Bill Harryman has had a difficult life. His father died when he was thirteen, and he had to take care of his mentally handicapped mom and himself. He was a gifted child whose mother was incapable of encouraging that giftedness or enjoying its fruits. Bill grew up frustrated, resentful, and angry and acted out these emotions with alcohol, drugs, and petty crime. He was headed down a dark path until he hit bottom and began changing his life. But his mom, whose intellect was stunted by severe childhood malnutrition during the Depression, never stopped loving her son unconditionally and doing her best for him. When other mothers might have thrown up their hands in despair and walked away, she remained there for him as fully as she could be until she died last summer of uterine cancer. Today, Bill has written a moving tribute to his mom and to the capacity of the human spirit to transcend adversity.
My situation was different but not very happy as I was growing up. My mother was fifteen when I was born, my father twenty-one. They got married but separated shortly thereafter. Mom and I lived with my grandparents until she remarried when I was seven. My grandparents mostly raised me while Mom worked and went to school. She dropped out of high school as a freshman but did so well on a community college entrance exam a few years later that she was allowed to attend there and excelled. However, she couldn’t continue her education at the time because she had to work full time to support herself and me. When she married a man thirteen years her senior, she felt locked into the life she had forged for herself.
Her marriage left a lot to be desired. The man she married was insecure and jealous whenever she talked to other men. They drank and argued a lot and he even physically abused her at times. I could never see him as a father or get close to him, and I often feared him. He was good at technical things and at working with his hands, I was mentally handicapped and psychologically averse to both, so we had almost nothing in common to share. I spent most of my extracurricular time hiding in my room when he was home, or I was outside on the basketball court or in the bowling alley. I spent as much time with Mom as I could when my stepdad wasn’t home, but I never felt as close to her as I would have liked. I was much closer to my grandparents. I never really saw Mom as my mom. I think I saw her more as a big sister. My grandmother was my mom. But she and my grandfather had lived hard lives with scarcely any formal education, and I often felt frustrated that I couldn’t share my intellectual and academic interests with them during all the time I spent with them the way I would have liked.
As I grew older and more and more down on myself over what I perceived as my intellectual and social inadequacies, I grew more and more unhappy. I left home to live with my grandparents the day after I graduated from high school. Mom separated from my stepdad shortly after that, but we had little contact with each other until recently.
Only after I got married almost three years ago and my second stepdad died of cancer shortly afterward did Mom and I begin seeing and talking with each other more. In fact, I’ve probably seen her and talked with her more during that short time than I did for the whole thirty years or so preceding it. I decided to move to Sacramento partly because I wanted to live close enough to her to see more of her. Yet, even now, I find it difficult to call her because I don’t know what to say to her. We both want to be closer to each other, but we’re not sure how to make it happen. Our politics and views of the world are so different. She is so much smarter than me that she can’t understand my shortcomings. There is just not the warmth and rapport between us that I wish we could have, and I’m sure she wishes it too.
But I love her and will try harder to be a good son to her. I’ll call her in a few minutes and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and spend time with her as soon after that as I can. And even though I’ve often thought otherwise, I’m grateful that she gave birth to me and then sacrificed so much to support and raise me as best she could. There must have been times when she resented me for taking away from her the kind of life she would no doubt have liked to live. I could see her continuing on in school and becoming a very successful lawyer, businessperson, or academic if I hadn't come along when I did. But she never let on, never complained that I had dashed her hopes and dreams. She just worked hard and did the best she could. And I AM grateful.
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