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A familiar face becomes more familiar



One day, you're a teenager telling Mom to quit bugging you. Then one day, you're over 30 and something happens. You look in the mirror and see Mom's face in yours.


Pausing with the hairbrush in your hand, you suddenly see why everyone says you have her eyes, why her friends stop you in the supermarket and do double-takes.


For them, it' s a time warp.


"You're Hazel all over again!" they exclaim. But they don't say much else.


It used to bother me, but looking in the mirror the other day, I felt suddenly glad. I understand now why my old botany professor kept looking at me strangely. He and my mom grew up together, swam in Stevie's pond, stole apples from Barker's orchard. He was sweet on my Aunt Ginny one summer. He never married. I must have reminded him of that.


When I was 30, mom was twice my age, a grandmother of two. Now, I'm over 50 and she's in her 80's--and even though her hair is white, we still have the same eyes and the same things get us heated up.


She could have been anything. Once she dreamed of writing short stories and won a contest. She dreamed of joining the Air Force during WW II but girls didn't do that then. Instead, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and could quickly identify any aircraft. She was just 16 when she graduated from high school and got a scholarship for nursing. She was proud of her new uniforms, and excited to go to school. Only when she got there, they learned she was not yet 17 and sent her home, took away the scholarship.


In those days, kids just out of school didn't stay home and wait to turn the right age for an opportunity. She had to find work. There was no father at home. Her Dad had gone west during the Depression seeking a job. He never came home until 25 years later.


"He never found work and couldn't send for us like he promised and he was ashamed," Mom said. "He missed us growing up."


"I hunted for him and finally found him through social security. He was in Connecticut. He said he was afraid to come home but he did and my mother just asked him where he'd been like he was out on the town for a night and came home late."


I remember that night. I was four. I suddenly had a Grandpa. My Grandma waited nervously on the couch and my mother returned with her father, and Grandma, after asking where he'd been quietly said, "Roy, let's go home." and a whole flood of forgiveness from the family encompassed him just like that.


My mother always was the kind of person who made good things happen, even during bad times. As she grew up, her older brother helped her and her other five siblings finish high school. They survived by inventiveness and growing their own food on the farm. Mom used to trap muskrats and sell the pelts for fifty cents each to help pay the oil heating bill. During the war, she dug graves for two dollars. There were no men home to do the job and she welcomed the extra work.


She used to unravel sweaters and re-knit the yarn into new ones. "We'd embroider roses or flowers over anything with moth-holes in it," she said. "The thrift shop always had sweaters cheap."


Her prom dress did double duty, once covered with nylon netting, another time adorned with tiny bows sewed on. Years later, she found it in an old trunk and angrily tossed it out.


"Got so I hated that dress," she said, grimly.


She also ventured into snow plowing once. "The truck lights went out and it was during the war when parts were hard to get. I was small enough to sit on the hood and hold a lantern so we could see where to plow."


Mom got a hairdresser's license and went to work at a place called Justine's, a place I remember form my childhood, where mom would still go to get her own hair done. When she and my Dad got married, she helped him build a house with $300 down and a Grossman's house kit. The foundation was a foot out of square. My father had dug it by hand. Thirty-five years later, that house sold for $70,000. If they'd hung onto it a little longer, they would have gotten $200,000 a scant decade after.


But she and Dad wanted to live where it never snows, so they went to Florida and grew grapefruit and oranges in the back yard. They had paper routes, and every so often she would threaten to quit and become a reporter. When I was divorced and went to live down there, I was a reporter for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. My father still was a newspaper carrier then and I would hear about it from the circulation folks when one of my stories made front page. My folks would let everyone know! On a slow news day, we'd call my mom and she'd have a story idea. They needed photos of Florida Jays so they called my mom. Her hand with the jay eatiing peanuts out of it was a staple at the paper for decades.


It was hard when Mom had a massive stroke and Dad couldn't care for her. It was hard to see her in the nursing home, harder to see Dad struggling alone. Still, they wouldn't move to New England with me. Dad died in 2005 and Mom came back to New England. She said, "I missed new fallen snow--but not shoveling. I can come back now. I don't have to shovel."


I get to see her every day now. We never run out of things to talk about.


That thought makes me smile as I dig out the old family album. Squinting at old photos taken when Mom was just my age, I'm struck by how pretty she was and I really want to believe I look like her a little.


The last time I went to Wal-mart, I saw a teenage girl shopping with her mother, impatient with her Mom's lack of fashion savvy. I wasn't surprised when she said, "Ma, quit bugging me!" I wanted to say something, but I knew better.


She looked like her Mom, too.


Recommended Comments

It can be startling how much we look like someone, moreover how we change as we age. For some reason, I have the genetics of my grandmother...the red hair, the fair skin, propensity toward freckles. I didn't realize this but I also have her mannerisms as well. There is a photo of her resting her head on her hand...ever since I was little I do this.


I used to resent not looking like my dad or mom - my sister was the one who looked like my mom. It bugged me because I never got to know this grandmother until I was an adult. . . . now I consider it the highest compliment to look like someone who loves you. :):bighug2:

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