MILLY MILKTOAST (BEFORE IT BECAME MILQUETOAST IN OUR GENRATION) AND LLOYD GODWIN, HER WILD CHILD OKIE MAN
In the picture above you see pictures of my mother and father when they were still married and at about the age of this incident described in the story below.
Pictured below are my mother in her sixties, her sister Danita in her forties, and my grandmother, the indominable Rhoda Frances Warden Marrs. She was the inspiration you will read about early on in this story.
MILLY MILKTOAST VS NASTY NADINE (A LEGACY STORY)
RAISED TO BE A LADY ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE
So many things in my mother's life were contradictory beginning with her childhood. You would think, being born poor in the 1920's; the daughter of sharecroppers, with an ultra strict father and two 'ornery brothers, she would have been a tomboy or at least lack ladylike demeanor. But, she was a lady. Picking cotton in the boiling Oklahoma sun and struggling through the dust bowl and depression didn't offer her much in the amenities of life.
Her mother was a pretty and proud woman slightly younger than her husband. She had a great deal of pride and was never planning to give up on being pretty and attractive . She worked to instill those qualities in her daughter, my mother. Until her death in her eighties, she maintained her beauty regimens and remained a proud woman, fiercely devoted to her appearance.
My grandmother created her own cosmetics as there was never money to buy any. She had her own night creams and hand softeners and created her own rouge and lip color. She made face powder out of corn dust (and this was long before the cosmetic companies got the idea). She learned to sew and make her clothes stylish no matter what limited materials she had to work with. Often,it was from the printed flour sacks. She could see a garment and go home and make it. She always dressed nicely and to my knowledge she had no "house dresses" . She just always dressed as though she had a place to go or to be. She kept her daughter dressed in the same manner.
The skills and principles of being a lady she passed on to my mother. In my whole life I never knew my grandmother to present herself to the family without her make up on. She rose very early in the mornings to make that happen. At night, she had her special regimen for cleaning her face and attending to the ravages of the weather and caustic soaps and cleaning products she used to work in the house and on the land. In later years she had a certain brand of make up she swore by religiously. It may have been what did it, or just great genetics, but my grandmother remained a beautiful and flawless beauty into her eighties.
Her "life" principles she instilled about being a lady. Speak like a lady, walk like a lady and look like a lady at all times. My husband and I believed and taught our children that education was the answer to moving your generation into a higher level of living and achievement. In my grandmother's world, being perceived as a lady would give you the same opportunity to move up in the world. It was to this end she worked to motivate my mother.
PICKING COTTON AND TOUGH LOVE
My mother's poor health would play into the equation. She remembered picking cotton with a fever exceeding 102 in the hot Oklahoma sun. The end result is that she had rheumatic fever. Untreated for lack of modern day medicines, it damaged her heart value leaving her a little more delicate after a yearlong recovery. She couldn't play and work as hard at outdoor labors so it afforded her more time with her mother and inside the household. The diabetes she undoubtedly had as a young woman was not diagnosed until thirties. This had added to the weakening of her heart which had been extensively damaged by then..
My grandfather was a no nonsense man who had definite ideas about behavior and a woman's place. He felt even church Sunday School parties were frivolous and didn't believe in my mom going to parties or being out and about. Her two brothers were theoretically the "enforcer's". But, as the oldest she was responsible for them . She was never too successful at being in charge from her verbal accounts of their childhood. Long after the three of them were grown there would come another child into the family and this little girl would become "a lady indeed" and all three older siblings would become her "enforcer's" much to her shigrin.
My mother loved school and had a true passion for numbers and mathematics. When she was sick she had to miss a lot of school but loved to study on her own. And then she met my father.
MOTHER MEETS A WILD CHILD
She was only sixteen when this wild child man, Lloyd Godwin came in to her life. He was a little over four years older than her having been on his own since he was twelve. He survived by the sweat of his brow and the power of his brawn. Making a living as a laborer he also fought in boxing matches and was quite successful in his weight class.
My mother wasn't allowed to date so they only got to "see" each other when he came to her house and sat talking with my grandparents. My grandfather was no one's fool and he didn't trust my dad around her but, true to his generation, it was because he didn't think she had the sense "God gave a goose" when it came to handling a man.
The truth ,according to her, is that one night when my dad had been to the house to visit he got some alone time out in front of the house. He told my mom that he was ready to settle down and get married. He had just taken a real "whooping" in the ring and he was giving up boxing to settle down. Then he kissed her. Following the kiss, he said, "Do you want to get married to me?".
Now my mother had some experience and knowledge of farm animals I am sure, but as she tells it, she truly thought the way you got human babies was from kissing. And she had just kissed my dad (perhaps he slipped her some tongue which would have been a shocker to her) and she thought if he was offering to marry her and she was going to have a baby, she best take the offer. So she said yes.
My dad went to speak with my grandfather. He was gone for a long time telling him he had seen the error of his ways and wanted to settle down, marry and raise a family. He admitted he didn't know much about family life. His biological mother died when she was in her early twenties and left her husband with two small boys. My dad was four and his younger brother was barely two years younger. When his father remarried ,the new union eventually brought three girls and another boy into the family. Still reeling from the loss of his mother, my dad fought accepting the step mother and the new siblings. He openly rebelled from his young age and the battle was on with his father and stepmom.
