My mother died on April Fool’s Day in 1993. She was only 72. I was still in my early 30s — too young and shortchanged from a mother’s lifetime of wisdom.
My arrival into this world was a disappointment. Although, I arrived with all my fingers and toes, she had her heart set on another boy. I guess I was a rebel from birth (being born a girl) and a lot more energetic (boisterous and less obedient) than my older sister and brother.
I could never be her favorite — at least, not beyond an afternoon. I brought report cards home with good academic grades but poor marks for conduct. I marched down to the basement to receive my punishment. (WOW, we’ve come a long way … today, Adult Protective Services would get involved after such discipline!) When I acted up (often), she threatened to take me to the orphanage. In fact, she offered me to the Principal’s secretary who spoke fondly of children despite being childless. The secretary reminded me of Edith Bunker (All in the Family). Perhaps, the threat of a new parent is why I never warmed up to either her or Archie’s Edith. (I can imagine her thinking, You can’t give away children in America!)
As I move beyond the half-century mark, I find myself thinking more and more about my mother.
A survivor of the Turkish attempt at an Armenian genocide during 1915-1923, she moved from her birthplace of Aintab (a former heavily Armenian-occupied town in Turkey); to Aleppo, Syria; and then to Beirut, Lebanon. In 1949, she immigrated to the United States. She arrived with an eighth-grade education, a lot of spunk and vigor, a sense of humor, and big dreams.
Martin and Arpy Avadian beam proudly when their daughter Brenda receives her Masters degree.
Marrying shortly before her visa expired, she settled in America, raised three children with the values of hard work and determination. She raised each of us with the confidence to achieve and beamed proudly when I earned my Masters Degree from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 1982.
She didn’t talk much about the “old country.” However, when I questioned her enough, she shared a few joyful childhood memories in “Haleb” (Aleppo). After the family moved to Beirut her stories were mostly about her two sisters (she was in the middle) and that cute Frenchman with a mustache who wanted to spend time with her.
With the benefit of hindsight and maturity, I feel that she hoped for a much better life. It’s not that my father didn’t provide for us. I think she was looking to marry a professional who would sweep her off her feet. She was truly a kind person. Even the animals loved her — whether a mastiff, a feral cat, a squirrel, pigeon, cow, or even a skunk; she was the original Animal Whisperer.
Sadly, she died from heart failure after suffering from a weakened heart for thirteen years. The medications kept her alive, but took away her hope for a future. She was the first person in my life who died without reconciling her regrets, she died depressed and unhappy.
And yet, I have fond memories of her.
If I could ask Mom a few questions, they would be:
Did you hear Grandma and Grandpa ever talk about what it was like when you were driven out into the Syrian Desert during the attempted genocide?
What did you like about how your parents raised you? What didn’t you like?
Do you think the reason you wanted another son is because you were one of three sisters?
Did you ever wonder how I might feel knowing you were trying to get rid of me?
I’d also ask her more personal questions about being a woman during a time when women did not talk openly about life’s transitions. How did you cope with your hot flashes?
Finally, given what you know, what advice do you have for how I am living my life, today?
At this time in my life, I would actually LISTEN to my mother’s answers.
Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to get to know what your mother thinks about what’s on your mind. There will come a day when, like me, you can only wonder.