When I was 16 and suffering my first broken heart, my mother didn’t gather me into a hug and tell me everything would be alright. Instead she told me life wasn’t fair.
For her, it wasn’t.
An only child, her father died when she was young and her mother retreated into an overwhelming grief that left no room to raise a child. Instead my mother roamed the neighborhood, eating out of garbage pails and fending for herself. She grew up and married a man she thought would give her a life of stability and comfort. Instead he moved her to a dilapidated farmhouse in New Hampshire and eventually abandoned her to support 4 kids and pay off the mountain of debt he’d acquired. A Catholic, even after women on birth control were banned from Communion, she did not ask much from God, only that he keep her children safe. She said she could handle any other trials he sent out her, as long as he didn’t take her children.
When her oldest, my brother Rod, died in a car accident at the age of 25, she firmly turned her back on God for betraying their covenant. The product of two Italian parents, she knew how to hold a grudge and to the best of my knowledge, she never forgave God for taking my brother.
She became a police officer because they only had one pay scale. She could make a man’s wages doing a man’s work, and support her family. She called her police uniform her costume. She hated the yearly qualification she had to pass in marksmanship. Her greatest fear was another officer would shoot her accidentally practicing their quick draws or panicking when they entered a building. She wanted to go in first, not out of bravery, but out of self preservation.
She preferred her billy club when dealing with reluctant arrestees. She was quick and sneaky with it and no matter the damage she wrought, the male officers got blamed. As one of the first woman cops, she benefited from the perception of women as kind hearted angels and used that to her advantage.
We had few boundaries growing up. She was too busy making a living and paying off my father’s debts to focus on much else. The main rules were to be home when she woke up, and to not embarrass her in her line of work. The one time I didn’t make it home early enough, I earned the nickname APB Maynes after she put out an All Points Bulletin on me. The one time I tried to evade a traffic stop, the unfortunate officer who finally pulled me over had my car driven to the police station and took me home with instructions to tell my mother what happened. He had no desire to give my mother the news. When she drove into work the next day and found my car in the police parking lot I imagine they drew straws to see who would tell her my latest misdeeds.
For most of her life, I didn’t know her as a warm person, I knew her as a strong person, a hard person, a person who took what life threw at her and trudged on. If there was an obstacle, she didn’t go around it or over it, she went through it. The cupboards might have been bare, our only heat the kitchen stove, but I never saw her break down, I never saw her give up, and I damned sure never saw her cry.
She might have been born in New York City but inside she was pure Yankee granite
That steely resolve certainly helped her in life as she buried 2 children, one in 1984 and one in 2021 and a granddaughter in 2014. She cut me out of her life in 2015 and though I reached out to try to heal the rift, I knew from experience that once she made up her mind there wasn’t anything anyone could do to change it. I lived on and so did she. I, too, have a bit of steely resolve I inherited from her.
As I reflect on her life and death, I can say she was one of the strongest women I have ever known. It is not easy being raised by a woman who didn’t tolerate weakness. The mistakes she made weren’t because she was malicious or bad. They were because that was the only way she knew how to get through this life.
Life made her hard.
I have a poster in my house that says:
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let the pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Even though the rest of the world may disagree,
You still find the world to be a beautiful place.
I hope wherever my mother’s spirit takes her, this time she finds a place where she can be soft.