One size does not fit all
November 3, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
What I am about to write is not an attack on the Catholic Church or my maternal grandparents. My only point is that one size does not fit all. Everyone is different. Temperamentally, my mother was not a good fit with the Catholic Church. She tried to make herself be a good Catholic, but doing so killed her eighty years later.
As I wrote before, Mom was sent to a Catholic boarding school when she was five years old. She was forced to do things against her will. It damaged her so deeply that eighty years later, she died rather than once again be forced to do things against her will. When she was a child, nobody intended to hurt her; they just had no idea that the individual human named CeeCee Lower would not respond well to what was offered.
Many people thrive when sent to religious boarding schools. My mother was simply not one of them. That’s all there is to it.
Nobody’s at fault. My grandparents were dealing with things completely beyond their capacity to cope, and the nuns at the boarding school had been taught that doing things a certain way would pay off in the long run by making the children better people. If I were able to show my grandparents and the nuns what would happen to Mom eighty years later as a result of her time away from home, my grandparents and the nuns would have immediately removed Mom from the school. I have no doubt of that.
There’s lots and lots of evidence that Mom and the Catholic Church were not a good fit. Most of it must remain private. This photo, however, can be posted. It was taken in 1953, when Mom was twenty-five years old. The caption of the photo says, “The Retreat House of the Sacred Heart, under supervision of the Carmelite Sisters of the Third Order.”
Though in most ways my mother was a stranger, I knew her for fifty-one years. As Tim is fond of saying, “The camera doesn’t lie.” In this photo my mother is extremely uncomfortable but trying hard to conceal it and be a good girl.
She looks pained and very sad. Haunted, even. Her hands, eyes, and mouth give it away.
In the nursing home and the hospital, Mom refused to see priests. Again, this is not the fault of the Catholic Church. It’s just that my mother was not meant to be a Catholic. I don’t know what she was meant to be, but here’s a story of one of her finest moments. It shows that had Mom’s upbringing been different, she would’ve had a much…rowdier life.
My Great-aunt Marian was not planned. Both of her parents were past fifty when she was born. I learned today that Marian’s mother handed her over to her elder daughter Oma Lower, who was twenty.
“You take her,” Mary Lower said. “I’m done raising children.”
Here’s an early photo of Oma.
Oma never let Marian forget the imposition of being saddled with a sister who was young enough to be a daughter. From what I’ve learned, Oma was genuinely Marian’s stand-in mother, raising her in all definitions of the word: feeding her, clothing her, taking her to the doctor, and seeing to her education. There was lifelong friction between the sisters, which was unfortunate because Oma lived to be 101. Marian herself made it to eighty-seven.
It wouldn’t be fair to reveal most of Oma’s life. The turning point was when her son Bill was murdered in a hotel, stabbed to death under unsavory circumstances that scandalized and titillated Oma’s peers. She took refuge in prescription medication, and then she lost her eyesight due to macular degeneration. Once widowed, she moved into a nursing home.
Now the part about my mother.
In 1986 Tim and Mom flew to Denver for a visit with Oma at her nursing home. As always, it wasn’t the most fun thing Tim and Mom could’ve done on a sunny spring day. Naturally prickly, Oma was understandably bitter about how her life had turned out. All she wanted to do was die, but she kept living and living and living.
After the visit Tim and Mom walked back to their hotel, their spirits low because of Oma’s plight.
KA-BOOM! Three stories up, an orange fireball blew out the window, and a man’s body landed on the concrete sidewalk right in front of Tim and Mom. He hit face down in a shower of broken glass, and a pool of blood began spreading rapidly from his head, forming a halo that grew at hideous speed.
All the passersby froze.
“You!” Mom instantly shouted at one of them, pointing her index finger. “Call an ambulance. You! Go into that store and get some blankets to cover him. You! Call the police and tell them there’s been an explosion and they need to send the fire department! Move it! Go!”
And everybody did as they were told. The paramedics, cops, and firefighters came and determined that it was a freebasing accident. As the fire was put out, the police interviewed Mom extensively on the sidewalk. Tim said it was eerie because she seemed like a cop herself, businesslike and unfazed, as though this were something she saw every day.
The freebaser was hauled off, and no more was heard about him. We don’t know if he lived. If he did, he owes his life to my mother.
Mom was multitalented, scary-smart, funny, and adventurous. You can see it in this photo taken in 1946, when she was eighteen, a junior in college.
That year she told a bunch of her male friends that she wanted to go to a burlesque show. They were horrified. All refused. So Mom and one of her gal-pals went to Club Savoy with fake IDs.
“It was fascinating,” was all she told me, with the same expression as she has in the photo above.
She should’ve had that look her whole life.
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