Saturday, November 22, 2008

Goodbye Mother

The only person in the world that thought exactly the way that I do is gone.
My mother, Sharon Huddle, was born 8 February, 1943 to Roy and Marie Huddle in Los Angeles California.

My Mother being held by her mother and father

My Mother being held by her mother and father 

Everyone thinks they have the prettiest Mother in the world but I knew I did. Maybe the word "pretty" is not the most appropriate. My mother was beautiful, with a beautiful soul, and this involves a lot more than mere appearance. Beauty is about the entire person.
She was born with a number of physical problems including spina bifida, that resulted in her spending the majority of her life in a great deal of pain. She spent most of her young life in leg braces designed to twist and force her legs, hips, and bones into a position that would allow her to stand and walk. Most of her early adult life was spent in and out of hospitals with surgery after surgery and years of painful physical therapy. In the same way it takes fire and heat to make glass, diamonds, and porcelain, I have to wonder if it takes pain to create a beautiful soul?

My Mother and Aunt on her first day of school 

My mother was a strong, proud, and brave girl and woman. She told my brother about how other crippled children were driven to keep trying in physical therapy by her example. When others would give in to the pain and exhaustion and quit, seeing this brave little girl struggle on through her pain and tears pushed them on to try harder.

My Mother and her family 

One of her favorite stories dealt with the day a doctor told her that she would never be able to walk without crutches. She threw the crutches in his trash can and walked out of his office, and she kept on walking for several decades. She walked long enough and far enough to raise three children and countless grand children.
She grew up in Los Angeles at a time when it still had many beautiful neighborhoods and was considered quite a nice place to live. I remember her asking me to stop playing the song "Maria" from West Side Story on the record player because it made her want to cry thinking about the way the city had gone to the gangs and turned into a place people no longer felt safe and welcome.

My Mother and Grandmother Lenna Welch

My Mother - her first Communion  

Her mother (my grandmother) had a good friend in the movie business and so she was present during the filming of several Western movies in the area of Pioneer Town in the desert of southern California. I believe that this is a picture of her riding Gene Autry's horse during the filming of one of his many movies:

My Mother on Gene Autry's Horse 

Her first marriage ended for all of the typical reasons that marriages end. Out of this marriage came at least two beautiful things – my older sister and brother, Karen and Donald Poindexter.

My Mother holding my big brother and next to my Grandmother and big sister

A few years later my mother remarried, this time to my father. This marriage too came to an end, now leaving my disabled mother with three children to take care of. She was a good mother in that all of her children grew up knowing they were loved and wanted. We did not have a great deal of material things, and there were of course hard times, but there was always love in plenty.

Being in such poor physical shape, and constantly in and out of hospitals, there were many occasions when our extended family would step in to help. We sometimes lived with my Grandmother in a relatively small mobile home. It seemed like we always wound up there when things got bad. This wasn't a bad thing though, because again, there was always love there. In this one trailer park was my Grandmother, my Great Grandmother, and assorted Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. That trailer park WAS our family and childhood.

As with the lives of most human beings, my mother had her fair share of emotional and personal ups and downs throughout her life. As a result of her physical challenges and many years in and out of hospitals, drugs were ever present in her life. She flirted with addiction off and on through the years and had a series of marriages and relationships. All of these relationships ended badly, with each adding another little bit to the load of hurt she already carried.

My Mother holding my niece and her granddaughter 

At the conclusion of one of her marriages, my mother bought a small one room cabin in Pipes Canyon – a picturesque canyon of flat top mountains only a few miles from the very same Pioneer Town where she had so many fond childhood memories.

Pipes Canyon near Yucca Valley 

By this time my sister had been married, had children, and had moved on to a life of her own, and it was now my mother, brother, and I. We went from your typical modern family and home, to a one room cabin, 20 miles from the nearest town. I recall laughing ourselves sick on the drive to our new home when we considered our situation. My petite mother driving a 69 or 70 Ford F150, towing a small travel trailer behind her, with a shot gun and bottle of vodka under the seat, headed to a small cabin in the sticks. We had just become hillbillies!
For all of us, this was a new and exciting adventure. For my mother, it was another turning point in her life. Almost mirroring the spirit and attitude that she had used to get through her physical challenges and obstacles, my mother had decided she would now stand on her own two feet and provide a life for herself and her children. This would be HER home. She did not require a husband or man to provide a home for her, she would do this on her own.
For the first few months living there, we had no running water and no electricity. We bathed by heating water and pouring it into a large tin tub very much in the same way you see the cowboys taking baths in the western movies. My mother cooked all of our meals on a fire pit in the back yard and our only light at night was provided by oil lanterns. For the first week or so we thought this was awesome, but eventually we settled in and it just became a mundane and somewhat harder way to live.
Of course we did get electricity and a wood burning stove eventually and things got a touch easier. It was nothing short of incredible the kind and caliber of meals my mother could prepare using nothing but a microwave, wood burning stove, and electric hot plate. I swear I am not exaggerating – my mother could have been a world famous gourmet cook. She would scour the cook books looking for new ideas that interested her and there was no telling what might be for dinner when we got home from school.
Of course being an adventurous cook does have it's risks – every once in a while there are going to be things that you don't care for. To address this possibility my mothers rules were simple:
· You had to TRY everything
· If you didn't like it, you didn't have to eat it
· If you didn't eat it, you didn't get anything else, so you better be damn sure you didn't like it!
I recall being woke up one stormy night to have a towel shoved in my face, and being told to start mopping water off of the floor. The wind was pushing the rain so hard against the cinder block walls that it was forcing the water right through them. There was water pouring down the inside of the walls, standing water on the floor, and everyone else had been at it for sometime before they woke up the spoiled youngest child to help. It wasn't at all funny at the time, but later we all laughed hysterically when we realized that for the first time in our lives we were living in a house with a roof that didn't leak . . . but the walls did!
One of the up sides to living so far out in the sticks, with no TV and little entertainment, is that it encouraged me to take up two of my mothers passions – reading and music. My own reading turned to Science Fiction which ultimately led to my career in electronics. Since most of the music we had was from my mothers record collection, the music I grew up with was pretty much a generation behind what everyone else was listening to. That's OK though, because the music we grew up with and enjoyed was just one more thing I shared with her.
I know it's hard to believe based on my description of things, but all of us agreed in later years that these early years in the cabin were the happiest and best time of our lives.
Eventually my brother left home to start his own life and family and not too many years later I left home myself and joined the US Army.

