Making the best of the worst
by GLENETTA SHUEY
Growing up in a large family with seven siblings, one learns to appreciate the silence. I can’t imagine what it was like for my mother when we all tromped off to school, and she finally had some peace and quiet. I do know that the remaining part of her day was not spent sitting and watching TV!
First, you must understand my mother’s idea of “clean” was nothing short of immaculate. Every Saturday morning I was awakened at 8 o’clock sharp, and I was taught the “art” of cleaning. This simple Cajun lady from Morse was the best at what she did: cleaning, cooking, and making sure her kids were perfectly dressed and coiffed. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was not just an adage to her. She was my first teacher, in a sense. She taught me sewing skills when I was 13 years old and demonstrated multitasking before it became a word! I never achieved her standards, but I gained a new respect for “housekeeping.” Even the nuns who taught us at Goretti High School were always remarking that we were so neatly dressed. My momma would swell with pride when she heard those simple words!
I know now that God and Momma were preparing me for what was to follow. When my brother died in March of my Senior year, my mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent away for three months. During that time, I had to become a quick study in being a substitute mother. As the oldest child at home, I tried to help my dad to care for four younger siblings. My youngest sibling was only seven, and she certainly didn’t understand why her mom wasn’t home. We were all grieving, but life went on. Dad and I did the best we could, with the help of an aunt who lived nearby. My poor younger sisters were put through misery every day as I tried to manage their curly locks, unlike my straight hair! My dad would throw together our breakfast, bring us to school, then rush off to work.
The feeling of loss for my siblings was worsened by the fact that when Momma did return, she was a shell of her former self for some months. Her health declined and only in her later years, after Dad retired, did she seem to enjoy life again. I will admit that I was relieved to go off to college. I still feel somewhat guilty about that fact. I knew I was leaving my younger siblings to a sad home with a dad who was working hard at more than one job to make ends meet and a mother who felt lost!
Don’t get me wrong: I had a very good life. I had wonderful parents and siblings who became my friends. We had neighbors who were there for us and lots of family came to our aid. I am grateful for being able to help my family, and I think it made me a better mother when I had my own children.
I know many families who have gone through similar circumstances. This story is about loving enough to do what is right and acknowledging that you learn from it and become stronger. At least, that is what I choose to believe.
When I think about my momma, I now know that she did the best she could under the circumstances. There is no judgement about how she dealt with her loss. I often wonder how my other siblings felt though during and after the loss of our brother. I never asked; it was as though I was in my own world and just assumed they would be fine. I wanted them to be fine. I prayed they would be.
Now, as I age, I hear my mother in my voice as I talk about how “everything has a place and there is a place for everything.” I laugh at myself some days when I get up from a perfectly comfortable position to move something on a shelf so that it is aligned just so, or to close the curtain so that it matches the other side exactly. I even think about the way she taught me to sweep! I can still hear her voice: “Get the corners! Like this!” Then she would demonstrate. I remember thinking how harsh she was. It was the mother-daughter conflict that has gone on in homes for ages.
I’m grateful beyond words for all she taught me and the strength that she instilled in me, even when she wasn’t well. I know now my trials were minor, especially in light of all of the years that I had in such a loving home.
I appreciate the silence myself at times now, but when I reminisce, I can still hear the echoes of my many siblings and the laughter we once shared.
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