This was the last line in my Mom's obituary. It made a lot of people mad, as if this is the way I wrote it. Did you know they edit obituaries? Couldn't they just cut you a break and let you remember your loved one the way you want, and not try and clarify what they thought you meant? My Mom was one of the hardest working people I've ever known. She got her first job at something like fourteen selling spud-nuts (potato donuts) in the town where she grew up. After my parents divorced she put herself through barber school and for the rest of her life she worked like a dog to give my brother and I more than she had had.
She was always frustrated that she didn't make more of herself, in terms of a career. She had big dreams about what she could have been, had teenage pregnancy not made an appearance in her life. She became somewhat of a local celebrity as a barber. In the area of Indianapolis where she worked, she had a loyal following- mostly professional men and young men who looked to her for friendship and guildance. It was sort of odd having her as a Mom- in high school I'd go to parties with kids from the local public high school, and boys would swarm about because I was "Debbie Brown's daughter."
When I wrote her obituary, I hard a hard time filling in the blanks on the form provided. When I got to "occupation" I thought, "can I really sum up what my Mom has done with her life as 'barber?'" So I chose what I thought she saw as her most important roles-- "Mother, Wife, Friend." And this is when the diligent newspaper employee stepped in to fill in a word which apparently I did not know-- Homemaker.
We had her memorial ceremony in a the shelter house in our local park, a little stone building where so many of our family functions had been held over the years, on a crisp October day. To know my Mom was to know that a funeral home is absolutely NOT the place to celebrate her life. We set out an obscene amount (as she would have said) of desserts and coffee and chatted with those who had shared her with us, many of whom we'd never met. During the speeches, customer after customer got up and told us the difference she had made in their life-- one man said the only place he and his wife had stopped on the way home from the hospital when their first child was born was to "see Debbie." Her friends shared similar stories, of times she had counseled them, or shared a kindness. As family, we soaked it all in, so greatful that others had loved her as much as we did.
Alicia's post yesterday reminded me so much of my Mom. She and Alicia would have been friends, I think. Like Alicia, my Mom composed all sorts of vignettes around her home. Even the things that were stored in the small barn-like garage behind their house were in vignettes. As I helped sort through her things, I was struck that they weren't sorted as I would have-- dishes with dishes, sheets with sheets. This should not have come as a surprise to me, as my Mom was the all-time biggest seasonal decorator. Every minor holiday came with its own set of wares. If you opened the "late summer" box you'd find white dishes with blue flowers, little wooden raspberries tucked inside a teacup, matching table linens and bakelite flatware. Seasonal sheets would be padding the box. As Alicia said, everywhere you looked you thought-- "Someone here cares."
Today is the eighth anniversary of her death, untimely at only forty-eight years old. I think in the end she was glad that things had happened so early for her- motherhood and divorce, followed by true love and a twenty-five year relationship. By this age she had seen both kids become adults, and one of them marry. This was a comfort to her. This is what she saw as her true profession, although in retrospect I'm not so sure that she got her "career" wrong. She possessed the skills to do something she would have found more satisfying, but she clearly had a talent for the path she chose, even if the value she added had very little to do with haircuts. I think in the end, the newspaper may have gotten it right. Maybe she was a homemaker. Yes, I think she was.