In view of dad's request to marry my mother, my grandfather's reply to my dad was, "She is old enough to know her own mind". My dad quickly returned outside to talk with my mother/ For reason's already explained earlier as well as the blossoming urges of puberty, she said yes. I cannot fathom my grandfather's thinking at the time after he had been so strict with her. He and my dad were never close enough to believe it was about "gaining a son" so it's one of those mysteries that remain unsolved in my mind.
Two more different people you could not have matched. The Wild Child and the Shy Lady. From the beginning it was a battle of the wills. Him trying to "free her up to have some fun" and her trying to recreate the home atmosphere with amenities she had been taught.
While my grandmother had no say in the marriage, (remember it was chavinist Oklahoma in the 30's) she did like my dad and he was one dashing good looking fellow and thought to be a good worker. My grandmother had been married at 14 and gave birth to my mother at 16 so I am sure she felt if it was good enough for her to marry young it was good enough for her daughter.
They all lived together in the small house in the beginning and being as young as they were, I am sure the in-laws tried to "parent" the couple and that undoubtedly led to even more problems.
LIFE IS NOT KIND, NOR MERCIFUL
As all couples eventually do, the newlyweds survived some horrific challenges. First, in the deaths of the first two babies. My father contracted tuberculosis and in those days you were quarantined for the duration of the illness in a tuberculosis sanitarium. This meant they had a couple of years of not even getting to live together, only managing a few rare "conjugal visits".
When my sister was finally "on the way" and dad was out of the sanitarium, he found work outside sharecropping. His explosive relationship with his father in law motivated him to get out on their own. After I was born, times were harder yet. Mother had emergency hysterectomy following my birth and remained frail. Then my sister fell off the porch riding her tricycle and the handlebar, having no rubber grip ,plunged into her abdomen puncturing her intestine. She almost died.
All of these expenses and challenges devastated the couple financially. They decided it would be a help to have someone share the rent and also to have someone around to help some with the house and children. Haven't we all known times when in theory that sounded so very good? But, rarely have these been stories that ended with "and they lived happily ever after". My mother had a girl friend near her age who was needing a room and thus the scene was set for an inevitable event.
"PRETTY BOY FLOYD LOOKALIKE SPELLS TROUBLE"
Now I can imagine the problems that were presented. My father was a very good looking man. In fact he once was taken in to custody by the police in a neighboring county because they were convinced he was the notorious "Pretty Boy Floyd" who was on a crime spree in Oklahoma. My father tried to convince them they were wrong but, they were sure it had to be him. They were about to put him behind bars after a day of questioning when a policeman from our hometown came into the station. Seeing dad sitting there he spoke to him on a first name basis. My dad quickly asked him to vouch for him. The police finally had to acknowledge he wasn't "Pretty Boy Floyd " and let him leave.
Consider this scenario. Take a very good looking guy in his twenties known to be a flirt and enjoy a few beers, and join him to a very jealous wife with two children to protect. Bring in another young attractive woman in the same age range to live in this mix. Sparks are going to fly and fly they did. Of course it was more "entertaining" to my dad than anything. He claimed that in this situation he was as innocent as "the driven snow", However, you only had to know my dad to know he would have "egged on" such a situation. And, you only had to know the fierce physical attraction between my dad and mom to know this would have been tug a war for emotional control of the relationship with both players well experienced in life's hardships, but totally lacking in relationship savvy.
The more the flirting went on with the "guest renter" the more she took it serious. She began to quit helping with the house and kids and was beginning to act like the queen of the manor. My mother was having none of it . She finally had enough and she and my dad had a battle royal. The end result was that he and my mom decided the only way to resolve it was for the guest renter to move out.
My mother broke the news to her but the renter wouldn't believe it unless she heard it from my dad. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned as they say and she pitched a real fit. This moved my mother to tell her she couldn't even stay til the end of the month. She paid her rent by the week so at the end of the week she was to leave.
At this point in life I know my dad still loved to pull mother's chain by taunting her about being a "goody two shoes" and loved to taunt her into being just a little naughty to show she was "a woman". Like, when he would drink and goad her into trying some then threaten to tell her "hard shell, blue nose Baptist" parents.
There were times dad would take her around his family who at that time were having some hellacious drinking issues of their own . He would make her stand up to whoever was in the arguing mood . His family thought she was "too big for her britches" and considered herself "above" them so it was easy to instigate a situation of conflict. In truth ,they were all about the same age and interacted more like siblings. With my dad having been "the naughty child in his family" my mom was often put in the position to have to defend him when his family members went on the attack so there was always fuel for the fussing and fighting that was sure to erupt at these family gatherings.
"CHURCH, JEALOUSY, FORGIVENESS AND EVICTONS"
Through all of this, my mother was still engaged in her personal war due to her upbringing. It taught her church and being a lady equaled success in a marriage and life. It was a concept she couldn't let go of, but also couldn't implement in her marriage alone. Then there was always her sense of competing with all other women to keep them away from "her man".
My dad came home from work on the Friday following the renters notice to move. He was going to help the renter move out on his day off Saturday but this was Friday. Having been paid that day he had plans after supper to go play dominoes at one of his local "establishments " with some buddies and have some beer. Mother wasn't happy at being left alone with the renter as the atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife. She decided if he was leaving we would go next door to our Aunt and visit.
