My mother died three weeks after I was born due to complications from my birth. I never knew her, and my paternal grandparents took my sister and me to live with them. I thought of Grandpa and Grandma as Mother and Father even though I knew they weren’t. When we went to church, I heard ladies say, “Those poor little girls don’t have a mother.” But our life with Grandpa and Grandma was good.
I remember the treats of graham crackers with colored icing after our naps, and also when we were bad, having to go “pick my switch” from the willow tree.
When I was 6, my father remarried, and as we drove off to another state, I cried so hard leaving Grandma and Grandpa. Later, I climbed up in the hayloft behind our house and hid, trying to figure out how I could get back to Grandma’s.
But my stepmother was a good mother. It must have been courageous of her to take on a ready-made family. I learned to accept her as my mother. However, at school, when asked to fill out forms with my mother’s name, I could hardly hold back the tears as I didn’t know which mother to put down. It shouldn’t have been a problem as both mothers were named Dorothy. I didn’t want anyone to know I had a stepmother, because in all the fairy tales the stepmother was wicked.
As a teenager, people would comment that my mother and I resembled one another. We would just smile. I don’t think anyone knew we weren’t related. When I had boyfriend problems, I can remember putting my head on Mother’s lap and talking and crying.
Once when my Dad was angry with me, he said, “If it weren’t for you, your mother would still be here.” Later, I thought that I could have said the same thing.
After I was married and lived far from home, I referred to her as my “stepmother” and my birth mother as my “real mother” to clarify which one I was referring. Mother heard me do this, and I know she was very hurt as she said, “I am the only mother you ever knew.”
With marriage came another mother — my fourth. As I look back on it now, I can see Jesus in her. I was jealous of her relationship with my husband. They were very close as she nursed him back to health in their home when he was bedridden for seven months with rheumatic fever. I was jealous of her talents. She could sew, cook delicious meals, garden and can the foods she grew, and do all sorts of domestic things that I hadn’t learned yet and wasn’t sure I wanted to learn. We moved 2,000 miles away, and I was so glad because then I didn’t feel I had to compete with her. One time when she visited, I told her how I felt. We had such a good talk and again a lot of crying, and it was then I realized how much I loved her. Now at age 82, I have two daughters and a son, 10 grandsons and 12 great-grandchildren. I hope that I have been a good example to them. I have been blessed by my four mothers.
Read more stories in the “Memories of Mom” series here.