not.
The hands that raised a multitude, struck down by simple time.

Sitting a Vigil

It’s four in the morning. I’m holding my mother’s frail hand in mine, for one last time. It is warm still. I’m trying, in what I’m certain is a vain attempt, to communicate with what little is left of her. What little the cancer hasn’t already eaten. Trying to let her know that we love her.  That we know she loves us, but it really is time to go. The curtains are closing. Silence is descending.

“Rage against the dying of the light?”

The light is gone. The rage is spent. The breaths are ragged, sometimes minutes apart. Will this be the last one? And then the next one comes. Why does life go on without purpose? How do the systems that make up the form that is my mother, with all that a mother is to a child, how is it that the systems don’t know the purpose has been served? The children are safe and grown. The fight is done. How can it be that she would not know this? She who knew how to mend wounds with a kiss, not knowing the battle was won long ago?

It is a shame. A shame that the kisses of loving children and grandchildren and great grandchildren cannot cure cancer. Cannot mend the ills of old age. Cannot wisk away the pain the way that a mother’s love can. A shame that she fights on for each painful breath of life, not knowing that the decision was rendered in her genes years ago. This battle cannot be won.

It is the fate of us all. To be born is to someday die. A dance with death that spans all of life. Hers has been a long dance. Not the longest, but I think she would say “long enough.” Always time for one more favor for a friend. Always  care to spare for the lost souls. For the wayward child with more will than sense. Always more worry for others than for self. So busy helping others with their battles that she forgot to fight her own, perhaps.

A life long enough to see the children grown. A dance long enough to know the form that the ending will take. Now it is done. We miss you already, mommy.