“Sis” to family and friends, “Coach” to a slew of young women and a few lucky young men, “Wife” to Lloyd, “Mom” to a son and daughter, “Grandma” or “MeMom” to the grandkids … and yet, none of these names fully expresses the person Sis was. There was always something more: something unexplained, uncontained, unrestrained.
I know I will never know the whole story; like a diamond, Sis presented different faces in different settings. I was privileged — and sometimes burdened — to hold several of these faces in tension at once. If that was hard for me — and sometimes it was — I can’t imagine how difficult it was for her.
Sis was born in Saratoga, Texas, in 1935. The middle child of three, Sis grew up a tomboy, indulged and encouraged by the father with whom she fished, hunted, and played sports. A high-school tennis star, Sis attended and graduated from Texas State College for Women, which had changed its name to TWU by the time she graduated. She worked summers at Camp Mystic in Hunt, Texas, in the company of several of her TSCW friends. Sis spoke over and over of the joy of these years, particularly the special friendships made, which I know lasted throughout her lifetime.
The last summer that she worked at Camp Mystic, the superintendent of schools for Rio Hondo, Texas, came calling, and Sis interviewed for and obtained a job in the Rio Hondo school system, teaching physical education and coaching drill teams, basketball and track.
And here the story line begins to curl. In one version, a certain Homer Deane Brotzman was leaving the Rio Hondo school building he worked in and ran into the new coach; feeling she might like to meet some people, and knowing his wife had invited someone over for dinner, he asked if she’d like to join them. She would.
When Homer Deane got home, he was in a little trouble with his wife, Dolores; she had invited the other someone over to meet Lloyd, Deane’s younger bachelor brother. Now there was an extra to complicate matters. An extra who was way too … athletic. Wearing shorts to school. Hmmph.
Complication, indeed. Lloyd took one look at Sis and the other girl – whoever she was – never had a chance. He was smitten. After 18 months of fierce courting on Lloyd’s part, they married in December 1958.
Some of the fierceness was around summer plans in 1958; Sis wanted to go work on the Mystic waterfront one more year with her friends. Lloyd insisted that if she was serious about their relationship, she wouldn’t go. I don’t remember the part of the story about whether she went; but I do know she was serious, about her relationship with Lloyd and about her friendships and about teaching girls athletic skills. She lived into that tension for the rest of her life, in a fraught balance that took its toll on all concerned.
And then the kids came along, first a son, Curt, and then a daughter, me. As I grew up with an athletic Mom who wore shorts and a boyish haircut, who would prefer fishing to fashion, and who dreaded most feminine pursuits as much as she loved sports, I learned a few things.
I learned that there was a little voice inside that I should listen to, that would help me know what was right for me. I learned that the way I looked wasn’t as important as my love for what I was being and doing. I learned that not everyone would understand or appreciate me pursuing what I was passionate about, and that their misunderstanding or lack of appreciation should not stop my pursuit.
I confess that I mostly learned these things by osmosis or example, because Mom was busy pursuing her own passions and direct instruction was rare (who’s to say I would have listened, anyway …). I often felt she was so busy loving Dad and her friends and her students that there was not a lot of Mom left over for me. Well, we all have our issues with our mothers; and growing up and out of them is part of becoming a strong woman.
My life has taken its own distinct path, bringing me sometimes closer to and sometimes farther away from Mom. But there have been times that were precious to me. One of them was our trip to England.
I have heard it said that your life is God’s gift to you, and what you do with it is your gift to God. Something like this is probably true of your relationship with your parents. It’s a wonderful privilege to live into a position of being able to give your parent a gift that they could not otherwise receive. My stint with Price Waterhouse put me in that position; after my first business trip to London, I realized I could go back and take Mom … to Wimbledon. I investigated the possibilities, and the friends I had made in England helped me put the trip together. We had an amazing time … but for me, there was a trip within the trip. I was at the point in my life where I was considering having a child, and very unsure that I could love enough to be a good parent.
Then I took care of my mother, in England, for two weeks. And I still loved her at the end of those two weeks. So, I decided if I could do that, I could handle 18+ years with a kid. (I know, my sense of scale was a little off.)
So, literally and figuratively, my kids have my mother to thank for being here.
I remember when I was pregnant with Harper, and reading about fetal development (yeah, I read everything about everything I get interested in), and how a baby girl’s ovaries form, complete with eggs, while she is still in the womb.
Wow, I thought. That means the egg that would someday become Harper was formed inside me when I was forming inside Mom. How cool is that?
It’s very cool.
After my dad died, Mom lost some spark, and her own health issues began to take a toll. Two years ago we moved her to Dallas, and I spent the next year taking her to doctor’s appointments, and trying to wrap enough family and friends around her for her to feel secure, if not content. When my best beloved and I decided to move to North Carolina, I had planned to take Mom with me. But she wanted to stay in Texas, and I could not blame her. We moved her to Bay City to live near her sister, who took on the lion’s share of Mom’s care. Greater love hath no sister … I helped all I could from a distance, and continued to manage Mom’s affairs.
In these last few weeks, as Mom’s decline took her near death, I again began to think of pregnancy … how similar the waiting felt. The unknowing. The sense that everything was about to change. The gratitude for believing that God held us all in her capable and loving hands.
I went to Texas this week, spending hours at her bedside, watching her wrestle with her body’s undoing. The fitness and strength that served her so well and so pleasurably all her life became tethers, holding her to a life nearly emptied of meaning. Finally, Wednesday morning, I woke early and went to her side, not that it took a premonition to know the end was near. Shortly after I got there, her breathing changed yet again, and I recognized the shape of my father’s last breaths. I turned off the loud oxygen machine, drew the tube from her nose, and leaned close to speak what I imagined she might need to hear.
There was and is more to my mother than I will ever understand. There is more to mothering than I will ever understand. The way my mother shaped me is now shaping my children in ways I will never fully understand.
I will be thinking about and unraveling this sweater of daughterhood for the rest of my life. And every day that I am awake enough to be aware of and grateful for the gift of being here, I will repeat the last two words I whispered into my mother’s ears. Thank you. Thank you, Mom. Thank you.