Bedtime for we grumpy little girls dictated the return home. The house was dark, no renter and no dad yet. Mother put us to bed and decided to iron. Ahh, yes. Those were the days when you washed, starched and ironed the linens and the table scarves and any other do-dads for the house. Pillowcases and sheets were ironed and my mother was ever faithful to these duties. She didn't have much but, what she had was either handmade, hand embroidered or handed down through the women in the family. To her these items were veritable treasures. My mother also had spent her months of healing after surgery and complicated pregnancies making embroidered and crocheted pieces for the couch and chairs. These were her pride and joy items in creating a home.
When mother went to put away the linens she noticed some things were missing. She checked quickly on a hunch and found there wasn't any money from dad's check in the flour canister where he always put it. In the past she might have thought they had been robbed by a hobo that lived in the "hobo jungle" that abutted our house.
An abandoned park had become the "jungle" and was a known gathering place for hobo and criminal elements. Once, when dad was gone at night we'd heard noises on the big porch on the side of the house. There, along the side of the porch a path went down to the old abandoned park. Too scared to check about the noise down stairs alone, mother cowered in bed with my sister and I . We were hardly breathing as we heard someone trying the door and making shuffling sounds. At the last moment when we were sure someone was going to find their way in, the lights of my dad's jeep flew up and over the rail road tracks and the noises left.
After hearing my mother's story, that someone indeed had been on our porch my dad investigated finding that indeed, someone had stolen my dad's work tools. He was beside himself. Those had been accumulated slowly and were very dear to him. He would have no money to replace them. Days later, a big red haired fellow was picked up sixteen miles away selling my dad's tools. It turned out the guy was an escapee from jail police were looking for him for murder. It re enforced the fear we had of living across the tracks and by the old park. But, money dictates those things so we remained trapped in our environment for more years to come.
My mother stood looking at the empty canister and knew a robbery had happened again. But she knew this would have been an inside job. The renter had taken the money and some of my mother's few prized linens and crocheted scarves and was gone. Checking in her room and chest mother found she had packed up and left while they were gone earlier that evening.
MOTHER PUTS HER 'BIG GIRL PANTIES ON'
Common sense would have dictated that daddy being a big strong man could have gone and found the renter and recovered the items. In fact, I have often considered it might have been done as bait to get him to do just that. But again, here were some of the contradictions of my mother and her life. To my dad's utter surprise, my mother said she would get them back. They were her things and they were precious to her and the renter would be sorry for the day she chose to steal from us.
There proceeded a long conversation of the blame game. Everything from "who was the one who invited her to live there?", and "who was the one that introduced them?". And "if he hadn't flirted and made her act so stupid", and my dad would shoot back with if my mother wasn't" so hardnosed about her house keeping and the girls care", and on and on and on. The night ended on a sour note with mother vowing to find her tomorrow and get her things and the money back/ My daddy was laughing and taunting her "double dog daring her" to teach the renter a lesson. The stage was set.
The next day there was no church for us. Never one to attend with us, our to "dip the dogs" with his hunting buddies. This was a seasonal happening where dogs were dipped in big barrels of a creosote liquid to ward off ticks. Mother was determined to find the renter and get everything back. Dad stood on the porch laughing and taunting her with remarks of "now, when you find her remember you're a lady" , and "maybe she'll want to have tea with you and play ladies". "I won't tell your folks you missed church and are going to hell." Then he laughed as though he'd told the funniest story ever and watched as she walked up to the tracks and turned toward town.
In the afternoon mother returned tired and hungry. Dad was put out as he'd been "kid watching " on his day off. And did she have the money and stuff back? In her drained state she was not in a mood for his lip nor he for hers. Round 400 started and we girls were sent for naps, again.
When we awoke it was dark and no one had awakened us. Hungry and nervous that this was not normal we rushed down stairs. Mother and daddy were talking and acting kind of romantic. He was teasing her and hugging her close and she looked like she was eating it up. Seeing us she directed us to the kitchen where the supper food was still warm.
"Girls, we're going for a ride after supper. We have something to do and you two are going to have to sit in the car and be good while we do it. And I mean you must stay in the car no matter what." Perplexed we looked at each other and silently signaled each other not to ask any questions. When we went to the bathroom afterwards we tried to figure out what in the world was happening.
We loved any excuse to get out and go for a ride. It was unusual for us to be up and out this late so we just enjoyed the idea. They drove down town to the town square and dad kept checking his watch. He reached over an squeezed mom's shoulder and then put his arm around her. They were so lovey dovey we didn't know what to think. They must have gotten the money and stuff back cause they sure were in a good mood.
They circled the square a couple times and then pulled over on a darkened street between the Dime Store and the corner where the movie theater was. They cautioned us to be quiet and not talk and we were developing a sense of foreboding. Something out of the ordinary was going to happen and it involved our parents. We strained to hear what they were talking about. There was more of that lovey dovey talking and phrases like "I know you will do it." "She will be surprised" and "run straight back to the car".
It was getting very dark and late.
INTO THE ARENA
Mother moved to get out of the car and daddy went around the car and opened the door for her. They laughed as he referred to her as "my lady" as he took her arm to help her out. My sister and I were puzzled. This wasn't their usual behavior. In fact, had we been older and know the lingo of today, we might have asked, "who are these two people and what have you done with our parents?"
Mother walked to the corner accompanied by dad who was holding her close. She turned the corner alone and was out of sight. She had gone toward the theater then we saw her cross the street to the Creek Indian Capitol Courthouse. We caught a glimpse of her standing behind some bushes. Voices could be heard as people left the theatre and were anxiously chattering about the movie they had just seen. My sister and I strained to see what was happening but were mindful of the warning not to get out of our seat or the car.
