“Oh, Mother! That’s Part Of The Game”

Here’s Mom, I mean Mother, handling the ball with Southern style (notice her hair perfectly coiffed and hair sprayed into place).

Mom was born and bred a southern belle and she had it wrapped around her finger as evidenced by the one time she played basketball. (The picture that I don’t show has her primping before the game). She believed it was her responsibility to look good and speak with a proper southern accent when the opportunity arose.

As for us kids, she wanted us to call her Mother. Sort of like we called blush, rouge. Or how Mom called everybody “honey” or “sweetheart” or “darling”. These were standards, only, we didn’t like the Mother thing. Even after Mom asked us, “Why don’t you call me mother?” I remember curling up my nose and saying, “Ewe. You’re not a mother; you’re my mom.” Or maybe I didn’t say it so eloquently, but that was the gist of where I was coming from. There’ll be more about this later, trust me…

Meanwhile, this week I went to the Carolina’s both physically and mentally. We had a family wedding in South Carolina, which was good timing, as I had been stuck in North Carolina ever since last week’s blog post when I mentioned that I went to UNC-Chapel Hill. And since Mom is the quintessential southerner from Greensboro, what better way to keep Carolina alive than to talk about Mom.

“If God isn’t a Tarheel, why’s the sky Carolina blue?” We grew up hearing about how great Carolina was. I was allowed to pick any college “east of the Mississippi,” Mom said, “but when you go to Carolina you’re going to love it.”

Carolina’s my other half and it was a glorious place to be for four years. I thought I’d love it, both my parents went there. I thought I’d meet the guy I was going to marry there because that’s where my parents met. I had heard so many stories about it, it seemed to be a magical place. Only, I had to go to a frat party once. I towered over all the guys, except the athletes. I never thought of myself as tall before I went to UNC.

It’s not like I had a thing against height, but there was the added fact I was from the north and would throw on a baseball cap and run to my 8am class. if need be, sleep always won out over beauty. I was no southern belle (just think of mom primping for her game); I was a transplanted northerner like my Dad.

Mom knew way more than how to look good; she could work a room with her innate charm.

See what I mean? She’s a southern belle trapped in a little girl’s body.

She’d tell us stories about how she really could have had her pick with the boys, “but there was something about your father.” For me, there was never a time when she wasn’t with him. It’s like they grew up in their parallel universes just waiting until that fated day they were to meet at Carolina.

Everybody she spoke of had a first and last name, so I got to know them, too. She had her beach trips, bible study and her friends in the neighborhood and her cousins in Asheville that meant everything to her because she was an only child and hated going it alone. Even when we went to Italy last year, we’d leave her in a coffee bar because she couldn’t walk on the cobblestone and when we returned she had stories of all the people she talked to.

She wasn’t one to suffer from low self-esteem and sometimes I’d marvel at how she could entertain us and tell us just what we needed to hear at the time we needed to hear it. And her southern accent would come alive whenever she’d be pulled over by a cop or needed to remind someone that she was just a southern girl. Her sayings would come alive particularly when she went home or talked to her Mother, too, or she’d have a desire for black-eyed peas the way her Daddy always made them.

When I ran for student council in High School, she encouraged me to come up with a strong campaign the way she did when she ran for secretary. Did she have the magic touch or what?

See what I mean? Of course she won!

So when I found an article about Mom in her high school newspaper from September 18, 1959, it was so much fun to read, “DAR Chooses Childress for Best Citizen Award” and see why Mom was chosen for the award.

“1. Dependability which includes truthfulness, loyalty and punctuality.

2. Service, which includes vo-operation, courtesy and consideration of others.

3. Leadership, which includes personality, self-control and ability to assume responsibility.

4. Patriotism, which includes unselfish interest in family, school and nation.”

Mom was even better than the stories she told!

Mom was all of these things and more. No wonder she won the award. These strengths exemplify Mom. She was always involved in everything. She volunteered with so many organizations if I listed them she’d only say, “You forgot Wheels or Junior League, oh, and…” She was involved with Public Relations long before she got her PR agency and she was forever the 2nd Grade teacher of the gifted boys and girls that she adored. I was looking through her college yearbook and on the Alpha Delta Pi page there were two candid pictures of a few women getting dressed that could have been Mom so when I asked her she said, “That’s also me in the top photo getting dressed for a Hawaiian themed Rush Party! Remember I was Rush chairman.” But I’m jumping ahead, before she went to Carolina, she went to Sullins College for women.

