The strange fact my mother was a woman never occurred to me until I was well into my adulthood, with kids of my own even. I always thought of her as, well, just a mother. My mother. And my mother would never…you know…that. It wasn’t that she didn’t like feminine things. She did. She wore slips with her dresses and high heel shoes. She wore pretty necklaces and simple earrings. She had a beautiful diamond and wedding band set she was never without. She wore makeup.
Daddy used to come up behind her while she was cooking or doing dishes and wrap her her a tight hug and kiss her neck. She’d giggled and pretend to shoe him away.
She enjoyed seeing movies staring Robert Redford and/or Paul Newman, Clark Gable, and so on. She enjoyed watching Hawaii 5-0 (the original with Jack Lord) and Medical Center with Chad Everett. She appreciated a good looking man as well as any other woman.
But it never occurred to me why she appreciated these handsome men. Why? Because she was a woman, but I never saw it until she and my father had been married close to half a century.
Daddy was in the hospital about to undergo his second quadruple heart bypass surgery the following morning. I was staying overnight with mom at the house so I could drive her to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. That night, we left the hospital late. We got home just in time to go to bed so we could get up at 4am. While we were getting ready for bed, the phone rang and I answered it. It was a man, calling for my mother. She sat down at the table and talked to this gentleman for about half-an-hour. I made a feeble attempt to not listen. She laughed on occasion and relayed information about daddy’s upcoming surgery. After a little while, she thanked him for calling then hung up the phone. I asked her who the caller was. Very nonchalantly, she said, “an old boyfriend. He heard about your daddy’s surgery and was calling to wish us well.”
Few words have ever—ever—struck me as hard. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt at that moment. It wasn’t that I suspected anything other than what it was—an old friend calling offering thoughts and support—but the mind-numbing, punch-to-the-gut reality that my mother, my mother, had a boyfriend before my father.
Did she kiss him? Did she hold his hand? Did they ever talk marriage? It was at that moment, I realized for the first time, my mother was a woman. That holier-than-thou, not my mother pedestal I had her sitting on didn’t tip over that night—it rose a few feet higher. My mother was a woman, through and through.