My mom, Margaret Valentine, is gone.
She was something else. She lived completely in the present, never thinking much about what future had in store for her—often to her detriment. She was a free spirit in the truest sense and contained layers of complexity that I will ponder forever. There was nothing simple about her at all, and yet she led the most simple, bare-minimum life. She burned bridges and built new ones to replace them. She had friendships spanning 50 years and more. She said seeing Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” when she was 16 years old ruined her, and that was why she was alone: no man made her feel the way she felt when she saw him in that movie. I watched it with her on my couch a few nights ago. She would doze off then wake up and ask: Do you see it? Do you see the appeal?
She was born in Lancashire and was a child in London during the World War II bombings. She remembered the camaraderie and excitement of being in bomb shelters with groups of neighbors. When her parents sent her to live with her aunt on a farm in Lancashire for her safety, she said it was idyllic.
She met my dad, stationed by the USAF in England, in 1956 when she was 18 years old and married him at 20 in spring of 1957. They moved to Texas shortly thereafter and she had me at 22 in Austin. By 1963, she was divorced, attending UT in Austin, working full time, dating, finding her political compass. When asked by a boss in the 90’s if she was liberal, she said “No. Keep moving, farther left.”
Because of my mom, I grew up often raising myself. I became an adult quickly, and while it might seem sad, or as if my childhood was lacking, I’ve found that the hard-wired skill of taking care of myself without expectation of someone else doing it for me has been an asset in this world. I have looked out for my mom financially for about 20 years now, because she didn’t really plan for an old age that was unimaginable to a beautiful, intelligent and adventure seeking young woman. Although I sometimes resented this arrangement, I must concede that the success and achievements that allowed me to care for her were as much a result of her support and encouragement as they were due to my own talent, luck, and perseverance.
She hated how much she was dependent on me for financial help. She loved how dependent she was on Audrey, her granddaughter, for lessons on her much-hated iPhone. Being Audrey’s Grandma Margaret was her greatest joy and she took relentless interest in every aspect of Audrey’s life. Audrey’s kindness and compassion to my mom taught me how to be softer and gentler with her as well. We included her in our life at every opportunity and my mom looked forward to each visit and occasion with great excitement.
My mom yearned to be creative, but never seemed to give any creative impulse the time and attention to fully execute what she longed to make. She wanted to write, and was known for her emails to friends, all of whom would remark about the wit, articulation and acute personality that infused each missive. I look forward to going through her files and papers and finding what she wrote. Even though I’ve known her my entire life, I long to know her better and now it’s too late.
I revealed so much about her in my memoir, all with her permission and blessing. I tried to be honest, but also fair. It was a gift from her, to take the heat and let me tell my story. That gift gave me a chance to process and appreciate all the ways she did me right. I always knew I was loved, I never doubted that, ever. She instilled in me that I was smart, over and over, and made me value my intellect over anything else, like appearances. Another incredible gift, one that has made aging easier.
She was proud of me. She came to every show I played in Austin, often by herself, just showing up and letting the doorman know that her daughter was playing. She would be given a table, and by the time I was done with my set, she had usually made new friends.
My mom was fiercely independent. Up until she was actively dying, she insisted she was fine and that I should take her home.
My mom was brave. She was unlucky in health, turns out that as well as getting a slow growing meningioma brain tumor that went unchecked for possibly 15 years, she also had acquired AIH, a disease that attacks the liver. She survived the massive brain tumor after a major surgery but succumbed to AIH after 20 days of up and down confusion and wandering through the medical jungle as we tried to figure out what was going on. It was my gift to her to be her advocate when she needed one and I learned I am a great advocate. Her diagnosis came the day before she passed. Had it been caught earlier, she might have gotten treatment that gave her a bit more living, but I suppose it was her time.
There is so much more I could write about her, and I will in time. I welcome any memories from people that knew her, as they will help me know her more, in different perspectives. Right now I am reeling with so many feelings: relief, grief, remorse and regret, gratitude and profound sadness. I am proud to be her daughter and so happy that my life, and Audrey’s life, gave her joy and happiness.
I love you mom.