And then we saw her . The "renter" was coming out of the theatre and crossing the street with a couple of other women. She was talking and laughing loudly and they moved toward a bench on the Courthouse lawn. That was a waiting place for their rides to pick them up after a show. The group sat down completely unaware or my mom nearby or my dad in the shadows at the corner. We could hear their voices but not what they were saying.
Suddenly we saw our mother come from behind the bushes. Most of the people leaving the theatre were gone and she walked right up in front of the women on the bench and began to loudly talk to the renter. The renter stood up and mother pushed her back down.
The other two ladies seemed nervous and began to move away from the bench. Mother let them go. The ladies nervously headed across the street back to the movie theatre and I heard my dad say something to them. They stopped, looked back at my mother and the renter, then at each other. Neither moved and kept glancing in the direction of my dad's voice from the darkness.
The renter stood up again and this time she made the error of putting her hand on my mom's shoulder. As fast as you could blink, my mother, my quiet ladylike mother, popped her a good one in the face. Then another and another. I have no idea what all she did after that as there was yelling and my dad was going across the street pulling my mother off of the renter and laughing. The renter was bleeding and my dad was laughing so hard but hurrying my mother back to the car.
They arrived and jumped in and dad took off as fast as possible without lights. He was still laughing and our mother must have been on an adrenaline high as she was recounting each moment of the event excitedly. She talked of jumping from hiding behind the bushes, to seeing them come out joined arm in arm laughing. It had infuriated my mother that she was out having fun on "our money" . From what she said she enjoyed letting her have it and leaving the imprint of her ring on the renter's face. And then she called her a name I had never heard it before but, came to hear many times in my lifetime. "Nasty Nadine". My dad laughed louder.
It had finally happened. Mother had broken out of her "proper shell" and "had a little fun" according to dad. True, it hadn't been the act of a lady but my mother seemed as proud of that as anything she had ever done. They weren't worried about the police as they knew the renter, Nasty Nadine, didn't want to be turned in for stealing. And while it may seem like a pretty lame story, in the forties when this took place, that would have been a big deal to have two women fighting and especially in public.
I remember mother eventually got the linens back through the advocacy of a third party who wanted to prevent more blood shed. My mother did have a facial bruise which she wore as a badge of honor and having "earned it" showed it off to her sister in laws and dad's family. Her bravado faded when dad just had to tell that story to her parents and my grandfather and mother thought she'd become one of "those kind of women" and lectured her accordingly. We girls decided that it meant it was okay not to let people run over you and to take up for yourself even if it mean not being a lady.
My dad however summed it up best when he borrowed from the vernacular of his former profession and proudly saluted mother in the telling of the story by always prefacing it with, "And in this corner we had Milly Milktoast VS. Nasty Nadine". And the winner was, "My Lady".
Now you could subscribe to the theory that my sister and I got our scrappy fighting natures from that incident or just in general from my dad's genetics. Whatever the source, my sister in particular never stepped away from a fight, Man or woman. And she made a whale of a police officer also surviving domestic violence. She once put her abuser in one hospital while they took her to another hospital across town.
Not all legacies are wrapped in shiny paper and tied with lace bows.
Some legacies are simply the tools of survival but a legacy no less.©2006
MOURNING DOVES AND FOREVER LOVES (A LEGACY STORY)
In the first picture Mother and Willard are at their peak as a professional couple. She is hown in the mink he bought her to thank her for taking a chance on an Okie Boy and uprooting to move to "Yankeeland". They always loved having pitures made at Christmas. The second picture is taken again at Christmas, but following a devastating stroke the doctors thought she would not recover from She not only recovered, but out lived three of the doctors (specialists) that sent her home from the hospital after telling her she could stay or go, but she had only weeks. She lived years and years seing three of them buried before her.
In this group picture we were celebrating Willard's birthday, thus the hat, and mother is looking "distracted" as she was entering a phase of decline. In red at the left is my sister. Perhaps this was the "motivation" to have the eventual "pact" and all the talk of "The Day of the Dead" who knows when its my sister. Also shown in the picture is my son Steve, by his Aunt Trula, and holding my grandson Justin is my daughter Shannon, Justin's proud Aunt who wouldn't give him to anyone.
MOURNING DOVES AND FOREVER LOVES ( A LEGACY STORY )
It was the signal. The warning. The absolute communication tool of my world. And yet, it wasn't until I was an adult that I knew how my mother came up with it. It had never failed to bring me home and make me aware of my limits and boundaries at home and in life. It was another way to know I was wanted . It was a whistle.
The sound of a mourning dove recreated by the special way my mother put her hands together and blew into the flexed thumbs slightly apart over her cupped hands. She could make that sound loud enough to reach my hearing two and three blocks from home. "Cooah, coo, coo,coo. That low throaty moan of the dove.
My generation was a different time than today with all of it's fears and monitoring. We could play outside the house until dark, and after about the age of six or seven I could go play up the street if accompanied by my sister three years older than me. Sometimes we could play later yet; chase fire flies (lightening bugs),play flashlight tag, and hide and seek late at night.
Learning that special sound took me all the way through my adolescent years. I had to master the technique, and it was something I taught my children as they grew up and tried to whistle. I would brag about the "special" whistle I used and could teach them. Always telling them the story of my mother's signal to bring us home as was a meaningful experience for me.
