The Pretender

Living in California without children was very freeing to our mother. Being unencumbered was apparently just what she wanted. It meant that she could focus on herself and pretend that she had been a devoted mother who sacrificed so much to raise her children well, and they had turned out wonderfully. So now it was time to reward herself with an extended break from reality. What else was a girl/woman/movie star to do?

Sandra Dee as Gidget in the 1959 film, (VHS cover)In her upside-down world, she felt she had indeed “earned” her new-found freedom by her imagined years toiling at raising two daughters, being a devoted and supportive wife, and acting as a contributing member of her former community. Admittedly, Mother did contribute much to the local economy back home by actively “supporting” the neighborhood bar.

Now liberated in Southern California, her next stop was going to college. She attended El Camino College and earned a two year degree in English. Her claim to fame was writing what she vaguely referred to as “my own Canterbury Tales”. At least that was the accomplishment she boasted about the most, though her bragging was always obscured by a layer of mystery about the details of the work. To this day, nobody we know has seen the alleged manuscript.

Mother wasn’t a bit shy about letting anyone she encountered know she had graduated from college and earned a degree.  The strange thing is she never mentioned much about it to my sister Abby and me. We didn’t know that she had actually graduated until we saw her diploma hanging in her cluttered abode.

Her sister Marty dubbed her Sandra Dee, a movie star from the 1960’s. This was very apropos. Mother loved pretending. Whether it was imagining about living the lifestyle of the rich and famous or pretending she had sent our Dad to law school on her meager earnings from one day of work at Marshall Fields, or how she sacrificed for Abby and me. She could wow you with a good story.

Looking back it kind of makes sense. Her move to the Los Angeles area, where she lived just a short drive to Disneyland, landed her right in the middle of Fantasyland. She played her part to the hilt.


  1. Aunt Marty always called Mary “Sandra Dee” because of her teen-age behavior.

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