Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Tribute

Today, October 30 is the 11th anniversary of the day my mother died. While she had been sick with emphysema a long time, her death was still unexpected. Even now, eleven years later, I'm still sometimes surprised she's gone.

But this post is not to remember her death, but to tell people about her life.

Many of you who read this post never had a chance to meet her, but I know you would have liked her and she would have liked you all, as well. I remember her commenting about why she liked her Uncle Bill so much. She said you could put him in a room with the Queen of England and a lowly bum from the streets and he could carry on an interesting and pleasant conversation with both of them. What she seemed to not understand was that she was the same way. Aunts & Uncles, cousins and neighbors all remember her with love and how she made them feel special and welcome.

Jean Shirley Hammerton was born in 1927, the middle of three children. Her family was poor due to the depression, she said. Others from her family said they were poor because her father was an alcoholic and didn't want to work. I don't know the reason, but I know my mom generally spoke about her father in a good light, giving him the benefit of the doubt. That quality was consistent throughout her life. Many times her children (the youngest in particular) put this to the test, but she was a patient and loving mother.

Her mother died October 31, 1934 when she was seven years old. According to her story, her father was unable to care for three children on his own so he left them with his wife's family. According to other people's stories he left them on the porch of his wife's family because he didn't want the responsiblity.

Her sister, brother and she were split among relatives from both sides of the family. Mom wound up with her maternal grandmother, a widow with a number of grown children living with her. She remembered up to 10-12 people at a time living in the house. Some of the people there were her Aunt Marie who was blind, and her Uncle who was later committed to an asylum. While she never said so, I imagine with so many people, including some with disabilities there wouldn't be alot of time for a little girl.

At a time when people ignored family members with mental illness, my mom remembered travelling regularly on the bus with her grandmother to visit him. Maybe it was her grandmother's example that made Mom as understanding as she was.

Though she was separated from her siblings, the family must have made efforts to keep in contact, because they remained close through adulthood. This surprises me, because even though they were in the same city, transportation was not all that easy and phones were not the household staples they are now. This puts me to shame, as I have trouble keeping in touch with my family despite e-mail, snail mail, car, telephone, and cell phone.

When my mom was 12 her grandmother was killed when she was hit by a car. My mom then moved in with her mother's sister, who had two daughters of her own. Later in her life, I heard that my mom mentioned she was treated well there, but she always knew she wasn't family. Apparently, though, it was not something on which she dwelled because she never seemed to seek the love she didn't get, but only give the love she had. And she had a lot!

As I think about her life, I'm amazed that one who experienced such loss at a young age could be such a loving wife and mother. Today, people use such life experiences as excuses for their shortcomings, the reason they neglect their children, abuse substances, can't maintain healthy relationships. By these accounts, my mother should have been a sniper on the roof of a building shooting passersby. But instead, she was able to surmount her own pain and raise four children with love and understanding.

It's been commented by many including my father, siblings, and other relatives that my cousin Ed's wife reminds them of my mother. In my opinion it's the greatest complement that anybody could make about another. Mom was a gentle and gracious woman.

I miss her very much, and I think of her often. I wish she were still around so many of you could meet her and know how wonderful a woman she was - not just take my word for it. It hurts to think that people in the future will not only not know her personally, but probably won't even know she ever existed. However, recently, my nephew and his wife had their first child, a daughter named Kaileigh Jade. Her middle name is an acronym for all her grandmothers and great grandmothers. The "J" is for my mom, Jean. I'm comforted that because of this, Kaileigh will hear of her great-grandma Jean. And so will Kaileigh's children and grandchildren. Perhaps, they might even inherit her name. Better yet, I pray they inherit her personality, intelligence and gentle manner.

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