Fast forward life to 1998. Mother's health had failed to the point of knowing that her time on earth was coming to an end. Truly, she'd been "dying" for most of my adult years and had many close calls. My years of nursing taught me that there is an innate intelligence in people that lets them know when they are getting close to their passing. Often, the people who are more emotionally bonded to them seem to sense the impending change as well. Perhaps that explains how my sister, and I ended up at mom's at the same time one day. It had become rare for the three of us to be together as our schedules rarely meshed.
THE DAY OF THE DEAD
On this occasion my sister was doing her usual provocative talking and decided to talk about when she dies. She went into elaborate discourse on wanting a Mexican funeral and celebration. She said in Mexico they go to the cemetery and have a big party on the grave and drink and dance. This occurs on November 2, known as the Day of the Dead. In their belief system, there are three deaths when you die. First, the moment you cease to breath, have visual field and the heart stops. Second, when the body is placed into the grave and returned to "whence it came". Third and last, is when the thought or memory of living people thinks of you for the last time.
I wonder if this birthday celebration (SEE PICTURE BELOW ARTICLE) led to her idea about the Day of the Dead? On The Day of the Dead, families have a reunion at the cemetery on the grave sites of those who have passed on. They bring baskets of food, bottles of tequila, and sometimes a mariachi band. In the homes there are alters to "lure" the souls back for a visit and incense is burned, foods are abundant and sometimes there is even a basin of water and a towel for the soul to freshen up before eating. A pack of cigarettes to relax with after the meal may even be left for the departed but expected soul.
The more my sister elaborated, the more my mother tried to act casual about it. Ignoring my sister's persistent references about her belief in reincarnation was the way mother supported her own belief that reincarnation beliefs were blasphemous. Mother didn't hold for one moment with the idea of contact after death. The lifelong competition between the two parties, my sister and mother, of trying to "get each other’s goats", kept mother from showing how truly annoyed she was. I think she was trying to preserve the moment of my sister and I being together, with her, in her bedroom; laying together on the bed ,all talking like we used to, would be something she wouldn't want to end.
The conversation did get to the point of my sister insisting we make the pact. We were to be sure and contact each other with some significant sign after death. It would have to be something that would identify us; be so particular to us that we would know it was from that person. We didn't know what, if any, methods were available. We heard people claim their deceased loved ones found ways; through flowers blooming in the winter, special music playing at special times, certain animals and birds appearing , etc.. Still, Mother didn't really commit. She didn't say anything negative about the plan , thus placating my sister. To her, mother's silence indicated compliance with the plan.
The test of the pact would come sooner than we realized. Within that month, at the end of an exceptionally good weekend trip, mother returned home and had a major stroke. While plans were being made to bring her home from the hospital to all kinds of special home care, hospital bed, etc., she must have reasoned with God that she just wasn't the kind to do that. She had not remained independent recovering from some real close calls to end up an invalid. God took her home and arrangements were made to "let her go".
I can't begin to explain the level of exhaustion I was in when the end came. I just felt overwhelmed by the amount of energy it took to pick out the casket, make phone calls to relatives and deal with the inevitable family politics which always goes along with the transition of family when someone passes. I only know that I was not in the mood for any thing that wasn't a necessity to be dealt with ; I didn't feel like I should have to "put up with anything" either. So when my sister's call came early the morning after the visitation, I was anything but receptive.
I woke to the shrill ring of the phone. So tired was I, that it took some time to actually focus and realize this was the morning of mother's funeral. Who would be calling so early knowing I needed rest ? Who else but my sister.
She talked of the visitation last evening and pronounced in an almost giddy way, "Well, she did it". She made contact last night".
I took a deep breath and reminded myself she was in mourning too and we cope in different ways. She had always been so "magical minded and into the things of the supernatural" so I had truly expected her to claim a contact, but not this soon. I was feeling irritated and in my most condescending way I said, "Oh really?" She continued undeterred.
"It was when I left the funeral home to go to my car. I rounded the back of the car to the driver's side and there on an evergreen branch over my hood was a mourning dove. It just sat there staring at me. I couldn't believe it just sat there at that hour of the night. It made that cooing sound. You know the one mother used to use when she wanted us to come home".
My irritable nature just wouldn't let me accept it. Even though I admit to a certain momentary chill at the mention of her whistle and the reference to calling us home.
I mustered some compassion and said as politely as I could, "I am so glad she contacted you. I know it's what you wanted."
The police officer in her was not fooled. "Oh I know you don't believe me but it's true. It didn't even fly off when I opened the door and got in. Just sat there staring at me and cooing. I could have touched it as it was that close. I just wanted you to know so when she makes contact with you you'll tell me right away."
Would I ever get through that day, I wondered? It was emotionally traumatic and now I had to deal with handling her and not discouraging her.
"I promise if she contacts me you will be the first to know."
I spent a little more time in the water bed just isolating until I had to get up and face the day. I went over the recent events and mentally organized the itinerary of the next few days. After the funeral we would fly her body to our home state for a second funeral for the family there. It would mean driving down about twelve hours then back. Ugh. I hate fast trips.
I knew my husband would be up and sitting in his recliner at the picture window in the living room. I couldn't wait to whine to him about my sister's call and whine about how it could have waited, and how she would always have to put the supernatural "spin" on things. He had heard me stirring and got me a cup of coffee ready. He put it on the window ledge at the opposite end of the picture window from where he sat. I headed to the wing back chair so we could enjoy our front yard view together.
