This Woman Who Showed Me the Way~

I don’t write about my mom too often. Not because she wasn’t important to me but because, since Chuck’s death, all I can think about is him, and my life without him.

I’ve always known that I inherited some very clear traits from my mom. She passed along her love of reading to me. Her inability to suffer fools gladly…that she got from her mom. Her sense of humor.

This morning I realized I got a trait from her that I’ve not given much thought to, but one that looms large in my life. The one that has brought me to where I am, 6 years after the death of the man who was my life.

Betty Catharine, my mom, passed along to me the tenacity, the determination, the grit, that has kept me grounded and sane, to the degree that I can claim any sanity at all.

My mom, Betty Catharine, was an active alcoholic for most of my growing up years. There were some rough years, especially in high school.

She got sober, cold turkey, on the day my younger brother Kysa was diagnosed with cancer, and set about making amends (without calling them such) to her eight kids.

How she managed to get sober on her own, without medical intervention, after 30+ years of heavy drinking, I don’t know how she didn’t suffer delirium tremens or anything life threatening, and she never spoke of it, but she did it and stayed sober until she died one and a half years later, of breast cancer. Six months after Kysa died of Hodgkins cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve grown and matured, in the years since mom’s death, I’ve come to know her in more ways than I knew her during her life. As milestones have come and gone in my life that were nothing in degrees to what she’d gone through, I’ve wondered about how she got through the challenges in her life.

She was an Army wife at a time when the military did a bare minimum in supporting families, moving, as she said often, 29 times in 30 years. She had eight children born in 5 states and 3 overseas, and was always either pregnant or had just given birth with many of those moves. My dad frequently reported for duty ahead of her so she’d be in charge of kids, supervising packers/movers, adapting to new homes/countries, knowing nobody, far away from family.

I don’t wonder at all that she took up drinking. The family story is that she went to a doctor for stress (this was in the 50’s) and he told her to have a drink of sherry each evening after the kids were in bed.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who, in adulthood, converted to Catholicism. She was a nurse. She was the most intelligent, well read person I’ve ever met. She never remembered the punchlines of jokes. She had a droll sense of humor. She adored the royal family and, the older she got, the more like Queen Elizabeth she looked. She left me notes on my pillow as a young teen and called me every morning at 7:30 AM after I left home, cluing me in on political news and encouraging me to call the White House comment line to express my opinion. She’d given me the phone number and I kept it next to my phone on an index card.

She loved me the best she knew how and gave me what she had to give me, in spite of her struggles.

And what she gave me the most of was the grit and tenacity and determination that made her keep standing up when she was knocked down. She never gave in, in spite of what my young eyes saw growing up.

My mom was more than her alcoholism, and it didn’t take me long after her death to realize that.

I’ve no regrets, no blame. Only Love and the heartwarming memory of sitting at the kitchen table with her and my younger sister, Maggie, sharing Hollywood gossip, family stories, politics, everything under the sun, while laughing over our coffee or diet pepsi, in the last year and a half that I had with her, sober and loving and joyful, holding her hand over her mouth when she was doubled over with laughter.

My mom, Betty Catharine, gave me everything I would need as an adult, and it was my privilege to call her mom.

I hope, this Mother’s Day, that, if she is somewhere…and she believed in Heaven so I’ll picture her there…that she has found Chuck, and I hope that they share a hug with each other, from me, the woman who loved them both. Who loves them both so much, still.

I miss you, mom. Thank you for who you were.

What you gave me has helped me continue standing up again and again.

And I always will.

Just like you did~

Meet my dad moments~

Father’s day.  It just doesn’t seem to receive the same massive hallmark outpouring as Mother’s day.  And yet, contrary to what media has tried to tell us these past decades, dad’s can be pretty important to a child’s development.

So, I thought I’d introduce you to my dad, the man who played a very important part of shaping who I am as a woman today. ( And I know you all think I’m pretty damn amazing, so there you go.)

Stuart Livingstone Miller.  There is some disagreement as to whether that  “e” ought to be at the end of his 2nd name.  New Englander born and raised.  Massachusetts born.

                                           Then raised in this house in Portland, Maine

When he grew up, he went to West Point Military Academy, where he met my mom, Betty Catharine, who was a nurse in NYC.   Upon his graduation, they were married at the chapel at West Point, crossed swords and all.

They honeymooned at that most popular destination, Niagara Falls, NY.

  His country called, and he deployed to the war zone in Korea, where, on his first day of duty, taking over command from David Hackworth, he was called upon to negotiate a hostage release with a soldier who just couldn’t deal with the battle stress any longer, and was holding a gun to the head of a fellow GI. My dad traded places with him and talked the guy down.

When he returned from Korea, on a troop ship, he and my mom set to work on growing their family. And, over the span of 18 years, they had, yes, they had EIGHT kids!

He served his country proudly, rotating overseas to Germany to participate in the Berlin air drop, plus two other times there in various locales.  I remember one of our tours in Germany when the 6 Day war happened, between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.  I’d come home from school never knowing if my dad would be home or be gone.  Tense time, even at my young age.

                                           He spent 6 months over in Turkey, on a solitary tour.

He spent 20 years in the Army, and retired as a Lt Colonel.  At the end of his career, he had the choice of either going to Vietnam or retiring.  You do the math.  Eight dependents, nine counting my mom (though she hated that term, as do I!) Already 24 years of service, constantly traveling with the military-he retired honorably.

My mom and dad divorced-no surprise there.  He lives out west in Colorado now, remarried.  I’ve seen him a couple of times as we’ve traveled as Happily Homeless, and we’ll be visiting him again in the fall on our way out West.  I’m so looking forward to seeing him.  He’s got a great sense of humor, and he passed that along to me.  I have funny memories of childhood Halloweens with him scaring the neighbor kids.  When I was 10 I discovered my Scottish roots and went nuts for it.  My dad was my compatriot throughout my high school years as I attended Scottish festivals to soak in the excitement of bagpipes and dancers.  After my trip to Scotland when I was 16, where I purchased a can of haggis-yes, it comes in cans apparently-I gave it to him as a gift.  My next birthday I got it back from him, wrapped.  And I sent it again to him for Christmas.  We sent it back and forth for years, until one year we didn’t.  Somewhere, that can of haggis still exists.  Probably ready to explode at this point!

My dad is a decent man.  He doesn’t think his life has amounted to much.  I disagree.  Yeah, he isn’t famous, but he matters.   My siblings and I aren’t particularly close, some of us, and we’ve had to do some healing work along the way, but we’re all strong, intelligent adults, and we’re raising strong kids.  He’s a good man, and I called him today to make sure he knows I think so.   And that I love him.  He’s my dad.