May 2011

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laugh M is for my God, You’re Nuts By Laura J. Gallagher to paint an accurate picture of the kind of person my mom was. Because if anyone was going to get a disease that basically encom- passes the word “demented,” it would be Ida Joyce. She was 41 when she had me, her only kid. Nowadays there would be special medical tests and support groups and Facebook pages and possibly rubber bracelets for first-time moms at that age. But back then it was just…odd. Her life even started out odd. It’s nearly impossible for me to reconcile her upbringing with the I person and mom she was, and I mean that with total admiration. She was born “on the rez” (she was Oneida) and lived there with her parents and siblings until she was 7, when the family moved to Milwaukee and into mind-blowing poverty. They all crowded into a basement apartment with a dirt floor and an outdoor toilet, all four girls sharing one bedroom (and bed) and my grandparents in the living room. I have no idea where they put the three boys. They ripped the end papers out of books to have writing paper. Even though he was completely blind in one eye, and mostly blind in the other, my grandfather worked as a carpenter, and a damn good one. My uncles routinely pawned the family cuckoo clock and Charlie McCarthy doll for booze money. Whenever my oldest aunt would leave her husband (which was often), she’d move back in— with her kids. You get the idea. Somehow, out of this Lifetime Movie existence came a woman who managed to skip a grade, use her high school Latin education to teach herself French, save up enough money to take piano lessons for a year, use that one year of piano lessons to become an amazing t’s been a little over a year since I lost my mom to Alzheim- er’s. I start this way not to be maudlin (although Alzheimer’s sucks, give the Alzheimer’s Association lots of money!) but “ ” I look back at my upbringing now and waver between thinking ‘That. Was. Awesome.’ and ‘What the hell were you people thinking?’ ragtime piano player, and have a high school teacher bemoan the fact that she, a girl, wasn’t going on to college. In the 1940s. Oh, she went to college, all right. When she was in her late 50s and I was in high school. Guess which one of us graduated with honors? So, combine this incredible intelligence with an amazing lack of common sense and you have my mom. Combine my mom with a dripping-with-common-sense upper-middle-class business- man’s son and you have my parents. Combine them—nudge, nudge—and you have me. Yeah. I look back at my upbringing now and waver between think- ing “That. Was. Awesome.” and “What the hell were you people thinking?” My dad, realizing fairly quickly that he had married a complete goofball and spawned another one, threw up his hands early on. He worked all day anyway, leaving me alone with a woman who let me use a cheese grater when I was 2 (“If she hurts herself, she’ll learn that it’s sharp.” True, and yet, so wrong.) and taught me all the words to “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.” As regular readers of my column know, I grew up in the best neighborhood in the world. A lot of that had to do with the moms, all of whom filled specific roles. Mrs. T was the one you’d go to for a hug, or to be told how cute/smart/clever you were. Mrs.K1 was the indulger, who’d let us watch television, make a mess and drink Kool-Aid until we were ready to explode. She was also my mom’s main accomplice. Mrs.K2 was the worrier, making sure you had a ride home, a jacket and money for a phone call if you needed it. My mom was the thrill ride. Not only would she let us play games like “wear princess gowns and spin around until you fall over and possibly throw up” and “how fast does THIS burn,” but she’d suggest them. And join us. It’s no small comfort that in the last picture ever taken of her, on a “field trip” while in the nursing home, she’s sticking her tongue out at the camera. When we went to the nursing home to collect her things, the staff gladly printed a copy out for us, saying, “That was totally your mom!” I put it in the video tribute at her funeral, prompting everyone watching it to say, “That was Joyce!” Yes, yes it was. ••• Laura J. Gallagher is a long-time communications professional. When not teasing her husband, Triple M’s Pat Gallagher, she enjoys reading, cooking and trying to get their dog and two cats off the bed so she can make it for once. Find her on Facebook on the Laura J. Gallagher Fan Page! 80 BRAVA Magazine May 2011

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