The front yard was what "sold" me on the house. Huge trees, lots of shade and many birds, squirrels and rabbits to watch. My mother had loved coming there and always sat in the wing back chair and watched the birds and animals feed. She loved our yard as she had given up a big yard when they moved to their retirement housing. She especially loved the large feeding platform attached outside to the picture window ledge. All the sunflower seeds would spill over for the ground feeders and the area would teem with birds and squirrels fussing over the seed.
As I entered the room to be seated I was already muttering out loud about the inconsideration of my sister calling me so early and had barely uttered the words "and you won't believe what she says happened", when I was startled by something on the picture window ledge. There, sitting quietly in the corner of the outside frame was a lone mourning dove. As I entered the room it turned it's head and looked at me slightly ruffling it's feathers (an action usually reserved for winter when they are trying to manage their heat to combat the cold).
"Look", I exclaimed. "Look on the ledge".
My husband turned and looked unaffected. "Yeah, it's a mourning dove".
"I know" I replied sarcastically, "but that's what I was going to tell you about".
With his usual selective hearing he went on as though he hadn't heard me."They don't usually come up on the window or that feeding platform. They're ground feeders".
"I know" I repeated more irritated than I intended, "I am trying to tell you about why I got this early morning call from your sister in law".
I went on to tell him about her call and how she had been all excited about "her sign" from mother. I groaned and moaned about how this was going to be a pain in the butt as she wouldn't drop it. All the time I was complaining, the mourning dove was watching the yard, occasionally tipping it's head side to side and cocking it in a questioning manner when it turned to look at me. I finally had to acknowledge it was odd that this morning of all mornings after years of feeding the birds, for the first time ever, a mourning dove chose to sit on the ledge right where mom used to sit and watch the yard. The dove wasn't eating, just sitting and watching the yard. It was a little intimidating.
I talked with my husband about the significance of the mourning dove in the childhood of my sister and I and how that whistle brought us home and let us know we were to come no matter what we were doing. We were always glad to know mom was home to meet us and that we would be safe. We talked about the "pact" of recent time with mom and we girls, sitting on her bed talking about sending signs.
My no nonsense husband smiled knowing how that would have gone over with my conservative mom like a lead balloon. But then he added, "Well, you know this is odd. And it definitely would be something you girls would connect to your mom".
The anger at him mocking me caused me to bolt from the room and sulk the whole time I got ready to leave for the funeral.
Following the funeral we had some down time. Family was already departing at various times for our home state and the service that would take place there. I decided I would drive my father down in his car as he was tired and like his usual energizer bunny self, he was pushing the envelope and not sleeping. It was like he was in fast forward mode to get through this.
Dad wasn't ready when I arrived so I went next door to sit with the neighbors on their porch and give them contact information about reaching us when we were gone. As we talked I noticed a lone mourning dove wandering in the parking lot by our cars. I was just about to say something when the neighbor spoke up.
"Look at that. There's one of those mourning doves just walking in circles in your dad's parking lot. You don't usually see just one, like that. They travel in pairs all the time".
"That's because they mate for life", his wife contributed.
I began to relay to them the happenings concerning the doves since mother's passing. Knowing they were of the same no nonsense persuasion like my father when it came to religion, I wasn't able to gauge how they would react so I presented it in a very matter of factly way. They listened intently then contributed that the American Indians believe that the spirits come back as birds and sometimes animals after death. They didn't really know if they believed it though.
When my dad finally came out to load the car the neighbor called to him and pointed out the dove still wandering around the lot and our cars. My dad rolled his eyes, shook his head and said, "these girls". (You have to realize if my sister did anything they considered wrong, it was never just her it was "the girls".)
With a twelve hour drive ahead, it was inevitable that the discussion would eventually happen regarding the doves. We processed it together and I sensed it was a calm discussion because he wanted to savor the possibility. But, eventually he lapsed into his rendering of many scriptures from the Bible that would make this totally unpalatable to him and explain why it could never happen. Though the emphatic exclusion of any possibility would normally have whetted my appetite to argue the point, I let it drop out of reverence for his mourning and feeling now was a time to bond, not argue.
The day of the funeral was stunning. The kind of day I'd always said I wanted for my own funeral. Perfect blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds which floated like small islands of cotton candy and housed, I am sure, many angels peeking down to watch the proceedings. No humidity, no wind, just calm and beautiful. It was good to be back in Oklahoma.
At the cemetery we gathered under the tent for the last words before the interment. The pastor had been coaxed on what to say since many of us would be a captive audience to hear at least one more time the words and beliefs of my parents and to have the chance to "get it right" before we died. The task was made easier by the fact the presiding pastor was a family relative who was also of the same strict faith of my parents.
I had elected not to sit under the tent as I had an uncle who did not handle funerals well. My mother's oldest brother had been estranged for most of the years of his twenties and thirties returning to the fold without altering his "habits" which had offended the more religious members. So naturally I wanted him to feel my support. I walked to the edge of the gathering and put my arms around his waist and laid my head on his chest. With the blinding light of the beautiful day I had to close my light sensitive eyes and just focus on the words of the pastor. The bountiful sunlight beat down and I began to feel overheated. At last it was over and I went back to the car.
At the family luncheon which followed I began to regroup after large amounts of iced tea. My sister brought up the doves and I decided to just let her present it and offered no input. Later, in the retelling of the event to my husband, he said I should have brought up the one at the burial. Confused, I asked him what he meant.
"The one in the evergreen tree by the tent."