At Sullins, she joined a group called The Cotton Pickers and she played the spoons. I loved to watch her get out the tablespoons from the kitchen drawer and wow us with her instrumental ability.

Here’s the album cover of Sullins College’s 1961-1962 Cotton Pickers with Mom on the far right. On the back cover her abilities are fleshed out:
SONDRA CHILDRESS of Greensboro, North Carolina will always be remembered for her educated fingers. With her fingers, Sondra brings forth the rippling sounds of the spoons with a jazzed-up xylophone effect. We not only appreciated Sondra’s contribution to the Pickers but also the cafeteria’s contribution to Sondra.

The Cotton Pickers played a set of instruments that made them look like “refugees from a hardware store.” The band consisted of “a washboard, a drum, a set of spoons, a pair of ‘clickers’, shakers, a tambourine, and a washtub with a broom attached–better known as a ‘gut-bucket’…and a number of ukeleles.”

Mom had a life beyond her stories before coming to Carolina her Junior Year. Back then women weren’t allowed to go to Carolina for four years unless they majored in nursing or journalism. But she came in with gusto and made the most of her two-year stint. She found Dad and that is where the story always took on a new life for me.

She’s been a staunch supporter of him ever since and she has applied herself to so many organizations and fundraisers, she never stopped giving of her personality, dedication, leadership, and charm.

But the best of all had to be when I was reading this article posted in The Sunday Bulletin on November 20, 1977. It was called “Topsy-Turvy World For This Sporting Wife”. Dad had just been named coach of the 76ers several weeks prior.

“It’s a typical afternoon at the Billy Cunningham residence, and havoc is breaking loose. Four-year-old Heather, having just fallen off the kitchen counter, is bawling her eyes out and rubbing a lump on her forehead. The family’s bumbling yellow Labrador puppy, sauntering through, has overturned a soda glass on the coffee table and is watching the liquid ooze into the carpet. Older daughter, Stephanie should be home from school but isn’t…And meanwhile, the telephone is ringing…and ringing…and ringing.”

Here’s Mom answering the phone. It always rang and we always had to “Get the phone!” We didn’t have answering machines back then so how else were you going to know who called? Plus, since her desk also served as the makeshift eating area come dinner, she could answer the phone while eating.

I’m glad the phone rang for that reporter because it always rang for us. No matter where we were or what we were doing, we had to jump up and answer it.

Another important responsibility was to make Dad a poster or a sign when he needed a pick-me-up. Mom always seemed to know when that was. Maybe it was the second-grade school teacher that would come out in her (which also came out around the holidays–no one decorated like Mom) but we loved this job more than any. It was always fun coming up with what to say next.

At the time of this interview, we had taped to the sliding glass door a crayoned sign that read, “We love you, Coach Cunningham.”

Mom was always loyal and protective of Dad, but she always cared just as much about us, too. I got teary-eyed to think my parents had asked me what I thought about Dad’s decision to start coaching.

If I ever find myself getting selfish and feeling sorry for myself, I’ll just have to remember what Stephanie told me…(when) I asked her what she thought of her daddy’s being coach since he might not be at home as much as he used to.”

I couldn’t imagine what I might have said when I was only eight years old…

“And she just looked up at me and said, ‘Oh Mother! That’s just part of the game.'”

And I had to laugh. Mom had worked her magic with that reporter and put her southern twist on my words. Kind of like the lemon Grandma would put in her homemade southern tea. If you recall, I never called her Mother.

It couldn’t have hurt me to call her Mother, especially since it meant so much to her, I now know how hard it was for me when the kids stopped calling me Mommy. In case you missed it, here was that post: https://stephanieortiz.com/2019/12/05/goodbye-mommyhood/

Only I probably didn’t explain it to her that love is not formal like that. We had too close of a relationship for her to be anything other than Mom.

So she didn’t get to be called Mother, but she got her second wish, I did go to Carolina. It wasn’t a bad compromise. In fact, we all won in the end.

And she got her family, the one that she always felt was too small when she was little. She has grandchildren now and all her nieces and their children. We were at my cousin’s wedding and someone yelled out, “We’re together and it’s not a funeral.” And what a glorious recognition that was. It was like finding a pocket filled with joy.

