Today, September 5th is my mother’s birthday. Nell Rose Schwakhofer née Martin. She was born in 1924 and she died from breast cancer on January 20, 1980. She was 55 and I was 16. Neither myself nor my family coped very well and after she died, nobody realised the importance of keeping things that belonged to her. Denial and then ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ were the order of the day. I have a very few of her belongings and some photographs, memories of her from a child’s point of view and some stories and recollections about her from her sisters and some of my older cousins who knew Aunt Nell.
One thing that I do have of hers is a wristwatch. Nothing special, just a self-winding Timex that she bought from Long’s drugstore in the 1970’s. The works had sprung years and years ago, but I found a clock-maker/repairer in Birmingham who was able to replace the innards with a self-winding clockwork. On the days that I need to keep track of ‘topside world’ or chronos time I wind it up, set the time and wear it.
When I went away to college and started to look away from my family, hometown and childhood and forward into adulthood and the life that stretched before me, I thought of my mom. In her late 40’s, she started taking evening classes at a Community College. She wanted to get a degree in Early Childhood Education and pursue her dream of becoming a Montesorri teacher. She learned how to swim, wore a black armband in alliance with an Indian Rights movement on campus, came home forom her Biology class very excited about having looked at her blood cells under a microscope! A couple of years after that, she left a very destructive relationship with my father. Sadly, she developed breast cancer around that time and died a few years later. So on one hand, I saw her life blossoming. It gave me a wonderful view of an older (to me) person doing something different, trying something new, reaching for a dream. One gift from my mother has been no worries about growing older myself. People can do extraordinary things at any age and it’s probably not as late as you think.
On the other hand, don’t put things off and let chances slip by. At the same time in my early 20’s, I wondered what else she may have done if she had lived. Were there other dreams that never came to fruition, were some simply too late to try, did she have any regrets over opportunities lost or avenues not pursued while she was still in a cage? I’ll probably never know, but for myself from a pretty young age I resolved to live my life so that I would not have any (or many) regrets when I got into the middle part of my life. In fact I started seeing a counselor in my final year at University and the first thing I said was ‘I don’t want to be like my mom and start living my life when I’m 50 and die a few years later’. When I look back at my life so far and where I am today, I truly did and continue to explore many paths and opportunities that come before me. One of my maxims is ‘Will I get this chance again and how might I feel if I pass on this one?’. I am grateful for the insight and awareness that I gained from my mother’s life and death in the relatively short time that I knew her.
Here is a little poem about Time that my mom and I found on a sundial somewhere in New England in 1976. We were on a 6 week roadtrip from California to the East Coast to visit her sisters and where she grew up.
Time flies, suns rise,
Flowers bloom and die.
Let time go by and shadows fall,
Love is forever, over all.
So now, when I wear my mother’s watch, I wind it up and set the time. I become aware of the time now. Chronos time. Time in the topside world of society and cities and doing and goals. Maybe I think of where I need to be that day and where my steps and tasks and meetings are taking me. Some times I think of my mom, of Nell, and I wonder what plans she had for any particular day when she wound her watch and set the time – where did she need to be and why, and where were her dreams taking her. I also remember that love is the only thing that really matters and lasts forever, beyond all time.