My mother and I were not particularly close. As a child there were a variety of reasons for that; lots of baggage. As an adult, however, it was more my doing than hers.
Like most men of my generation, I struggled with coming out. As I grew more and more comfortable in a life of which I knew she would not approve, I put more and more distance between us. There had been no dramatic event but at one point I realized it had been several years since we’d seen each other. We always spoke by telephone. We were always in touch in a superficial way. We just weren’t sharing our lives with each other. I was building a life she knew nothing about. Eventually, I came out to her. As such conversations go, it was neither a great success nor a horror story. We saw each other more often in the years that followed. She met two of the men who have been important in my life and welcomed them with the same awkward graciousness she displayed whenever the subject of homosexuality come up in any context.
Shannon was born in southern Illinois, about an hour north of the Ohio River which forms the border with Kentucky. The men in her family had worked for the railroads before settling in southern Illinois and northern Kentucky. Thereafter they were coal miners. The women were all wives and mothers. She grew up in a home that did not see much love and she hoped to make her family experience better. I think she tried her best. Results were mixed.
At 22, she married my father. My sister came along a respectable 13 months later. After two failed pregnancies, I came along 4.5 years after that. Any happiness that may have existed in her marriage had long since fled by the time I was old enough to be aware of such things. After some very turbulent years they separated when I was 7. They divorced a few years later. At 40 she was a single mother working 3 jobs to support herself, her two teenaged children and her widowed mother.
Shannon was single most of my life. She dated periodically but never for long nor very seriously. Years later she reconnected with a man she’d known in her youth. He was a classmate of her older brother’s. He had been interested in her but she was 19 then, he almost 30. She thought he was too old. He’d proposed when she divorced but she’d rejected him because she didn’t think he would have been a good step-father. He never married. After she retired and moved back down south they reconnected and, perhaps having just run out of excuses, she married him. She was 69, he, still 10 yrs older. I find that wonderfully romantic. They’d been married for 5 years when she died. He passed away a year later.
Shannon had a more difficult life than she should have had. She was never June Cleaver but she did the best she could and I admire her for that. Having been the first in her family to graduate from high school, she was proud that I went to college. She never owned her own home but I recall how excited she was when I bought my first house. She loved her kids and we did not always make that easy. She accepted me and the life I made for myself as best she could. She died still believing I was going to Hell and that troubled her. It’s hard to touch up those Southern Baptist roots. She never let it become more than an atmospheric barrier between us though. Our relationship may not have been sunny but it was overcast, more than stormy, in later years.
As she grew older she grew closer to my sister. They lived closer together and they had more in common. In some ways there was a symmetry to that. My sister had always been closer to my father as a child. Shannon loved being a grandmother. I think she would have enjoyed having more grandkids. She also had a wonderful sense of humor and an infectious laugh.
As I get older I find I miss her. The baggage all seems to matter less. I don’t have any great regrets or feelings of lost opportunity but neither do I hold any anger. In my heart I wish things had been different but in my head I think things went the way they were supposed to go. She was a loving woman who did the best she knew how with the resources she had available. I’m not sure any of us can hope for more than that.