Tuesday, July 7, 2015

“Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy” and memories of Mom

Last week, my son and I went to the barber. While I was waiting for my son, I noticed the barber had an old Beauty School text book. It was the same book my mom used when she went to Beauty School when she was studying for her cosmetology license. It was a 9 month program.

That 9 month program changed our life. During that period (late 1969 thru 1970), my parents got divorced, my dad moved to Boise, and mom remarried. To say that the 9 month period was tumultuous is an understatement. I was 8 years old.      

Years later, when I was in college, I took a course called “Women in History.” My professor asked the students to do an “oral history” about some woman.

I chose my mother, Faye Marlene Bailey Dunham Brown. Her real first name was “Joy,” and I entitled my oral history about Mom “Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy.”

My mom's life was “Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy.” It seemed fitting that her real name was “Joy.”

The title refers to a Beatles' song “Across the Universe,” and the beginning lyrics are:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe. 

Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind,
Possessing and caressing me. 

Mom was reluctant to be the focus of a term paper about her. I knew that she had a horrible childhood, and overcame a lot.  I think she struggled until she died to fight the demons in her brutal childhood. The fact that she did not descend into drugs, alcohol, and worse is a testament to her desire to have a family.  

Of course, it was not a fairy tale ending. Mom did the best she could do given the lack of tools she was dealt with.

When she died, I wrote this on my blog:

“Our mother died yesterday, a victim of ovarian cancer. She left us 13 days after our step father passed away. This was a quick exit after 80 years. Her considerable life force has ended. She was many things: Hardworking, beautiful (inside and out), driven, compassionate, feisty, loyal, and loving. But, Mom was simply a great mom and grandmother. That was all she ever wanted to be. She had so many great friends and people who loved her. I will miss her laugh. I will miss her endless phone calls. I will miss the best chocolate chip cookies ever. I will miss my dear friend.”

Faye and Stan in 1947
And she was: “Hardworking, beautiful (inside and out), driven, compassionate, feisty, loyal, and loving.” But she could be mean, hateful, and unforgiving. But, given her childhood, I understood the reason. I did not excuse her behavior. In fact, I called her out a lot. “Just stop Mom!”

The person who really knew her the best was my dad, Stanford Dunham. Though they divorced after 19 year and it was bitter for many years, they loved each other until they died. 

They could not be married to each other.

When Dad was dying, the last person he wanted to see was Mom. I drove Mom to the hospital on Christmas Eve. Dad hugged me, and said, “I just want to talk with your Mom alone for a bit.” They closed the door. They talked for about 30 minutes. After that, Dad lapsed into a coma and died on December 28, 1993.

Dad told me about what he witnessed as a young man when they were dating and then married. They started to date when Mom was 15 and Dad was 17.

Dad’s parents were loving parents. It was a Norman Rockwell childhood.

Joe and Joy (Faye) Bailey 1933
Mom’s parents were different. Mom was born in 1932. Mom was illegitimate.  When she was 1 year old, her dad moved her to another state and changed her name. Not legally of course. She did not see her real mother until she was 22.

Her dad loved her, but, her stepmother beat her.  Dad said that Mom’s dad was very strong. However, he was not strong enough to protect his daughter from his wife. According to Dad, fueled in booze, it was a caustic relationship and Mom bore the brunt of it.

The last straw was in November of 1949. Mom’s parents were “mega-Catholics.” Dad went to the Lutheran Church. When Mom was 17 and Dad was 19, returning from a date, Mom’s stepmother and her sister, started to slap Dad.  Dad said later, that he remembered Mom flew across the hood and shoved her stepmother down. And they fought. “The first time she ever fought back.”

Dad’s crime? He was a Lutheran. Mom’s parents said, “I would rather you be dead than married to a Lutheran.”

Her parents kicked her out, and she had no place to go other than Dad’s wonderful parents.Two weeks later, Mom and Dad got married. 

Mom’s dad did walk her down the aisle and left.  Her stepmother waited in the car. They kept the engine running. 

Later Mom, Dad, and her parents reconciled. Mom loved her "Daddy." Mom and her stepmother had an OK relationship off and on through the years.  

Mom and Dad's marriage was a sad beginning. Both of my parents had other dreams and plans. Dad had an opportunity to go to Norway where his grandparents were born. Dad told me he would have gone to college. Mom?  She wanted to head to Hollywood and leave everything behind. Was she talented enough and beautiful enough to make the big time?

Who knows?

Instead, they had their first child 10 months later and forgot those dreams. As Dad said, “We just started living. We had no choice. That is what you just do.”

19 years later, their marriage was a train wreck. Years later, when they had time to reflect about that marriage, both of them told me “It was MY fault.”

Dad, in particular, told me that he was working too much and took Mom for granted. Sometimes when I was irritated with Mom, my Dad would say something like, “You need to respect your Mom. She has sacrificed a lot for all of you, and you have no idea about what she has gone through in her life. I was there in the beginning. I knew her parents. I was in that house when we were dating. She was not exaggerating at all.

I always thought about Dad’s admonishment to me when I was irritated with Mom. Basically, “Cut her some slack. You and your brothers have no clue.”

That term paper was blunt. I interviewed her in Twin Falls, ID on Christmas Day in 1982. It was snowing. It was dark. Subdued. 

Mom in Beauty School (1969-1970)
In a very measured and calm voice, Mom recounted her life.  I knew some of the stories. I knew some basics. She filled in the blanks, and it was sad and heart wrenching.

"Why did she enroll in Beauty School," I asked?

“My marriage was in trouble, and I needed to make a living to support my boys. I had no skills and I was terrified. In those days, a divorcee was considered a slut. In the divorce, I could have gotten 50% of your Dad’s retirement, but he worked and I did not. I did not think that was fair. So, I needed some way to support myself.”  

At the end of the session, I asked Mom, “Why are you willing to do this?”

Quietly she said, “Well, I try not to think about the sad parts of my life. I do not want to do this, but if it will help you, I will.  I also want my kids and my grandchildren to know how much I love them. Maybe when you have kids, you will understand what true love is. I have made so many mistakes in my life. I have tried to be the best mother I could be, but I had know real motherly examples. My stepmother hurt me a lot. My real mother abandoned me. Your Dad’s Mom, Grandma Agnes, was the best example of a mother. I learned so much from her. I tried to be like her, but sometimes, the damage was done. I still try to be the best mother, but I know sometimes I fail. I am not trying to make excuses, but this has been a hard life. My faith, my kids, and my granddaughter keep me going. I try NOT to remember the bad times in my life. Rather, I try to be a good person in spite of everything. I do try.”
Faye and Agnes Dunham 1954

When I turned in my term paper, my professor commented to the class after she gave me an “A+,” “Mark’s paper about his mom made me cry. It shows that one basically obscure woman made a mark in life more than most women. She is every woman.”

Now that she is been dead for almost three years, I think of her often. That old 1960’s Beauty School text book, triggered this whole blog post.

I have the "written" word because of the old term paper. I think I have the old cassette tape from the interview.

33 years later, Mom’s voice will still be heard.