Patti, The Mother
How do you describe the life of your mother? How can one take half a century and put it into one tribute? My memories, my impressions, my emotions and my love for my mother cannot be summarized as if writing a term paper on a book for school…they are the book. And it is a book I will read and re-read for the rest of my life.
I am a mother, with two grown children and I know, first hand the many hats you wear, the stages you go through, the challenges you face, and the permanent fixture of pride and love that plants itself in your soul from the moment of a child’s birth, that changes you forever and that never, ever goes away.
I’m sure mom felt all that too. But unlike me, she was a single parent – raising me with the unfortunate contentious relationship with my father that was an underlying factor in every stage of my life, making the raising of me all that more challenging. She didn’t have the luxury to stay home and simply dote on her only child….darn it! I think she would have liked to take a break and bake brownies and cookies and lemonade, more than pork chops and potatoes after a long day of work. I don’t begrudge her the nights out at DiCicco’s, playing PacMan over cocktails with friends. As a grown woman I now understand her need for time to herself and her party crowd – she was dealt a lot I don’t think she wanted or was ready for.
Least of all a daughter that had to be involved in every single activity known to girl-kind. Despite limited funds, she saw me through years and years of cheerleading tryouts, uniforms and camps. Then there were the beauty pageant years, with trips all over California, Florida, the Bahamas and her personal favorite, Las Vegas. Add to that the school activities including plays, dances, student council stuff, clubs, girl drama…I truly don’t know how she did it all while working full time. I don’t know how she paid for it. I don’t know how she tolerated some of it, to be honest.
But here’s the thing about Patti, the mom. She did it. All. Without complaint – at least not to me. She didn’t miss a thing. She drove to camps, even sleeping in a van to take us to a cheerleading camp in Santa Barbara. She survived the curvy roads up a mountain to be a parent volunteer at 6th grade camp, despite her fear of skinny, little roads winding around tall scary mountains – and the motion sickness that came with it. She supervised dances, much to my chagrin. Needless to say, I was never THAT girl French kissing a guy on a slow dance – not only was she there, but she always had a camera! Somehow, even through times when I sensed she was sad, she never failed me.
She wasn’t the warm, fuzzy, lovey-dovey kind of mom. She saved that for her two grandchildren. She was the strong, don’t-take-any-crap kind of mom. She could be cold and unaffectionate – perhaps that was her way of showing strength. She loved our family, and we did everything with them. She wasn’t afraid of change. She married often. And divorced often, as well. I saw her experience her truest love, and it was with my stepfather, Vern Leeper. I had the honor of standing by her side as her maid of honor at their wedding.
We had our share of rocky roads, and fights. I ran away once. Stole the car in the middle of the night when I was 15 – with only a learner’s permit – and went about 4 blocks to her best friend’s house, affectionately known to me as Aunt Janet. AJ of course immediately called mom and sent me home. Mom was waiting and when she asked why I did it, I told her I was “pissed off” amongst other things. She listened – paused – told me to watch my language and sent me to bed, then quickly made some major life changes that she later shared with me were also pissing her off. That was her last divorce. She made mistakes and she fixed them. And if she couldn’t, she always did the best with what she had. She was the most adaptable woman I’ve ever known.
She taught me the value and importance of family and friendships. We have a crazy family and we are not perfect. But our love for each other is perfect. That distinction is an important note to my mom’s life – not many truly understand or obtain that balance. Mom didn’t dialogue that lesson to me, she modeled it. When you love someone, starting with family, you love them completely. With all of their perfections and with all of their faults. Doesn’t mean we don’t talk about each other and drive each other nuts, it means that we never give up on one another because we are family, and family is an imperfect, yet, sacred, permanent blessing.
I saw her make friendships last 50-plus years by applying the same principle. I am thankful that through sheer osmosis, it has become a mantra in my life. When all is said and done, it comes down to friends and family. That’s it – mom knew the secret to life. And she was right.