My half brother, Grandmother, Myself, and my mother the day I left for the Army 

If I remember correctly, it was 2 September, 1983 – one day before my 18 th birthday when she took me to the bus station. I was feeling scared of course, leaving home for the first time, but I was also feeling so proud and high on myself that I was leaving the desert to go start my own life. As the bus started to pull away, I was surprised to see that my mother had not left as I had thought, but had instead waited. There she stood, looking at the bus, all alone with tears streaming down her face.
Just when it seemed that my mother would spend the rest of her life alone, she finally met the right man – Stuart Hylton.

My Mother and her husband Stuart Hylton 

All of us liked him because he was real, he was honest, and he was fun to be around. Among other things, he was a Vietnam veteran, and while he bore no physical wounds, he carried deep scars in his heart and soul. What we had not realized at that time, was that like so many of his peers and fellow veterans, he had turned to drugs and alcohol long ago and had a serious problem with them. He could very rapidly go from the fun loving guy we all liked, to someone that was frightening to be around. But up or down, good or bad, it was clear early on the he loved my mother, and so eventually they were married. Only someone that has dealt with serious drug addiction can understand the immense amount of effort it took, but early on in their marriage, Stuart pulled himself away from the drugs and the alcohol to keep my mother. That little sentence just can not do justice to the herculean effort that it took and required of him to go clean after so many years of addiction.
He told me just this morning that the turning point for him had been when my mother walked in on him in the act of taking drugs. He told me that he just couldn't shake the look in her bright blue eyes as she walked up and slapped him. That was over 20 years ago, and he hasn't touched drugs since. Very few people succeed at this, but he managed – all to keep my mother in his life.
There is also a bit of serendipity with these two that they only discovered well after they were married. It turns out that they had both been raised only one or two miles from each other in LA.
My mother had been in very poor health for many years before she died. I will not dwell on the details of this as it is not what I wish to recall or impart to you. What I do wish to share is that this man, who had met and married my mother when they were both living lives of pain and loneliness, took care of my mother when others would have run away.

My Mother and her husband Stuart Hylton 

As her health worsened in the last few years, I ended each of my visits with her in a mixture of tears and relief. Tears because with each visit it became clear that there would not be many more visits to come. Relief that I was returning to my own home and could escape the pain of seeing my mothers decline and suffering.
While I was running home to be with my wife and children more than a thousand miles away, my step father stayed by her side.
He loved her.
He cared for her.
He nursed her.
He protected her.
You have to respect that. . .
When it became clear that my mothers life was drawing to a close, the vast majority of my family came to be with her. I have no way to know if she could hear it or not, but I sat with her for hours, playing my guitar for her. I tried to sing for her because I knew she would like that, but I couldn't do it without choking, so I settled for just playing.
Of course her husband was there.
My brother, sister, and I (her children) were there.
Many of her Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren were there.
I am so very deeply impressed with everyone that was there.
My sister and my nieces, all of whom stepped forward to do all of the so very hard little things that have to be done to take care of someone who is dying.
My brother and his daughters who refused to sleep for the last two nights of her life, absolutely determined that if she were to pass, she would not do it alone or with out someone holding her.
The young husbands and boy friends that took care of the mundane things that freed us up to worry about nothing other than my mothers passing. I have a renewed respect for the younger generations. They are not afraid to do the difficult things that need to be done. They stepped up bravely and with honor, compassion, and respect that has awed me.
All of us were crowded around her at the end and I myself was honored to be holding her hand as she took her last breath. She died at home with all of us holding her.
We tried to return the most important gift she had given us - she knew she was loved.
My last contribution to this letter? My wife and I have been married for over 21 years and we share the same wedding anniversary as my mother and step father. The day before my mother died, my wife called me to let me know that we are pregnant! If it's a girl, I hope to convince my wife that Sharon is wonderful name.