My Mother would have celebrated her 97th birthday this weekend. Like many mothers and daughters, our relationship was. . .interesting at times.
This photo on the left, from the simplest of times, was taken by my father on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey on Easter Sunday in 1956. I was 3, Mary was 5, and my mother was 43, pregnant and glowing. We were on our way to an Easter visit with her family.
She lost the baby a few weeks later, and much of the glow dimmed for a long time….
I write today to remember, to honor, to express my love, and my perpetual confusion about what made this beautiful and vibrant woman — intelligent, witty, experienced in moving through the world — limit her life in so many ways.
What fears and demons drove her, literally, to drink? In what ways did we all collaborate for so many years to keep this unmanageable truth secret? Where is she in me?
My sister and I were blessed and honored to be an active part of my mother’s death in 1995. She’d been sober for 17 years — since the birth of my son in 1978. But she’d never allowed for open discussion of the past, preferring to think it didn’t matter once she stopped drinking.
Mary and I knew better — our lives have been shaped (and distorted) by her alcoholism. Our strength, our laughter, and our love tempered by it; our fears and frailties exacerbated. Our children’s lives have in part been shaped by our experiences, as will be their childrens’ in their turn.
My mother’s legacy hovers over the two sweet girls in the photo: looking like all that is proper, dainty, and acceptable, but with an anxious smile, a yearning to please, and many doubts about the future.
Her courage ultimately triumphed over demons, drinks, dread and doubt. My Mother, Ruth Elizabeth Holster Fusco, died at peace, bravely and with all the demons vanquished.
I loved “the divil out of her.”