When you died in 1986 at the age of 62, it was a blow to all of us. Despite a diagnosis of cancer, we all kept hoping against hope you would pull through and get back to normal, to being Mom, the woman who had an answer for everything.
I remember the trip we took to visit your Concho, Ariz., roots in July 1969, which happened to coincide with Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. What I recall most about that trip was going to the adobe house you grew up in, a crumbling ruin that was hardly big enough to accommodate two people, yet you lived there with several siblings and your dad after your mother died. What remained were a few exterior walls with a yellow climbing rose growing up the side. A burbling stream meandered behind what was left of the house and enormous trees shaded the property as though keeping it safe for whoever would someday decide to build a life there. I’m sure that experience was colored by romanticism based on stories you told us about your childhood. I plucked a yellow rose from the vine and pressed it between the pages of my Bible. I kept the rose for many years until life intervened and I lost it somewhere along the way. I still feel the loss of that rose, as I feel the loss of you.
I’m sorry I never knew your mom and dad, Pete and Ruth Nunez Peralta, but as it turns out, you hardly knew them either. Grandmother Ruth died when you were barely four, and Grandpa Pete, nine years later. You were left to be raised by older siblings. Why did I never ask you how that affected you growing up?
Dad loved telling stories about your first year as a (very) young married couple. I especially liked the one about him “accidentally” dropping the casserole dish of macaroni, cheese and hamburger on the floor after having been served the same thing almost every night for the first month of your marriage. Dad never was a subtle kind of guy. You may not have started out as a great cook, but that changed by the time I was born. No one could cook like you.
You did not have it easy. When Dad was in the Navy you were a “Rosie the Riveter” until I was born, and then you moved with my older brother and me to live with Dad’s folks in Arizona until he came home from the service. When we were older, you worked at a number of low-paying jobs while Dad worked in the oilfields. Over the years, three more kiddos came along. I must say I was horribly embarrassed when at thirteen I learned you were PREGNANT! Let it be said that I didn’t exactly know what happened between moms and dads in their bedrooms, but what I did know sounded downright icky and I was sure my mother and father didn’t do those things. Until along came my baby sister.
Your beloved oldest child, my wonderful brother, Don, died of some horrifying version of cancer when he was twenty. It wounded us all to the heart, but especially you. He was so like you, more than the rest of us. He had tea-colored skin like yours, coal black hair like yours, warm chocolate brown eyes like yours, and innate charm, like you. A light went out in all our lives when he was gone.
You had plenty on your plate to keep you going. Your third child, my sweet, sweet sister Patty, was a fragile flower, a child whose mind never quite matured. You and Dad didn’t institutionalize her, as some might do, you kept her at home and loved her as deeply as you did the rest of us. Perhaps that is why you spent most of your professional career working with the mentally ill and others who needed treatment that combined understanding, compassion and firm boundaries. You were honored many times in your career by your peers and your patients. No one honored or held you in as high regard as did Don, Marc, Melissa, Patty who loved you with the brightness of a fallen star, and I. So many in our family are gone now, but I have no doubt they are dancing with you in heaven.
Your deep faith and your limitless love inspired me to be a better person. I confess I have not measured up in many ways, but I try.
I miss you, Mom. You packed a lot of living into your 62 years. You had a big laugh. You had a great capacity for love. Thanks you for the gift of your amazing self you shared with so many.