Mom taught me to find those pockets of joy. Be kind to everyone and gather a story or two from those you’ve met along the way. And she taught that no matter where you live, she’s lived in the north the majority of her life now, the cliche really is true: home is where the heart is.

And when your homesick, just put on Mom’s favorite song by James Taylor “Carolina in my Mind”. I’m listening to it today in honor of Mom. I want to be reminded of Carolina (and the greatest of southern belles) today of all days because today is Mom’s birthday.

James Taylor can take you anywhere you need to go.

And after James Taylor has spoken, I have one last gift for you. Know that I’m saying this only because I love you from the bottom of my heart, and I know how much it means to you. Ok, here it goes…Happy birthday dear Mother!

A Muse 4 You: Was there ever a time you had to make a compromise in the name of love?

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Goodbye Mommyhood but Daddy is still Daddy

photo courtesy of John Gray

Goodbye Mommy. Goodbye Daddy (somehow he still gets to be called Daddy. For the record, that’s so not fair). Goodbye little kids.

Leaving behind all that made life cute: the days of make believe and unicorns, cool crafts, matching outfits (that I bought. I had good taste back then), oh, those photo opps, Disney princesses, dare I go on, and on? Now the road that is set before me is the truth of my parenting mistakes, school projects, the girls must go shopping with me, or else, they wouldn’t be caught dead in anything I pick out (and btw, all those matching outfits were so ugly). Oh, and now every photo that we take ends with, “Let me see that. No. You’re not using that. Oh my gosh, we’re deleting that.” Thank goodness there’s community theater. Our days of dress up are not over yet!

But I’m just fooling myself if I believe that this is going to keep on going. There’s a death here. Our family unit isn’t want it used to be. And given time, that too, will change. Although somehow Daddy will always get to be Daddy. My Mom called my Grandpa that until he died, and still, she refers to him with that special badge of honor.

But I’m digressing. No one prepared me for this. There was just such magic when the kids were younger, they were our constant source of entertainment, pleasure and concern. I really did believe we could live in our bubble forever. And I was so busy that there wasn’t anyone to argue with me.

And I wasn’t stupid enough to actually beleive those parents of tweens and teens who tried to scare us with the tales of how things would change. It seemed blaspehmous to hear that the kids wouldn’t bother to talk in the car rides. It seemed there would never be a day I’d ask “how was your day?” or that I could say “Good morning” and I’d be talking to myself. (I have learned to make the most of these conversations).

There was no way I was going to even think about all that was going to befall my daughters in order for them to have to grow up.

Making this switch was not for the faint of heart and it didn’t happen overnight. I can still find myself falling into old patterns of behavior based on memories. For me, 15 years seems like no time at all, so it really wasn’t that long ago that my first daughter was born. We had that introduction and we could see into one another’s soul.

I remember the relationship I had with both of my daughters and how it morphed into new realities with time. There was a time she could do nothing for herself. Either one of them, for that matter.

So now I empty the dishwasher, even though it’s their job. I have to catch myself when my oldest says she wants to be in a play and I go into research mode and look up when auditions are, when the play would be and then I look up every conflict we would have that would prevent her from being able to do it. (And then my youngest, who’s so used to the drill, she just goes and does everything herself before I even ask). I want to do these things, but Daddy, note the sarcasm in my use of this word, who’s so much wiser than I am on this (he’s not going through these growing pains the way I am), he tells me not to do for them.

But it’s more than a habit. I want to do everything I can for her, and secretly, the big secret of it all, it’s because I don’t want to do for myself. Every step I give my daughter that she may take towards her independence reminds me of every step I must take towards my own.

Nothing like Elton John at times like this. Suddenly, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is getting tossed about in my head. So if you need a station break. Here he is.

But Estefania (my alter stage persona) is here to nudge me to stop focusing on what I’m losing and to start paying attention to the road that lies ahead. FUN, remember? We had a club we used to go to in college called WFUN. So we just need a kick of that in our lives right?

But instead of leaving this on that cheery note, maybe we do need to take a pause. While we still have Elton buzzing around in our heads, maybe this is something to muse about.

A Muse 4 You: Are you feeling you’re at a crossroads in your life? Is there something or someone you’re having a hard time letting go of?

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