I will be honest and tell you she was a lesson in contradictions that still don’t and never will make any sense, and that’s a part of her that was hard to live with. I confess that I hated her smoking. I hated her affinity for pain medication. Her stubbornness and OCD tendencies drove me crazy. I wished she had been more affectionate with me. But I loved her generous nature. I loved her sense of humor. I loved that she had a wild and crazy side. I loved that she didn’t kow-tow to anyone. I loved that the guys I dated in high school came to visit her, more than me. I loved her independence and her fighting spirit. I loved her biscuits and gravy. I loved her loyalty. And one of the things I loved the most, was her smile….
If mom was ever afraid, she never showed it to me. Instead of treading into something, she usually just leapt. Granted, she made mistakes that way, but she remained fearless. She was strong, to the point of being stubborn – to a fault. She did life her way. People have asked me where I get my strength from, which always surprises me because I am scared at times – a lot actually. I answer, “I got it from my mother…” and then I stand a little taller and get over my fear, just like my mother taught me to do by example.
In fact, she showed no fear when she taught me how to drive a stick shift…in the fog…in the pitch dark of night…out in the middle of nowhere in the fig orchards outside of Fresno. Go slow, roll down the window, watch for the center line on the ground and red lights ahead. When you see them, stop. Simple as that…ha! As a result, I’ve always been a great driver, I can negotiate my car in any weather and I am in great standing with State Farm as I have always been and remain accident free. Thanks mom!
I think that is a great analogy for the life my mom gave me. I drive my life with no fear because she taught me that. I can navigate any challenges in the weather of my life because she showed me how to adjust my sails. I owe my confidence and my strength to her because while she was probably hanging on for dear life that night in the fog, she never let me see anything but pure confidence in me.
I always thought mom and I were completely different. And truthfully, in many ways we are. But as I’ve grown older and in these past few weeks I realize that I am her. That she is me. That the fabric of our lives are sewn together with the same threads of:
But mostly Love. We may have expressed our love differently, but it has always been unwavering. It has survived time and distance, arguments and disagreements. It is a love without doubt.
She has told a story from my birth – when she brought me home from the hospital and put me in my bassinet. Then pulled up a chair and watched me sleep. Just sat and watched, in wonder. In this process, I found myself alone with her in the quiet of one night. I sat there by her bed and just watched her sleep, in wonder. I find this ironic and sad and frankly, beautiful. She marveled at my entrance into this life, and I was blessed and honored to hold her hand and witness her exit from this life. Few can count themselves as lucky as my mom and I can.
I have countless memories about my mom, but not many that were sentimental. That she saved for last. A few days before she began to drift into a place where we could no longer communicate with her, she uncharacteristically pulled my face to hers. She placed her forehead to mine, put her hands on my cheeks. I said, “Love you, Mom.” She said, “Can you see me…” and before I could get off a smartass statement she finished her sentence… “Loving you?” Can you see me, loving you? That plus the fact I was able to whisper the last words of love in her ear just before she took her final breath will be two of the most special, poignant, significant moments of my lifetime.
Me. My children. Our family. Her friends.
She has had an impact like that on all of us. We have learned from her successes and her failures. We have loved her and been mad at her. We have laughed with her and cried for her. We have watched her hurt and we have hurt with her. Most importantly, we have been affected by her and her crazy, maddening, quirky, stubborn, funny, loving self.
And we are better for it. I call that a Legacy.
I want to dedicate the following song to my mom. And hope she can hear it because as it says exactly what I want her to know from her only child:
You showed me how it feels
To feel the sky within my reach
And I always will remember all the strength you gave to me
Your love made me make it through
I owe so much to you
You were right there for me
In my dreams I’ll always see you soar above the sky
In my heart there’ll always be a place for you
For all my life
I’ll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am there you’ll be
“Do you see me Mom? Do you see me, loving you?”
I am proud, beyond description, to be the daughter of Patricia Darlene Noble Leeper.