Memories of Mom and Dad…

I awaken on a November morning in the sharp focus of a world without my mom and dad. A lot of you know what this is like. Very few of us still have our parents. My mother would have been 99 next month. My dad would have been 93 in August. They were both products of The Great Depression and World War II.

The Greatest Generation…

It is surely something when you think about it. When they are alive – you cannot imagine a world without them. When they are gone – you cannot imagine the world with them. I can still hear my mother and father vividly. I can see them with great clarity. I can still hear my father laughing hysterically at Johnny Carson. I see my mother glaring at me with one eyebrow raised when she knew I was lying to her.

My mother and I were very close. She wasn’t always easy – a control freak much as my sister and I are. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. She could be a huge pain in the posterior when she was trying to talk sense into my stupid head. Young and clueless – I didn’t always listen. I mean…what the heck did she know? I’d come home humbled – knowing I should have listened to my mother. Wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of know she was right.

She was too wise to tell me “I warned you, Honey…”

My mother stood by each of us. When I felt like I was losing my mind as an adult at 3 am, I knew I could always call my mother. She’d be half asleep – but awake enough to tell me it was time to be strong and get through whatever it was I was going through. She was there for each of us deep into adulthood. She’d always begin her tutorage with…”Now Jamie….” and get right down to the business of being a parent and a mentor.

When it was time to discuss Washington, D.C. politics, she was the one to rant with. My mother was an old time Washington girl. She loved Washington. She’d grown up in Arlington, Falls Church, and Northwest D.C. She detested Maryland – and was a Virginia snob. She was Virginia native and had a soft formal Southern accent like my grandmother, who was from Greenwich and Warrenton, did. She was a staunch Democrat right up to the end. Her father – my grandfather – had been both Dem and GOP. If she could see the way things are today, she’d be psychotic.

My mother and I were pals. We could chat on the phone for hours on end about everything under the sun and suffer the phone bill when it came. She indulged me in my endless dissertations about my interests. She’d write me the nicest letters and send me news clippings. I still have all of it.

My mother divorced our birth father in 1957. Best just to say they didn’t have the same values and he liked the ladies. She moved on and so did he. He never looked back. She met and married Jack Smart in 1958. They had a lot in common. They both loved to read. Jack adopted my sister and me in 1966. I will always see him as my dad. He was there and he took good care of us. He loved my mother to a fault.

It saddens me he and I were never close. He was a man who stayed to himself. He was an avid reader and he loved sports – baseball and football. He loved the O’s – the Orioles. He and a buddy would go to Camden Yards and watch the O’s. He was also an avid league bowler and had a great circle of friends who bowled. He taught me how to bowl and I developed my own style. We’d go bowling and he’d quip “That isn’t how I taught you to bowl!” Yet – I maintained a 190 average in league play.

My dad was a cryptologist with the National Security Agency (NSA) for 34 years. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he vanished for a week with not a word in that time. There were times when he’ d go to work and we wouldn’t hear from him for days. People would ask me if my dad was Maxwell Smart. We will never know what he did at the agency. He just didn’t talk about it. He traveled the world in his work – sometimes to very isolated parts of the world. He’d return home via Baltimore’s Friendship International Airport (BWI today).

I’d always wonder where he had been.

My father had a passion for cigarettes – Salems… He just could not quit. He’d convince my mother he’d quit, yet there were piles of ashes all over his workshop. Had his chest cracked, stents put in – just could not quit. The stents led to kidney failure and dialysis. In the end, his smoking caught up with him. Right after 9/11/01 in November of that year, I got word to come to Maryland – he was in a coma.

I flew home at a moment’s notice. I drove to his buddy’s home and brought him to my dad’s side. The hardest part wasn’t watching my father pass but watching his best friend cry like a baby. They were kindred spirits.

My dad was on a ventilator and had tubes up his nose. His breathing was shallow and slow. I held his icy cold hand and looked at his thumb. Decades earlier, he’d slammed that thumb in a car door and did permanent damage to the nail. I have always been an empath. What happens to others affects me deeply. He slammed his thumb in the car door and screamed in pain. He went into the church with a bleeding thumb to pick up my little sister. I sat there and cried uncontrollably. It hurt immeasurably to see him in such pain. I became hyper focused on that thumbnail and relived that experience from 38 years earlier.

The nurse looked at her watch and called time of death. My father was gone. I looked at him and thought, “Where did you go when I really needed you…” My mother was in the depths of dementia and couldn’t come to his side. I couldn’t understand. She had horrible agoraphobia and would not leave the house. Her slide even deeper into dementia would follow. She lived another seven years in a nursing home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We laid my father to rest at the Veterans Cemetary in Federalsburg, Maryland in mid-November of 2001.

A long chapter was suddenly over.

My mother was a long goodbye. I began to see issues in her demeanor in the late 1980s. She became recluse and didn’t like leaving the house. My father had done so much to make it easier for her to travel. She just wasn’t on board. I couldn’t have understood what was going on with her at the time because I knew nothing about dementia. She was slipping away.

June 20, 2008 – she would pass peacefully in her sleep at age 84.

There are times when I will still reach for the phone to call my mother. Proof we are creatures of habit even 20 years later. When it came to my mom, it was a good habit – just like she taught me.

Mom…Dad…I love you both.

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