This poem was written by MY mother, Kathryne Neches for her mother, Beatrice Edell Richardson Campbell.
I publish it here in honor of them, and my two older sisters, my BELOVED heroes.
Song For My Mother
when I judged you, I didn’t know you Not your struggles, not your pain. Not your triumphs. When I judged you I was ignorant.
A selfish, spoiled child, though I was seemingly mature. Though I knew better. Though I pretended not to judge.I was arrogant, entitled and short sighted. And I did judge you. You knew I did, though you may not have known my own day of being judged would come, or how soon. I judged you living. Each one of your everyday struggles. How long it took you to put on your make-up, to eat your breakfast, and how you embellished a story. I judged you.
The way you always had to be dressed - up, with earrings and a proper bag and shoes. The way you set the table with a cloth and pretty napkins. The way you took care of my father. Insisting he have three hot meals each day. I judged you. The way you fought with your hair, trying to erase the curl. The way you fought to be tanned a golden bronze instead of fair and freckled . The ways you thought a lady, a young lady should speak and act. I judged you. I thought you foolish. I thought you frivolous and old-fashioned. I thought you different from myself. And I sat idly, to smugly judge you. I judged you dying. From the early years when the drink took you. When you smoked and coughed and smoked some more. When you snacked on sausages and canned tamales. When candy bars and coffee were your fare. I judged you. When the hospital became your rest-stop. When rehab became your maintenance. When you never found a power greater than yourself, I judged you. When you said, over and over and over again, “I never wanted to be a burden to my kids.” I judged you and called you “liar!” When you had to live in your own town and not near mine. When oxygen became your elixir, and still you smoked, I judged you. When in the last hours of your life, you drew my sister, drunk herself to your bedside and waved me away, the daughter who had dealt with the daily difficulties of keeping you alive, I judged you heartless. I resigned. I retired. I recoiled form your coldness and thought I could simply reclaim my own life. But not yet, not yet, not until I judged you one last time.I judged you dead. You who had pulled yourself up from a fatherless childhood. A childhood of abuse and poverty in every way but that of love. You were loved. Loved by a fierce Mother with a love that gave you power. Power to defy the lack of education, the lack of a father’s love, the lack of resources and all the worldly, precious gifts you gave to me. Loved by a husband of fifty years in spite of your frailty, in spite of the humanity I turned from. I judged you in death to the depths of my soul. Then one day,when my own arthritic hands slowed my make-up brush. When I began to fight with my hair and wrinkles. When I saw myself change my clothes six times just to go to the store. When my stories barely resembled the truth. When my own daughters sighed in exasperation, rolling their eyes. When I remembered who it was that led me out of the alleys of alcoholism into the the sunlight of sobriety, I judged you again. When I set the table and pour milk from a picture and not the carton. When every meal must be served at a table fit for kings. When Christmas and birthdays all seem magical, because of you, because of your example, because you carved the way with the blade of your own believing. Believing in me. Believing in us. Believing a beautiful, rich abundant life should be my heritage. I judged you. I wept. I cracked open the cold heart of an ignorant child and called you my hero. My angel. My eskimo. My teacher. For three years following your death I cried and cried and cried rivers of rushing tears. Tears to wash away every harsh, harrowing hint of the hell you lived and died for. Your tears. The tears you never cried. My tears. Tears of regret. Tears of understanding. Tears of compassion and forgiveness. You came to me in a dream on the anniversary of your death.You wore the dress you were meant to be wearing to the great beyond and not the dress we put you in. You held up a greeting card that set me free. Free of a lifetime of judgment. Free of my own imperfection. Free to release my own daughters. The card said simply, “I love you and you love me!” and I put the judgment down.
Kathryne Neches 2007
Song For My Mother
if you are not crying,
there is something wrong with you.
Shelley Meaney 2007