A little unsure, I said I hadn't seen one as I was with my uncle and had my eyes closed. He said it just sat on a branch and watched the service.
With the pomp and circumstances over, my husband and I made our way back home. My dad took his car and remained with his family in our home state for a few days. My husband and I decided to break up the trip by visiting friends on the way back. The couple knew my parents and she had worked in their office for them at one point. Being able to stay the night was a relief and we arrived at bedtime exhausted, so we went directly to bed.
Early the next morning I wandered downstairs in pursuit of the wonderful smells that were wafting up to our guest bedroom. The old Victorian house reflected the warm hospitality I knew would be awaiting me. The house decor was done in beautiful colors with welcoming flowers, wildlife figures and bright morning sunshine flowed through the dining room bay window with it's inviting bench seating.
I was caught up in the moment and in a attitude of blessed relief when I suddenly was catapulted into reality by my hostess loud salutation.
"Hey, come here, I want you to see the new bird feeder Dave made me. It's really got 'em flocking in. And if you want to see something unusual, I've been watching this mourning dove run back and forth to the feeder, then up towards this window, then back again. And it's just one. Usually there is always a pair but I haven't seen another one."
It was like instant replay, like someone messing with my mind. I had intended to tell her about "mother-the mourning dove-the signs", but now I hesitated. She laughed at the sight in the yard and continued.
"Look how that dove keeps looking up here in the window like it expects something. Maybe it thinks there's more food coming or I should serve it.".
I inched toward the window and truly the bird was looking toward the big windows and appeared to be waiting for something. For me? Who knew? I just found my self launching into a detailed account of the "bird incidents" since mother's passing. I figured that being my friend would make her totally sympathetic to my mood and needs concerning the whole issue. Her laughter soon dispelled any expectations I had.
"Well it seems to me that your sister got her sign, your dad got his, your husband got his at the burial and now I'm getting mine. This is really cool. "
She turned to the window and called out my mother's name.
"Enjoy yourself. David made the new feeding area, so I hope you stick around and enjoy it."
She continued to chatter incessantly about the sign, the doves, what she herself would send as a sign when she died. She found it funny it was that Mother was the first to go and ended up being the one to send the signs considering her adversity to the concept.
My husband and I returned home and time passed. Almost a year later I drove this same crazy friend of mine to her hometown in another state when I went to my new grandson's baptism. My youngest daughter had been pregnant when mother died but never got to tell her. We assured her with all the "esp" my mother had, but denied; she undoubtedly knew about the baby without being formally told. Now the baby was here and I was going to the baptism in Ohio and would take my good friend who had not been back there in twenty years or more.
Driving eight and a half hours isn't bad unless you travel with a friend who knows every line of every song on the radio and sings it out loud and slightly off key. By the time we reached our hotel at almost nine p.m., I was about to lose it. We had held off eating supper so that we could unpack at the motel, eat in a leisurely fashion, then go to bed and be rested in the morning for the ceremony. I also thought we might run into some of the family at the same motel, as we had reserved a block of rooms.
Diabetics should never push the envelope by not eating on time, because as the blood level drops and the insulin rises you tend to get really crabby. At the point we registered at the hotel I was so crabby I could have taken her eyeballs and stuffed them up her nose if she sang one more verse of one more song. All I wanted to do was get unpacked and eat and go to sleep. The last 100 miles had been rainy, foggy and dismal and like being entombed with the mother of all off key singers.
I registered us quickly being sure they accommodated us with the handicap room my friend would need. We were sharing a room on the ground floor and that accommodated both of us. I had told her to remain in the car until I could unload the first load and get the door open. True to form she was already out of the car when I got back with the key and was leading the way using her cane and dragging items with her.
"Hey look up there" she called." There's your mom".
I looked up to the balcony across the courtyard beyond the fenced swimming pool thinking she'd seen my daughter up there and in her tired state, had said mom instead of daughter. Seeing no one I asked her where to look. She directed my gaze with a hand gesture and a loud, "There".
Looking in the direction of her pointing finger I saw a lone mourning dove sitting on the evergreen branch just outside the swimming pool fence.
"There, on the branch. I can't believe it's out this hour of the night and sitting in the cold rain". She started laughing, "Guess she came for the party too".
My humor had failed me and I grumpily yelled at her to get over to the room and get the door open. I had more trips to make back and forth to the car, in the rain. I was tired, hungry, and low blood sugar was plunging me toward insulin reaction. She was laughing and enjoying my discomfort. I deposited her in the room and went back for more.
The dove remained, not moving. In and out , three trips and with each deposit in the room, my friend would laugh and ask me if "mom was still there?" I answered in a truly foul way and stomped in and out dramatically.
The fourth trip to the car for the last of the items I looked warily at the dove. It remained still on the branch and just watched me. I loaded myself with everything so I wouldn't have to make another trip and wouldn't have to pass that dove again. I turned to go back in and suddenly either my low sugar reached a level of surrender, or my need to reconnect with my mom overwhelmed me.
"Mom, if that's your sign, or you, or however this works, thanks for coming. I really needed it and I am sure in time to come it will mean a lot to the family knowing you were here".
I continued on into the room and left the last of the items. Then, making an excuse I'd forgotten something, I went back out to see if the dove was still there. It was not. Having been acknowledged it had felt free to leave. Or at least that was how I chose to interpret it.
In the intervening years after my mother's death and before my sister's death, my sister spoke of odd appearances of a mourning dove, always alone, in various locations. Even on the window ledge of her eighth story apartment in the downtown city area it would peck on her window. It always conincided with times of need or distress in her life. She always believed firmly it was mother's way of signaling her that she was near and aware.
