Saturday, October 29, 2005

October, I Barely Knew Ye

I had big plans this month--it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fall Back Daylight Saving Month, and, of course, it's Halloween Month. Oh, did I have some great blog entries planned! But now, all of a sudden, and without my permission AT ALL, it's the 29th of October. When the HELL did this happen?

So here, too little and maybe too late, is my Breast Cancer Awareness post. (To be followed, hopefully in short order, by my Fall Back post and my Halloween post...The scariest thing about my Halloween post will no doubt be the way I have to hastily cobble it together from all the jumbled up crap in my head in order to get it posted by/on Halloween.)

First, ever wonder how much of the money from those pink-ribbon branded products actually finds its way to breast cancer research? When I saw pink M&M's at the beginning of this month, I thought maybe the pink-fever had gone a little too far. Then I stumbled upon this website:
Think Before You Pink, which had some thought-provoking information. I still kind of think the bottom line is that any attention for the cause is good attention, but the site definitely made me think about corporate motives, and our willingness to go along with them.

Second, a more personal breast cancer awareness angle. My mom died of breast cancer in 1994, at the age of 42. The following is an unapologetically sentimental tribute to her. Read at your own risk:

Finding My Mother

I'm loooking for my mother. She's not there in the doctor's grim expression. Not in the diagnosis, which raises as many questions as it answers--a recurrence of breast cancer that spread throughout her body undetected. She is not in the tangle of tubes and wires, the electronic blips and beeps, the sterile technology that keeps her alive but only sometimes eases her pain.

She was a woman raised in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania who distrusted technology, medical and otherwise. Twenty years as a military wife hadn't cured her of her country girl's reflexive distrust of outsiders, of the world. Politicians, it was a given, were all crooked. She was sure the girls behind the deli counter at the supermarket were trained to put extra slices of ham or cheese on the sensitive electronic scales and then to inquire with false sweetness, "It's a few points over a pound, is that all right?" My mother made them put the slices back.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the shimmery silver satin on which her head now rests, not in the cool, smooth surface of the casket.

She was a woman of many contradictions. She was an outspoken feminist who could argue down the loudest mouth chauvinist at any party, who dressed her daughters in "Anything boys can do, girls can do better." T-shirts, who not only believed women were equal to men, but suspected we were in many ways superior. Yet, she washed and ironed my father's shirts even whens he worked as many hours outside the home as he did. She was an optimist--telling us to be ourselves and we would go far. She was a pragmatist--telling us not to get our hopes up in an effort to protect us from the disappointments she was sure we would face. She battled acute shyness, but when the spirit (and the right tune) moved her, she could outdance any extrovert.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the unyielding granite stone that marks her grave. Not in the straight lines of the block letters that spell out her name. She is not there in the finality of the numbers marking her forty-two years.

She stares out at me from a snapshot taken just after I was born. Alone in a field under an overcast sky, she is wind-blown, gangly and wide-eyed. She looks scrawny and exposed, fragile as a newly hatched bird, but from her eyes shines a fierce determination to survive, to thrive. From this captured moment, she would go on to raise four children and to share, against all odds, in the making of a lasting marriage. She was a mother at sixteen, a child who stumbled unprepared into womanhood. That child survived within her. We saw her in the wonder with which my mother greeted her new-to-the-world grandchildren. We saw her in my mother's vulnerability, in her sensitivity to harsh words. Somewhere beneath all the worldly cynicism and the backwoods practicality hid the abaondoned child waiting to ocme out to play, to climb trees, to be barefoot.

I'm looking for my mother. She is in my own impatience with pretense and empty social niceties. She is in my tendency toward untidiness, in my belief that chaos is more interesting than order. She is in the expression I catch on my sister's face, or my brother's, or my own as I pass by the mirror. She is in the shape of my big toe, which looks so much like hers, I am sometimes suprised to find it on my own foot. She is in my tomboyishness, which I have finally accepted is chronic, permanent, and not just a relic from childhood I might someday outgrow. She is in the mixture of paranoia and confidence with which I greet each day. She is in the silly songs I sing to my children and in the soaring hopes I have for them.

I'm looking for my mother. She's never far.


  1. I found this really moving and powerful - not sentimental which I have always associated with schmaltz...

    As a sufferer of Breast cancer who is close in age to your mother, I found it all the more moving...

    You have real talent, but then, you probably knew that...


  2. man o man. you two were lucky to have each other...

  3. Nita--I always, always knew she meant well. It's only as a mom and a grown up that I've come to appreciate what a luxury that actually is.

    Minerva--Thanks so much for your note. As for the talent thing--the "knowing" comes and goes and it's always good to hear it. Thanks again.

  4. Amazing writing, oh masked one. Really, really amazing. I really thought this was a wonderful tribute, and heart-breaking all at the same time. And, I'm right there with you on where the HECK is October???

  5. Beautiful tribute to your Mom!

    I too, feel the breast cancer awareness "pink" has gotten out of hand, but awareness is important. I would really like to see an overall cancer awareness program/month. I have breast cancer and sometimes I actually feel guilty that my type of cancer is so "in the media" when others who have different forms of cancer are "ignored by the media". All cancers are important to be aware of and to find cures for, not just one or two.

    Woops, guess I will jump down off my soap box now! I guess I was just trying to saying I agree with you!

  6. Steph-Thanks so much!

    Sunny-I agree completely--it's so hard to strike a balance or find one or whatever when it comes to awareness, funding, etc. And it's not just cancer--my little sister has lupus, which actually affects a lot more people than you would think judging from the lack of publicity/attention. It seems like whatever we try to focus on, we're stealing much-needed attention from somewhere else. It's just an all-around sucky situation. You feel free to climb up on that soap box anytime you want. I've got your back. ;)

  7. Thanks for sharing, that was just beautiful.

  8. thanks for sharing such a beautiful (and very personal) tribute to your mother.

    I'm sure she's not far...

  9. That made me cry. Thank you.

  10. That's not sentimental. That's strong. That's real and beautiful stuff.

    What a good writer you are!