The parents’ balance of power

Married 1950; dad died in 2000, mom in 2011

March 12, 1950: Bride Trudy between Les (left, behind her) and Gert (to the right, dark hat)

My parents were married seventy years ago today. I think about them, individually and collectively, a lot. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned that, when I was growing up in Binghamton, I felt bad for my mom. She was often left out of the balance of power, as far as I could tell.

Mom was squeezed between her mother, who owned the house we lived in and resided a half a mile away, and her husband, who had an outsized personality. As I noted eight years ago, my mother telling secrets to her kids was the great equalizer. They were stories about my dad that he had presumably told her in confidence.

At the time, I was thrilled to get the insights. He was born out of wedlock? The guy I knew as my grandfather wasn’t his biological grandfather? Dad hated Christmas because a drunk relative toppled the Christmas tree when he was seven? That explained a lot.

It was only after he died in 2000 that I fully recognized my discomfort with the setup. My sisters and I couldn’t ACT on the information. We couldn’t ask him about so much because we knew things that he didn’t know we knew.

How would we be able to explain knowing what knew without ratting out our mother? And what would have been the repercussions on her?

There were two times when I saw her with the upper hand in the relationship. One was when my father moved to Charlotte, NC and she took her sweet time following him down. My mom’s aunt Charlotte, for one, was not a fan of my father and actively campaigned for her to stay in upstate New York. Eventually, though, she, and my baby sister, and eventually my maternal grandmother all moved down to North Carolina.

The belated 1996 Christmas

The other time she had the balance of power was so out of the blue. In January 1997, my sisters, their daughters and I were all down in Charlotte. My father was brooding all day, doing what my sisters and I called the “black cloud,” a sulking so intense that it almost felt that he literally sucked the air out of the room.

Finally, that evening, Dad explained that he thought the daughters of my sisters were being disrespectful and not too big to spank. Leslie, ever the diplomat, expressed her appreciation for his sharing, but kindly disagreed. I followed her lead.

Then my mother launched into a tirade – or as much of one as she could muster. It was about how he had taken out a lot of money, five figures, from their joint bank account without her knowledge. Money that he spent for items for his various businesses.

I should note that he was notoriously bad at record keeping. He probably could have written off some losses if he could be disciplined enough to submit receipts to their beleaguered bookkeeper, Cecil.

In any case, mom’s complaint about the money was valid. Those losses affected her for years after he died in August 2000. Yet, in that moment, I felt badly for dad, who had been expressing his feelings but totally shut down after that. Perhaps that was why he was so secretive about the evolution of the prostate cancer that killed him. That was HIS power.

And yet it was obvious that, after all of that, they still loved each other. He worked hard to arrange a surprise party for her on their 50th, and last anniversary in 2000. And by arrange, that included doing the bulk of the decorations. Presumably, he was in some physical discomfort.

Long-standing relationships can be complicated, I suppose.

How news of Mom’s death spread

before you post another RIP on social media

Trudy.Green_dress This Groundhog Day I get to relive the day my mom died in 2011. I stayed in her room overnight on 1 February, and she died early the next morning. My sisters were already on their way back to the hospital. I suppose I could have called them on their cellphones, but I didn’t see the point. They walked into the room less than five minutes after she died and I got to tell them the news.

As I’ve noted, there was a certain symmetry to this. My sisters were present when my father died in 2000. My mom and I were en route to the hospital. I signed some legal document as the correspondent of her death, as I was for my father – the joy of being the oldest. The hospital contacted the funeral home, and eventually we went home, shortly after noon.

As it turned out, I had written a blog post, a few days earlier, about my mom’s stroke and me taking the train to Charlotte. Eventually, I checked my email. Denise Nesbitt, the doyenne of ABC Wednesday asked how my mom was. I told her that Mom had died.

She must have shared the news somewhere. Within 15 minutes, I started getting comments that switched from hoping my mom was getting better to condolences regarding her loss. I suppose it’s bizarre to note it’s the post for which I received the greatest number of comments.

Facebook

I was reminded of this article, Please read this before you post another RIP on social media. The piece doesn’t apply to my situation, but it was nevertheless instructive.

In fact, my grief was documented in several posts that month. My sisters and I have to write an obituary? Post it on the blog. We have to come up with the program? More blog fodder. I still remember someone referred to me as “dispassionate” because I was doing one post in my Joe Friday mode. “Just the facts.” It was/is my coping mechanism.

I’ve been dealing with death for a long time, it seems. My father’s mom Agatha died when I was nine; she lived upstairs from us. My mom’s maternal aunt Deana passed when I was 11; I saw her almost daily. Agatha taught me canasta, which I taught to Deana. I was very fond of both of them.

Groundhog Day is the day I relive when my mom died. I think about how I’m now an Orphaned Adult, a book I recommend, BTW.