I guess for me, mother provided a more permanent and daily reminder. I visited a "runaway" place in our city that is a tourist boutique sort of place. I have gone there for years when I just needed a break from stress. I eat lunch in one of the special tea rooms or deli places, wander in and out of small boutiques with hand crafted or imported items, and visit the artist outlets and galleries.
One gallery in particular is a well known wild life artist's and he has a really unique Shoppe. I decided to go in there one of those particularly melancholy days. He was busy on the phone so I wandered looking at the prints, the framed pieces, and then I wandered in where he sat working on a new painting.
He had the new painting spread before him that was about two thirds finished. It was of a winter sledding scene and I looked forward to the time I'd be able to see it for sale in the pricey shops of the area. I'd always feel it was special as I'd seen in in "creation" form. It also reminded me of childhood sledding days and gave me a moment of nostalgia.
I could tell he was finishing his call so I wandered over to a cabinet with several unframed prints enclosed in plastic covers. Looking through them I was suddenly arrested by the sight of a painting of a mourning dove on the tip of a lone branch. (SEE PICTURE BELOW ARTICLE) It was sitting with ruffled feathers looking back just like the morning I had seen "mine" on the ledge of my picture window. I just stood staring and thinking about that day and how it had seemed so odd and special at the time.
The artist approached me and seeing the print in my hand he said, "You know that's got a special story with it." I turned and looked at him directly.
"Yeah, it's not the kind I usually do, I mean it's not like most wildlife pictures or scenes. But about a year ago I was sitting right at that window and painting. This dove landed on a branch and sat there just watching. Then it began tapping. This went on for a few days and the pecking on the window continued and I just had to paint it. People thought I was nuts because it wouldn't be a good seller, and they didn't like the way I painted it with its feathers all ruffled up. But I felt like I should paint it like it was. As soon as I finished it, it left and never came back."
Speechless doesn't begin to address how I reacted. I did finally relate the stories to him and he really felt "connected" to the string of events. Some would say he just wanted to make a sale, but believe me, he didn't have to sell me. It was an instant connection when I saw it. Today it hangs in my living room to remind me of my mom and the mysteries of life and death.
The most recent "visit" was this last week. My dad had been ask to go to Brazil to fill in for a doctor who's Visa wouldn't arrive in time. At the age of 81 my dad still travels the world doing mission trips and teaching chiropractic. This substitution meant, however, that he would not be here to celebrate Father's Day in the traditional sense. I asked him to come by for a meal the Wednesday before and then we went out into the back yard to watch the two greyhounds entertain us.
After the dogs had run rampant for a while they went inside with my husband. Dad and I were alone in the yard. Perfect weather, bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds, not unlike the day mom was buried. I handed him a colorful gift bag with his father's day gifts inside. He grumbled as usual; "didn't need to" , "what's this stuff", and I ignored it as usual. The first thing he pulled out were papers rolled up and tied with a simple lavender ribbon. He unrolled it and began to read the Legacy Story I had written for him called "Birdie, Birdie in the Sky; Will You Marry Me?". It was about the song my sister and I sang when he was courting our mother, only it was done in a fashion to "run him off" seeing the "handful" we would be to raise. (It backfired as he decided Mother needed help in surviving the two of us through adolescence and the teen years.)
His reading of the story went on for some time and it was during this time we heard the sound. The signal. The cooah, coo, coo, coo. Sitting in the highest branch of one of the tallest trees in the yard was a lone mourning dove. She sat there repeating her familiar sounds as he read the story and while he opened his other gifts. While our yard is known to be a haven for flocks of Mourning Doves, on this day there was only one solitary dove to be found, and she sat watching us intently.
He submitted to a picture of himself being taken by the garden (SEE PICTURE BELOW THE ARTICLE) in his new Father's Day hat and shirt that says; "Property of my family-24/7 - 365." It seemed a poignant moment as we noted the dove had sat through the entire gift giving then suddenly was gone. (SEE PICTURE BELOW)
Sure, we can read things in to and out of anything seeking comfort and warmth with the loss of Mother. As I have had more dove encounters, heard more "bird" stories, had "signals" from my sister since her passing, I have come more to the point of believing you call it as you see it. Religious discussions aside, I am sure that if these are points of contact from beyond, they are loving gestures to remind us that it is because we are loved and they want us to know they await our coming. And I for one would never profess to know how God set this world up or the world that waits for us, but I do know it would be done in a loving and thoughtful manner with our welfare and good intent in mind.
When I have had a special moment with a mourning dove, I choose to believe it is because it is a sign of my Mother's forever love. It is also a legacy I hope to experience with more family members when I go. ©2006
Willard in the garden that Father's Day when we gave him his shirt and hat watched by "a special visitor".
The artist's print I saw in his shop. I could not get over the story he told about how it came to be. It now hangs in my living room as a reminder of all the "Mourning Dove Stories" that present the wonder about "signs" that can be given if God has a sense of that some of us just need something tangible to give us comfort. I do not believe "my mother is a mourning dove now" or anything close, but as the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma where I was raised, I do not second guess God and only go by what I know and experience. Like the Indians who have recounted stories for hundreds of years about "signs" by animals, and particularly birds after the passing of loved ones, I allow that if it is so, then "thank you God, it has been a source of keeping Mother close and in mind until I see her again."