Joan Boyd Boyd
You are an angel, ascending to heaven, dressed in flowing white. You are blowing kisses down to earth. Streams of tiny gold fairy dust hearts flutter off your fingers. Together they form a kite-like string as they gently cascade down, all sparkly and soft, to tenderly touch my face. I will never forget this dream image of you I hold in my heart: young, beautiful, and healthy again.
I think back to when I was your child. We watched Mary Martin as Peter Pan every year. You were my Wendy: youth and wonder, motherhood and love, concern and sacrifice. I wanted to be her, because she was like you. Once I was on a kid’s show in the early years of television, and a man with a microphone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A mommy,” I replied without the least hesitation or imagination. You must have sighed at that.
On the surface, your life as my mom was conventional, but your inner life and life experiences, of which I know so little, were much more complex than that. This great insight of mine would likely have received a sarcastic but gentle response from you, such as “Most lives are, dear.” Did you have secrets you wanted to tell, glimpses of your past before I was part of it? Did I even think to myself I would ask you later, as if we had all the time in the world?
I have a picture of you at eight, in your pale blue dotted Swiss dress with the large laced collar. Your mouth is lovely and full. Your eyes look sad and tired. I think by this time you had endured the horrible mastoid operations which almost took your life. You were allergic to penicillin. With no other known antibiotics to fight the infections that hurt so much, you had to be put in a strait jacket to keep you from going wild. Did your ears define your childhood, like my crossed eye did mine?
There is a picture of you at age 12, in pigtails, a spitting image of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. You are Wendy and Dorothy. Your face is so hopeful and open—you seem well and happy, grounded in the love of your family, open and excited about the adventures to come. You showed me with your love that there’s no place like home.
You read everything you could, and made a reader out of me. You loved Alice in Wonderland, the Little House books, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and the poetry of A.A.Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson. You could hardly wait for me to be old enough to read them myself. You and I both identified with Anne especially. You might easily have been the Anne who lamented “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes,” but you also would have loved Anne’s thought that “Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.” My favorite line from Anne is “Red hair is my life-long sorrow.” Add kinky, uncontrollable, and the nickname favored by Dad, “Big Red,” to that, and you understood my plight. That’s why, when I was thirteen, you bought a product called ‘Straightaway’, heavily marketed to African-American women, to help me “get straight,” so that Paul McCartney would love me instead of Jane Asher.
By your teen years you were devouring Vanity Fair, Gone With the Wind, all of Jane Austin, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenina. You wanted me to love reading that was challenging and thought-provoking. When I finished Gone With the Wind, you asked me who I liked the most, Scarlett or Melanie. My reply of “Melanie” was a bit of a disappointment to you. “Hmm,” you replied with a furrowed brow and slight frown. You left it to me to figure out why. Had you a Civil War and a plantation, rather than the life expected of a ‘50s housewife and mother of four, I think you very well might have been Scarlett.
Your mom wanted you to be ladylike, provide her with grandchildren and become a good housewife like she was. You excelled in needlepoint, piano, watercolors, and all the liberal arts. Your penmanship was impeccable, which pleased her. You could recite from Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath,” and I am sure her feminist manifesto pleased you. Perhaps you had fun imagining a little revenge after being raised by a father who merely wanted you to look pretty playing the piano, and two brothers who never acknowledged your opinions as the least bit interesting.
It was at Bethany College in West Virginia where you memorized parts of Chaucer, and where you met the handsome airman who became my dad. Robert Boyd sat next to Joan Boyd in religion class after the war, and marriage soon followed. (You loved your name: Joan Boyd Boyd!) Robin arrived eleven months later; you “dropped me like an egg” seventeen months after that, and then Ann came along within the next two years. Three girls, still best friends, grew up together. Seven years after that you had Steve (the only one planned, you told your daughters when we were adults).
As a married woman with children, I’m certain you read Dr. Spock. I think of other books of that time, the 1950s and ‘60s, and remember seeing titles of works by Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, James Michener, Leon Uris, and James Baldwin on your bedside table, along with The Group and The Feminine Mystique. When I became a married woman in the ‘70s, we exchanged books we loved: those by Gail Godwin, Lee Smith, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates.
Dad travelled often, but you held down the fort, wisely and firmly. To me you were Marmie from Little Women. We felt safe and loved. Oh Mom, how I miss you, how I wish I had had more time with you! We never quarreled or had issues like so many moms and daughters. I think the harshest thing you ever said to me was “Don’t be flip” if I was a little bit sassy. We still have that powerful, unbreakable bond, as I carry on with my daily chores, doing things just the way you taught me.
I haven’t dreamed about you in years. Something was resolved for me in that dream of 22 years ago, those kisses you blew for me, letting me know you loved me always, assuring me you are whole again, wherever your soul may be.
I look up and see you, my loving, lovely mother, and know I am safe.
When Pam’s husband Jimmy passed away six years ago, she found comfort in writing about her grief. She took classes in memoir writing, found her voice, and writes memoir and poetry in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She is also a Spiritual Director, trained through The Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC.