My Mother Was a Crazy Person

I had my cards read at a birthday party I attended in May.  The reader asked me about my relationship with my mother and I told him that she had died nineteen years ago.  “She was unstable,” I told him.  “She is not unstable now,” he replied, “And you need to honor her.”  He suggested planting a tree or some such thing.  Going through old posts I noticed how often I mention her; the rest of this week will be a small tribute.  This post was originally published May 9, 2008.

I could have also titled this “A Tale of Many Sofas” but it seemed important not to bury the lead. My mother was, indeed, crazy. Not, she always said, “Healthy people take the stairs!” (like I do) but really crazy. I’d love to put a name on it for you, but there doesn’t seem to be one. Clinically depressed with a soupcon on paranoia, or something close. I’m going to tell you now that she died sixteen years ago. I always hate it when someone asks a question about my mother and I have to say she’s dead. It’s not upsetting for me, but it’s so awkward for the inquirer. You know, because people are generally nice and mothers dying is bad.

She was aesthetically focused for sure. The picture, above, was taken in Atlanta and I have no memory of it ever being that cold there. Clearly, this was all about the look. My mother loved clothes. A lot. And shoes. She was a smidge taller than I am, close to 5’10” and she wore a size 6 shoe. Like her feet had been bound as a child. When we cleaned out her closet after she died she had beautiful shoes from size 5 to about an 8.5. I mean, a deal’s a deal.

She read a lot and she read a lot of magazines but I don’t remember any shelter magazines. She was creative and stylish, but I didn’t think house stuff was really her thing. I sort of had an impression that she got things the way she liked it then left it alone for five or ten years or so. Then I started going through pictures.

The picture with my dad, above, was taken in “the apartment.” That squarish sofa with its jazzy geometric upholstery very nearly screams 1965. It made the move in it’s original fabric to the new house.

Within a year it was recovered, maybe slip-covered in this solid, nubbyish linen. I think it’s sporting a contrast welt. (I jumped off of a couple of pillows and hit my head on this coffee table. I still wear the scar.)

I have no memory of the floral chair in the background and it is never seen again. Banished. (Note the Victorian crystal lamp; it resides in my living room now.)

Ah, Spring. Apparently blue floral was the way to go, but in the curtains and not the chair. That was all wrong. So, curtains up, nifty new chair. And, yes, jazzy p.j.’s if I do say so myself.

This is my birthday, mid August, 1970. Same sofa.

And then, within two weeks, gone. Black leather, with a chair to match is in its place.

My parents got divorced and we moved from this house in ’72, so a new set of sofas appeared within two years. And curtains and a rug.

And this floral chair, which I think might be ingrained in my subconcious, because I think I love it. But I don’t remember it or any of its predecessors. I do, however, remember receiving that Scarlett O’Hara Madame Alexander doll. She graced my shelf for years.

The sofas made the transition to the townhouse in Tulsa and stayed the rest of her life. They were recovered maybe twice in the next twenty years. The thing about being crazy is, it didn’t necessarily diminish all the other things she was. Smart, funny, creative. She was fabulously unstable, but she was also just plain fabulous. She came by her craziness naturally as her mother was crazy, and yes, I do understand the implication. I just hope someday one boy takes the time to sit down and sift through the pictures and take note. Of themselves, of my craziness or the sofas. Moms are like that. We need to be remembered.

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23 thoughts on “My Mother Was a Crazy Person

  1. At least the couches served as some sort of stability amidst all the unstableness. I think every mother needs to be remembered, be it a tree or perhaps a newly upholstered sofa in her honor.

  2. What a wonderful post. I can relate to this. My mother was crazy too. We suspect she struggled with some form of depression when I was growing up (and yes, I too now struggle with some depression. But I am medicate now. Mother was not). I remember browsing the card section on her birthdays and mother's days needing to pick out something that was perfect but none of the cards made sense. Did all these other girls really had mothers that were their best friends and comforted them when they had a broken heart? My mother and I have come to terms now. We understand each other and our relationship has improved now that I have moved out.
    Thanks for the transparency. What a beautiful post and beautiful pictures.

  3. Nice, and yes there were many a sofa in our home too.
    Maybe it is a contagious craziness.
    Good story Patricia.

