My mother survived on wishes, “ifs”, and “whens.” When you’re poor, overwhelmed, and abused, that’s all you have. She gave birth to 10 kids. She worked night shift at the hospital. And she was greatly under-appreciated. I’ve been sitting on this post for a very long time. I let my father’s abusive lies steer my thinking so that I actually believed everything was her fault. She deserved it. She was not worth loving, and definitely not smart or pretty or deserving respect (unless he said so at the time.)
When she wasn’t being beaten physically and emotionally by him, she had to take care of him. When he was sick, he was kind. When he was healthy he drank and abused her. We would snear and snarl when she went out to buy his beer for him, not thinking about what would happen to her if she ever said no. We followed the leader when he told us she was stupid. We listened when he said she was ugly and fat, and would only look at her with disdain.
By the time I was old enough and smart enough to know how wrong I was, he was long since dead, and she was blissfully living with her dementia. She had re-created her past to edit out the negative. In her mind he was good to her and never ever raised a hand to her. I couldn’t understand. My mind could not comprehend how you could ever forget those beatings. But she did. And now I see with complete clarity how strong she was. She tried to leave once. But when you have that many kids, and no car, and no laws to protect you back then, your choices were not limited- they were nonexistent. The amount of strength it took to go back into that house after trying to leave is indescribable. Not many people are that brave.
She was a lover of love. Christmas was her favorite holiday, and we would be the beneficiary of her joy, regardless of whether we could afford it. Her generosity was legendary. She worked in a nursing home, and would bring home lonely people to eat Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner with us. I can still picture the looooooong table set up in the living room, filled with food, all 10 of us kids crammed in, and an old man with a smile that I can still see. As a kid, I found it creepy. As an adult, I love her even more because of how she cared. I still try to carry on her tradition. I hope I can be just like her.
A Kindergartener was accidentally hit by a car just outside our home one winter. My mother ran outside and wrapped that little girl in her coat. The only coat my Mom owned. She got it back, blood stained. It took considerable washing and rinsing, but she continued to wear it. Because it was all she had. When we received a care package on our doorstep, it was her idea to give all the food away to others. We had food in the cupboard. She knew people who didn’t, so she would grab the phone and start making calls.
I need to tell the world I was wrong for most of my life. Shirley McPhillips Sonju was one of the most incredible human beings God ever created. When she laughed, her eyes would sparkle, but the best gleam would come into her eyes when we would sit next to her on her chair and she would let us into her “Ifs and Ands” world. It was so easy to picture her dreams as she unfolded her story of how she wished we could live. We were mistaken in thinking these were pipe dreams that would only lead to heartbroken reality. She was giving us her hopes and visions. This was her way of telling us how to survive when life isn’t going well. You dream, and you hold onto those dreams. Find positive thoughts wherever you can.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride… well let me tell you, this lady rode on a pretty gallant steed.