Barbara Isabella Handley Hawks, my mother, passed away this morning, February 28th, 2013. . She was 71 years old, but the worn kind of 71, the sort where she always smiled but almost never with cause to smile about, and an awful lot hurt all the time that shouldn’t hurt on a person who never so much as poked back at the world (unless you count taking off the bedroom door at the hinges when Dad locked himself in there.) The world is tough on those it can get away with being tough on, and Barb loved being around other people so much that she never pushed back against the roughest, toughest, most awful of worlds, or of loves, because she was strong enough to take it. Too strong. The kind of strength taking it that eventually wears even mountains.
She was born on February 6th, 1942 in Hartshorne, Oklahoma, the poor part of a poor state, daughter to a Revivalist Preacher who had two wives and two families and skipped town on both. Mom loved her asshole father until the day she died. She always claimed her old man was one sixteenth Cherokee which was Oklahoma for really poor, but I think Mom just liked being on the losing side of as many arguments as possible. Mom’s mother Grace collected state relief for five kids in the days when they didn’t present an anonymous cash card at the store but forced the families to come downtown to the social office and wait online to collect flour, eggs, lard, and corn meal for the kids. Most meals involved beans, and lard. The rest, hamburger twice a week, chicken on Sundays, paid for from taking in wash and ironing, and the welfare kids got their shoes just before school started in the fall, and not before. Grace Handley died of a sudden heart attack in her early 40’s. It was the mid seventies, and Mom was laughing, dressing to go dancing with Dad and when she answered the phone, thinking it Aunt Hazel, instead heard the news, and collapsed in wails of sorrow I couldn’t till now comprehend. And I know what Mom lost in her’s, those moments only the parties can really share, but my grandmother Grace was always there to me when Mom explained what it was like to be caught sneaking out through the bedroom window, in pants yet, at 14.
When it happened, Mom was deep asleep, and comfortable. I like to think she didn’t have to be Mom or anything serious, stuck in some dream where she was just a happy new Marine wife then, but was herself, her best selves, where she really, truly, honestly wanted to be, she wanted to be with someone who loved her. Maybe she was dreaming, that 19 year old too smart for her britches girl with a 20 cent pack of Winston filters trying to find herself a cute Marine at the base. Or some Christmas eve she spent alone with the kids. Or July 22, 1969 when she let me stay up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and she made miniature baked tacos as a treat, or holding her first granddaughter, or her first great granddaughter, or hitting a Royal Flush at the boat when she really needed it, or maybe a real long way back, when she was ten at home with her Mom and brother’s and sisters after their father abandoned them, having to watch the local Preacher over for his night at supper take the two best pieces of chicken at dinner, which meant now one of the kids didn’t get chicken, but she got extra cornbread, and to the end never liked dark meat anyway, so it didn’t matter, no matter how I tried to explain duck is more expensive than chicken, and ergo must be way better and she was being ripped off by a guy who sold God from the back of a pickup, but who knows. Maybe she was dreaming of eating KFC chicken wings at the boat with her grandkids; I hope so. JuneBridals court wedding dresses
She liked catfish from truck stop restaurants, worked very hard as a waitress, manager, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, accomplice, associate, all her life, and she liked to watch Oklahoma beat Texas, and All My Children, and Dallas, and she took me on the El Capitan Santa Fe streamliner to Topeka, Kanasa and we were broke but got to eat vienna sausage and crackers sold from the aisle cart.
Any of you who know me know that there isn’t a misfortune, slight, or stroke of odd coincidence or bad luck that I don’t bitch about, without regard to the decent sense to propriety or proportionality that God gave a Goose (writes the atheist) while Mom once went two days with a broken jaw swollen the size and color of a football - and went to work as a waitress for a six hour shift in this condition - without drawing attention to it or herself because she knew everything would work out all right if you just...you know.
She liked Law & Order (the TV show, not necessarily the judicial concept), anything about Lincoln or Kennedy (except my high school short story where Lincoln came forward in time to kill Kennedy) and she solved so many cases with the NCIS crew it’s small wonder the nation still possesses a Navy or Marine Corps.
The family moved around quite a lot over the decades - Oklahoma, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota - never so much settling as being detained, for one obligation or another - but where planted, Barbara Hawks blossomed. In her life she lived in over 11 cities and had good friends and good gossip on all of them. In every which way, she was a better person than I ever even intended to become at the most altruistic moments of my life. You would have liked her.
Please, no flowers, no cards, no prayers, no condolences. Just a moment’s thought of her, this one, which I just stole on my mother’s behalf, and now you know a little teeny bit about somebody you likely never met, and are all the less for it. But now I’ve tricked you into feeling her for a moment as a real, different, not great, not awful person, just somebody you couldn’t have known, but now do, and for a few extra seconds she is still out there.
Actually, for a few of us, she always will be.
Miss you, Mom.
P;S; Sorry about drawing dinosaurs all over on your walls like you told me not to.