  4. Thanks for pointing out that there are other ways of looking at a family photo beyond the immediate & high level stories about the photo's event and people. Ways that reveal the more hidden stories & histories. Ways that illuminate context.

  5. P,

    i forget how much we share…
    and i forget how much i love you too…
    until i read you 'crazy mom' posts.

    xx R

    your secret code word was; couture
    there are no coincidence

  6. We had both the nubby green linen sofa and the big poufy tuffed leather sofa. They both ended up in my dad's hunting camp (ie shack) once they were banished from the house in the late 70's. They were still there in 1997 when we spread his ashes there. They still smelled like his Marlbourgh Lights and Old Spice, even though he hadn't set foot in the camp in over 10 years.

    Thank you for sharing your memories. Seeing the couches made me smile.

    CL Peeke

  7. My mother and Grandmother are also that way inclined (still) and oddly enough as I was scrolling down, the pictures of you reminded me of myself. It is harder when you are young and you feel that their craziness must be part of you too. This is why hitting 40 isn't really so bad – you get a better sense of yourself. Nice post.

  8. A wonderful post, and I enjoyed seeing photos – many of which could be almost interchangeable with some from my home(s) as a child. My mom was unstable also – and as she aged, the paranoia only got worse. Still, she had a lot of good points, plus I turned out all right!! *(I think.) lol

  9. Unpublished anon – You were good to step in. I don't know if anyone was aware of our situation, but no one did anything about it. I put the book on my list – thanks so much.

  10. Our squared linen nubby sofa was a bright turquoisey green which matched the bright turquoisey green carpet…oh how I miss the 60's…seriously, looking at your old photos made me very nostalgic…nubby sofa's and all!
    This was a very nice tribute to your mom…I wish the help that's available now was available then…for so many.
    xo J~

    ( I really enjoyed looking at your toys…I think we had the same doll house and I really think I had those same frilly p.j's…have to hunt down the picture!)

  11. My mother was also crazy. She took it to a high art, not quite Edie Beale but close. Her clothes were costumes, her/our house was a wall-to-wall gypsy caravan, she made her clothes and her decorations herself, her appearances were always dramatic, I don't know if she could help it or not, but this was the norm my brothers and I grew up in, there we were growing up right in the middle of her performances, there we were, did everyone know but us? I, the only girl, I tried to model myself after her but I wasn't as beautiful as she, she had epic beauty, loud and effusive, off the edge of appropriate, southern and gorgeous, I thought it was the norm the whole time. Now, like you, I step back, I take stock and frankly I don't know what to do with the information that's slowly coming forward, the closer I get to unraveling the hidden, the repressed, the more fearful I am to look at it, am I really what my former husband called me, "damaged goods"? He took such pleasure in saying that.

    You are a genius in using upholstered furniture as a backdrop, as a text to confront repressed feelings; the sight of little growing you in your outfits makes me tremble with recognition.

    Someone ahead of me in line thanked you for "the transparency" — that's a great way of putting it!

  12. Dear Mrs. B–I loved the post and can relate on so many levels–except my mother had no decorating sense–think black vinyl and multicolored blue shag well into the nineties! Your essay made me laugh, cry, and remember all at once. Thanks. I loved the pics… I always thought the Blandings boys favored their father entirely, but now I know that at least #2 looks just like his mother at that age!

  13. Hi there
    It's good for me to read your post as I've been resisting writing on this subject myself. Now in my 60's, I'm beginning to understand the damage my mother caused.

  14. Must have been something in the water in the 60's, my mom – mad as a hatter. My sister used to call me after her college psych classes to run types by me to see if we could figure out what mom's issue was, most surely, depression and unfortunately some other things which are thought to be hereditary.

    I haven't spoken to my folks in more than 30 years, I think telling people they are deceased would be better than the looks I get when I explain that they are alive but we don't speak. My childhood was unspeakable so it makes sense to me.

    Great post, thank you.

  15. Dear Mrs. Blandings,
    Your story is so beautifully composed, it compelled me to look at each photo several times and read it over again. Poignant, by definition, but not the sense of sadness or regret – more so – keenly felt. It is more a story of the triumph of the human spirit, yours in this case. I say this because after following your blog for several years, it is obvious that you treasure your children and family above all, and that you are a wonderful mother! One would never have guessed that you endured anything less perfect than your "dream house" might convey. I have an even deeper respect for you now, and I too thank you for such a personal post. PS Your handsome father looks like Dennis Quaid and I think you in your jazzy pj's is the cutest ever!

