As we’ve already discussed, Mother was extremely difficult and downright unpleasant to her family. What you may not know is that she was just lovely to complete strangers.
One friend wrote in my high school yearbook,
Your mother is so wonderful. She is one of a kind!
While I couldn’t disagree with the “one of a kind” comment, I knew that this person considered my mother to be just delightful and I also knew he considered my treatment of her less than admirable.
Her ability to flip the emotional switch on and off was a big problem. My sister Lindy and I experienced her personality traits at home, which included angry rages and out of control crying. Outside of our home (or maybe inside if a friend happened to show up) Mother was a paragon of good qualities.
She was pleasant, generous, and kind. She had an amazing ability to turn her emotions on and off. She could be in the middle of a rant and hear the doorbell and instantly change her demeanor. By the time she answered the door, she was perfectly composed and had lowered her voice to a normal level.
I, on the other hand, was not as good at masking my feelings. Often I would be wiping away tears as my friend entered my home. Guess who they thought was mentally unstable?
For years, I hid her true nature from all those I came in contact with. At college, one of my best friends Kathy had a delightful mother (also named Mary) and we shared many weekend shopping trips with her. Needless to say, I did not share anything of my true relationship with my mother with Kathy.
Luckily, but also oddly, Mother never contacted me while I was in college. Dad called and wrote weekly and I enjoyed visits from him mostly with the occasional visit from our stepmother Beatrice. Of course, during college was also when Mother took off and moved to California, thus ending the necessity for any explanation to anyone. I lived for many years speaking of Dad and Beatrice as my “parents,” and not acknowledging Mary as a parental unit.
When she moved back to Iowa and became more a part of our family, I was forced to confront my feelings about the weird way Lindy and I grew up. Writing about these experiences is a good way to release some of the emotions she inspired. I can’t imagine how Lindy and I would have fared if Mother had been our only adult influence. Fortunately, for Lindy and me, our dad kept us from being Far From Normal.