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Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Date: SUN 05/11/03
Section: TEXAS MAGAZINE
Page: 1
Edition: 2 STAR

Coming to Terms with Memories of Mother

By Melissa England

I'm a member of a club. The name is "Motherless Daughters." It means the most significant person in my life is dead.

It's an inevitable loss for all of us. For years I never consciously thought about her. It was easier to pretend she never existed. I dreamed of a mother who was tender and compassionate, more godlike than human.

The woman who gave birth to me was Mary England, at least that is the name on her death certificate. Her mother had named her Impy, a Finnish name that other children found an easy target for ridicule. Her older sister gave her the name Mary her first day of school. She never looked back.

I've had strong feelings about the woman who gave birth to me. I loved her, I hated her, and I was terrified of her. I thought there was nothing more frightening than the line that ran down the center of her forehead when her mood darkened. It was that face I tried to bury in my subconscious.

It took 40 years to come to terms with her.

Like the rest of the family, she had a Scandinavian beauty. Like the rest of the family, she shared in a mental illness. Her own mother was capable of outrageous atrocities toward children.

Mary didn't want children, but life has a way of happening. She did have children and proved to be a good "baby mother." She liked infants, not children. I grew. A baby brother replaced me. She was in total control. I think my mother was through with me when I started saying "no." She was my first catastrophic loss. She broke my heart, and I longed for her.

I turned to my father, He seemed to be able to hang in there with my emerging personality, but like myself, she was the true object of his desire. I wished her gone. I wanted him all to myself.

She was dead before I was 7. I didn't cry. I knew deep in my heart it was my fault. I knew then I must be evil. I deserved to be abandoned. I wished her dead, and it happened. I thought my wish got out of hand because it killed him, too.

I carried the guilt and shame of my feelings for an eternity. It's amazing to me how death never really ends a relationship.

Then I gave birth. I became the fantasy mother, the one I wished I had. I loved my children, but I couldn't discipline them. I was afraid they would hate me, the same way I hated my mother. I rarely said no to anything. I was the parent the rest of the parents were disgusted with. I didn't make bedtimes, didn't insist on chores, and didn't back up teachers on their need to fill in for my own inadequacy. My overwhelming fear was that my children would leave me in the same permanent way my parents had.

My less-than-ideal childhood helped create the same for my children. But I am a work in progress, and I learn as I grow. I have come to understand too much constraint and none are extremes that damage a child's need to explore this world safely. I have also come to understand that an always-disgusted mother, or an always-smiling mother, leaves a child confused about the depth of love being offered.

I understand my mother more; she was 31 when she died. I've framed a picture of her and placed it on my dresser. I see her face every morning, this face that doesn't age. I have grown fonder of her eyes, fonder of the struggle in her soul.

I am grateful for her strength, her independence. I am grateful for her creativity, for her ability to rearrange the physical world. I am grateful she was real, a woman who made mistakes. My mother was hard; she struggled against an even crueler background.

Today she gives me permission to be real, to have feelings, to make mistakes, to address my fears, to fall down and to try again. She gave me all the tenderness she could give; I am grateful for that also. She came from nothing and gave me a place to begin.

Her name was Mary. She was a wife, a mother and an artist. She was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and had beautiful legs, delicate fingers and green eyes. She has taught me something about life that is not taught anywhere but in the pain of her loss, and God, in his infinite wisdom, has allowed me to walk in her shoes.

Today is the first time I can say this with meaning. To my mother, on Mother's Day. Thank you for my life and yours.

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