Sep 26, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom ~ ~ ~ ~

My Mother,  JoAnn Catherine Arosemena Rodewald, would have been 84 on September 27th

JoAnn Arosemena in the Canal Zone in Panama, in the early 60's

In the past few weeks, I've tried to imagine what she would be like at 84.   If she visited, like Cindy’s Mom did a few days ago, what would the conversations have been  about ?  Would  we’ve had grilled fish for dinner or grilled cheese sandwiches. I thought about her interactions with Maddie and Morgan, my Mom, grew up in rural Iowa,  she would love the girls.  Would she have watched the ABC Evening News with Diane Swayer and then Jeopardy ?  I don’t remember her political views; in Panama she could not vote.  Not sure what she would have to say about our current political charades and charlatan’s.

When we came to the States in 1970, Richard Nixon was president and All My Children had just began its run on ABC.  She used to like to watch That Girl and also Lakers basketball games when Karem Abdul Jabar was the center.  In 1972, two years after we settled in Barstow, California, she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  

JoAnn Arosemena - 1970

She passed 17 months later in May of 1974.  She died on May 10th, the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend; I was in Mr. Hurndon’s class when I was called to the counselor’s office. Mr. Brown told me that my Mom had died, a call had come to notify both my brother, Roger and myself.  Roger was a senior, I was a freshmen, both at John F. Kennedy High School.  We were Spartans.

Many times over the years, I’ve wondered if the color of her eyes would have gotten bluer as she got older, I am not sure that happens. I remember her smile magnificent, the kind of smile that caused anyone in its path to feel loved, cared for, recognized, validated. She was that kind of person. To think that most of my life I’ve been without her physical presence, yet everyday she is with me.  

I did the math, 5,475 days of my life with MOM, 14, 235 days since she passed.

Her voice I cannot remember and I wish I could.  When my dreams are with her and I hear her voice, it is a  gift from the angels she knows. The voice I think remember........... I imagine. 

I run movie reels in my head of us going swimming at Fort Amador in Panama, or of our family Sunday visits to Linda Vista, our grandparents finca in Arraijan, outside of Panama City, or of the Friday night drive from Panama City to the Canal Zone where we used to go roller skating. What I do remember is that she spoke to us in Spanish and English, and her Spanish was for sure the “Spanglish” type.   I also remember she would call me Elenita, not often. When I hear that today, I immediately think of her.  

Elena and Carlos - 1961 

While I don’t do this as much anymore, I used to have long debates in my head about my life, how I would have been different if my MOM had not died.  For example: I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes; I correlate that directly to not having the experiences that most girls have growing up shopping with their MOM’s.  

I remember being angry at 14, 15, 16, when I would go to the Inland Center Mall with my DAD in San Bernardino and I would see girls my age and their Mothers. It took me a long while to get over that.  The Christmas holiday, another part of my life that for a long time I did not want to participate in, acknowledge, etc. because after our MOM died it was never the same.  My DAD got very practical about gifts and 2 or 3 years after  MOM passed, we would get white envelopes hung on the tree with clothes pins, we would all get $$$ to buy what we wanted. When you are a kid, the white envelope was not so exciting. As we got older and the checks got bigger of course we became huge fans of the “envelope” holiday practice.

What I do know that I got from my MOM, being the master planner, being organized, being detailed, planning for contingencies.  She was the KOOL AID MOM in Altos del Golf in Panama, our neighborhood. We had the most extensive holiday cookie baking and decorating tradition and all the kids would come to our house to participate.  She made the most delicious holiday cookies, we called them SANDIES; little balls of heaven rolled in confectioner sugar.  She used to hide the Tupperware containers; we all loved those the best.

I also have a huge emotional attachment to French Toast. My Mom made the most amazing French Toast, and we always had crispy bacon to enjoy with warm maple syrup.  She was a MoM that made amazing breakfasts on the weekends.  While I don’t eat French Toast very often, when I do, she is right next to me sitting by my side.  My Dad kept that tradition going for a long time. When we lived in Barstow, my Dad got a bread machine and on Sundays he would program the machine to have the bread baked long enough for the fresh loaf to sit 1 or 2 hours before we had French Toast.  Not sure why something so simple holds such an emotional investment, for me eating French Toast is huge.

My Mom loved flowers. She loved orchids. She was a member of the Club de Jardineria in Panama. Under her term as president of the garden club, they held their first juried flower show in Panama City; the event became a huge hit. The club still holds the annual show today, 50 years later.  In Panama we had an orchid house with hundred of plants, we also had torch ginger plants and birds of paradise, in our yard. We always had beautiful flower arrangements made by my Mom in the formal entryway of the house.  Not sure what part of my Mom’s up bringing in rural Iowa influenced her incredible tropical flower arrangements in Panama, they were splendid. My parents both loved flowers. 

I have many memories of my MOM that I hold onto dearly.  Making photo books for all my siblings 2 or 3 years ago, took me down memory lane of times and events when my MOM was healthy, full of life, energy and a strong body.  For so long all I could remember is when she was sick; making the photo books was a gift for me.  It allowed me to reconnect with her LIFE when was not sick and to reorder and prioritize the great memories in my heart and mind, ahead of those when she was diagnosed with cancer.  The effect of a parent’s death on a child ------ one of the most powerful ever. 

I am blessed to have four amazing, wonderful, caring, loving, siblings: Ana, Rogelio III,  Carlos and Tobias.  While we all managed in our own ways to deal with her passing, we’ve all continued to be close, to be supportive, to be there for each other over the years.  Mom, I know you are proud.

I love you and wish you a wonderful birthday ! ! !

Arosemena Family - 1970