  16. Maybe your mom was bi polar, or schizophrenic. If she was alive today, she might have been able to live a more normal life. We never know how our parents' childhoods were. My grandfather was, we guess, bi polar and terrorized his children. My mother never got over it and has had an inferiority complex her whole life. I felt a sharp pain reading your post. I am very sensitive to the label crazy, because it really means a very serious illness. I am glad that you have survived. Ann

  17. Mrs. B., great story and an agonizing one to write I am sure. I don't mean to criticize and I know that many who have written lovely comments may take it this way, but I put you into a category of intelligent people who would never use the word "crazy" when describing a person, especially a parent or child,with mental disorders when there are better and more respectful words to use. For such a good wordsmith as you are Mrs. B. the use of "crazy" came as a shock.

  18. Even 19 years ago the mental health field was pretty advanced. She was on anti-depressants for awhile, though I did not see much of a difference. The thing is, it's very difficult to get help when there is no one else there to support the process. And without medical insurance.

    As for the use of the word "crazy," it's quite intentional. Just as it is difficult to introduce into a casual conversation that one's mother died nineteen years ago, it's also difficult to bring up one's mother suffering from mental illness. Especially as she did not have an exact diagnosis, it takes up a lot of weight to start in with, "Well, my mother was terribly unstable, chronically depressed and a little paranoid and it resulted in her being abusive." Sort of a mood killer. Rather, "Well, my mother was a little crazy," sort of let's someone know that dicey waters are ahead and he might want to precede with caution. It's not meant to be flip, exactly, but it gives the recipient a bit of an out. I see Mrs. Blandings as a conversation and this was the first post where I tipped my hand to this tumultuous relationship. A longer and more serious essay is here:

    As you noted, your comment was not meant to be critical, and I didn't take it as such – I completely understand your point of view – neither was this meant to be a retort, rather an explanation. Thanks for weighing in.

  19. That red terry robe? Did she make it for you? I am older than you, I can tell, because I was at an awkward pre-teen age when I wore the one my Mother made for me! It was gold in color…you are much cuter in yours!

  20. Jayne – she did make it – and more like it – with two towels. I am pretty sure I had half a dozen. She also mastered a pretty cute jumper that she make in a MILLION fabrics. Two identical pieces joined with a button at the shoulder. I loved them.

  21. My goodness, the comments are often as entertaining and interesting as the post itself, no? I so enjoyed all the comments, especially the second anon… beautifully written and reminiscent of your writing. Such courage to share what many would hide away as family secrets, and so lovely for the rest of us to find some comfort in knowing that you, of all people, intelligent, successful, happy you, has some crazy in her family history… just like the rest of us. I don't mean to say that it makes me happy to know you had to deal with crazy, but that it provides comfort in knowing we (your readers) aren't alone. My mother is mostly sane, but you know, there seems to be a crazy representative in every family… This post is just wonderful in so many ways. Thank you for your willingness to share the good and the bad. (regarding mother and sofas)
    You could/should write a book… Your stories remind me of Jeanette Wall's The Glass Castle!

  22. My mother was crazy and I mean that in a completely non-politically-correct, socially acceptable way. As in "my mother was crazy, so I hope that explains a little of what you see in me, the darkness in my eyes when you talk about your mother with affection or exasperation." I cannot relate, I never felt either emotion towards my mother and was not sad at all when she passed away, alone. She was a very self-aware person, very stylish, very vain who chose her vanity over her children on a daily basis.

    I appreciate those most in my life who understand that I cannot honor the woman who burned me with cigarettes or pinched me to the point of bruising when I was a very small child because I was embarrassing her in public. I choose not to honor the woman who gave birth to me and kept me as a trophy until it was time to lock me in a closet because she had a 'gentleman' over and did not want me to be seen. This was the person I was dependent on for food, shelter, development, love.

    I also appreciate you, Mrs. Blandings, for framing this reality for us without asking anyone to feel sorry for you or those of us with similar histories. That's not what survival is about.

    Please consider that in spite of modern medicine and the ready availability of medications and therapy, unless someone is forced or chooses to try to do better, they sometimes just choose 'crazy', diagnosis, illness or not.

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