Trudy: black, proud, and offended

Harvey Gantt

Trudy.CN JenkinsHere’s my mom, Trudy, on the left, with a couple of other women from her church some years before she passed. She was always black and proud and often offended when people thought otherwise. More than one person asked if she had ever tried to pass as white; she was appalled.

Being light-skinned, though, provided her some insights. She once tried to get an apartment with my dad when they were first married in Binghamton in the early 1950s. But when the landlord saw Les Green, he decided he could not rent to a “mixed-race couple.” I noted a story set in San Francisco in the late 1960s. My sister Marcia shared more tales from her time living in Charlotte, NC, starting in 1974.

A black mayor

My mother was a teller for a bank for much of her time in North Carolina. Charlotte elected Harvey Gantt in 1983, the first black mayor of the city’s history. In the 1990s, he ran twice for the United States Senate against segregationist Jesse Helms, losing both times. Some white people felt free to say to my mother racially disparaging remarks about Gantt, figuring that Trudy was one of “them.”

This continued when she worked in a free-standing drive-through bank branch. A customer would complain about getting a moving violation or ticketed for failure to register their vehicle in a timely manner. Occasionally, the white person would say to my mother, “Why are the police going after me? They should be going after those [N-word, plural] instead.” Trudy would go home, crying.

Apparently, one’s race is, or at least was, a descriptor on the voter registration rolls in North Carolina. She was listed as black, yet she’d be indicated by the registrar as white. Or she’d be marked as white when she’d cash a check, as she could see when the canceled check was mailed to her each month.

My mother seldom showed her anger openly about this, even at home, but this misidentification clearly wore on her. When one of my nieces was a child, she was asked why her grandma was white. Being a light-skinned black person in America had its downside.

Mom would have been 92 today.

Les and Trudy: Redhead in San Francisco

Many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race.

Les and TrudyI don’t think I told this story before. If I have, in the words of an old friend of mine from England would often say, “Toughy buns.”

In the late 1960s, after about six mind-numbing years at IBM and a brief but productive stint at Opportunities for Broome, my father worked for Associated Building Contractors. I’m not quite sure what he did at ABC, but I imagine it had something to do with safety compliance, since that’s what he did at J.A. Jones after he moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974.

One of the perks of the job was the ability to travel. In 1969, give or take a year, mom and dad went out to San Francisco on a business trip of his. While the men did whatever, the “wives” would have lunch.

At one of these events, many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race. Some conversation took place on the latter topic, during which Mom listened thoughtfully, but said nothing. One of the wives, wanting to draw Mom into the discussion, said, “Trudy, what do think?”

Mom said, “Well, being a black woman…” Apparently, many jaws hit the table, perhaps one or two literally.

It is true that the red wig that she wore in the 1960s, which was even brighter in color than this one from the 1980s, made her skin appear even lighter. But she never identified as anything but a black woman.

My father tended to be the more visible, the more outgoing in the couple. So when there was a narrative in which SHE was the chief protagonist, mom enjoyed it immensely. She told this story more than once; there were a few anecdotes that she liked to repeat. I never asked him, but I have to think that dad was pleased that mom was out there, gathering information.

Les and Trudy Green were married on March 12, 1950, and were wed for more than 50 years, until my father died in August 2000.

For mom: Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry

Losing a parent is hell

Oh, yay, it’s that time again. The anniversary of my mom’s death in 2011, the only person I actually saw die. Losing a parent is hell. I mean, it happens all the time to other people. It is the “natural order of things” but it still sucks.

I like this: The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend, “The author of We Need to Talk reveals how she learned to help — and not help — a friend with loss.” It’s tricky stuff.

As I’ve noted, my mother was not her SELF in the last months of her life. My sisters and I don’t know what degenerative ailment she was seized by. BTW, a study suggests memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Mom needed more of the music she loved, maybe.

Perhaps I should come up with a playlist of my own, just in case, but it’d be pretty eclectic, NOT just Beatles and Motown. Note to self: work on that.

Anyway, I signed up for this Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry. I logged in months ago and got a packet in the mail shortly thereafter. But it was only the beginning of this year that I swabbed the inside of my cheek and mailed it, and only so I could actually SAY I did so without lying.

I’m hoping that whatever they’re doing will lead the Way toward Alzheimer’s early detection, prevention and treatment. “For Alzheimer’s disease there are two important biomarkers – amyloid and tau – toxic proteins that clump and tangle in the brain.”

Scientists say a breakthrough vaccine works by targeting those two proteins. Of course, at best, the vaccine wouldn’t be sold on the market for at least 10 years. If the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry shortens that time, that’d be great.

Oh, yeah, the picture. It was taken on my 52nd birthday, which she remembered. But of course she would. The provenance of the photo? Ah, you’ll have to wait until March 7. BTW, I wrote THAT post before this one because that’s what I do sometimes.