She was the hardest-working human being I've ever known. The first of her four children was born in 1940, the last, 4 years later. For the next 20-plus years she did what mothers did back then: cooked meals seven days a week, washed dishes, paid the bills, shopped for groceries, shopped for her children's clothes -- then washed, dried, and ironed those clothes -- vacuumed rugs, cleaned house, mopped floors, worked in the yard, hour for hour, alongside my father, doctored our ouches and colds, remembered/celebrated our birthdays, organized and oversaw holidays, drove us to the movies, picked us up, same with the city swimming pool, same with baseball games, same with friends' houses, worried about our grades, helped with homework, nagged, gave pep talks, attended school plays and sporting events, and was available, every hour of the day and night, to listen when we needed to talk.
Four kids. One husband. No help.
I should mention that my mother always worked a full-time job, 40 hours a week plus commute time. First, and for many years, as a keypunch operator, then, at the age of 52, enrolling into college, earning a nurse's license and securing a job at a midsized hospital.
She moved 34 times during the course of her marriage. We lived in every part of the country save the Northwest. My father could not keep a job; his skill, and it was significant, was acquiring one, usually in aerospace. His Bedouin employment scheme required that my mother sell their current house, hire the movers, pack the household, placate children who didn't want to move again, then travel to a new city, shop for and buy a house in double-quick time, unpack, set up a household, make a home, get her kids into proper schools, find herself a job, while every step of the way, care for her husband, cook meals seven days a week, wash dishes, clean house, pay bills, shop for groceries, do the laundry, the ironing, work in the yard, hour for hour, alongside my father, doctor our ouches and colds, remember/celebrate all birthdays...and then pack up and do it again in six months' time. And again and again and again and again and again and again.
Her last address was in Marietta, Georgia. My father was ill the last 10 years of his life. That's why she went to college, enrolling into an alien and intimidating institution 35 years after she graduated from high school, so she could learn nursing, so she could care for her husband. Two sons and a daughter lived in the Atlanta area. My parents decided to move there, thinking it would be comforting to have family around. They bought an old house, paid cash, ten blocks from Kennestone Hospital. My mom got a job there as a nurse, just as she planned.
My father died in 1973.
I went back to Georgia every year to visit my mom. We loved each other. We liked each other. We were buddies. One year, she was in her 70s, I showed up from California and found her on top of the roof raking leaves. That was the visit I finally got around to asking her about all the moving. I wanted to know how it was, being married to someone who changed jobs every six months. "I loved him," she said.
My mother killed herself on July 7, 1997. She ingested a large quantity of Nembutal and drank a half-glass of vodka. She'd fought cancer, emphysema, and shingles. Battled them for 15 years. Toward the end, saddled with an oxygen tank, walker, and tray full of medicines, she still kept her house and cooked her food. She'd told me how it would end. She would die in her own home when she could no longer live independently. There would be no hospital ward, no assisted living. I called that night to joke about the Atlanta Braves baseball game; she was a fan. A Marietta policeman answered the phone.
The next day I drove to Saint Charles Parish in Imperial Beach. I hadn't been to church in 40 years. I parked my truck, walked into the administration building, told the receptionist I wanted to see a priest. She showed me to the office of Reverend Michael Robinson. I said I wanted to arrange a funeral service for my mother. We talked about her suicide. He said nobody but God knew what was in her heart those last moments. The Church would not deny her blessings. I was back in his office the next day. We walked over to the parish church together. He unlocked the front doors, removed his vestments from a small leather case, and said Mass for my mother. I was the only attendee. That was the kindest act any stranger has ever tendered to me.
My mom, Adelaide Hilda Flannery Daugherty, was the rock, the one person who loved me no matter what. She is also the person I have admired more than any other.
Some years back, a friend whose father died eight years previous, told me how she missed him, how she thought of him every day, and, as she talked, tears came to her eyes and she cried. I remember thinking, "Eight years, that seems long enough to get past tears and the daily ache of loss."
Well, this is my eighth year.