It was 25 years ago “Mary’s Song” was published in With My Own Wings, A Collection of Captured Reflections, as a tribute to my Mother, Mary Marjorie Maw Karnoski. And, about a year after that I wrote “With Love, Mary“ another reflection about my mother on the occasion of my 38thbirthday. That was the age she was when she gave birth to me.
This year, September 16, 2011 marks what would have been her 100th birthday. Sadly, she only lived to celebrate 59 of those birthdays. She died just 2 months shy of 60.
I wanted to write something special about my mom to commemorate her life and the centennial of her birth. “Mary’s Song” and “With Love, Mary” have stood the test of time and remain true recollections for me. But they are reflections through only my eyes and don’t reflect the many facets of the woman she was. Now I feel compelled to open the lens and include a wider, more panoramic view of her life.
At the time she died, my 22 year old eyes viewed her life as a waste, as she seemed to have allowed her life to slip away from her as she let herself die just 8 months after my father had died. And, yes, maybe I was a little angry that neither her children, or her grandchildren were reason enough to fight to regain her strength and go on with her life without him.
What happened to that talented, spirited flapper, who in the roar of the 1920s left her country, and family before the age of 18 to marry a Chicago jazz musician? Who, by the time she herself was 20, had divorced and returned to her native Canada. Who, then shunned by her family in Sarnia, moved to Windsor and opened her own tailor and dressmaking shop. (Sarnia is just across the St. Clair River from Port Huron, MI. Windsor is 80 miles south, just across the same river from Detroit.)
There isn’t anyone left alive who can fill in the actual details of her life in the mid 1930s and early 40s. She remained a single, self-sufficient, and–as photographic evidence indicates–a quite glamorous woman. Her life during that time was likely filled with music, art and fun. She had a sense of humor. And her later life included traces of all of these elements. I imagine her life during these years was not unlike my single years after my first marriage ended. Or, my sister’s life as a single woman before the age of 34. And, yet this was nearly 30 years before women’s liberation!
Mary was definitely an incurable romantic. At the start of WWII, she apparently fell in love with a Canadian flyer and they were planning to marry. But, because she had been previously married to an American, she needed clarification on her divorce papers. This required contacting her ex-husband, the musician, who was also now serving in the US Army.
Before sending her the required paperwork, he convinced her to meet him in California where he was stationed. She did. As further photographic evidence indicates, it was 1943. The musician was my father. And, this brings us to the “To Gene, Love, Mary” chapter of her story.
She loved him so much, she married him twice. She loved him so much, she again left her country, her Canadian flyer, her tailor shop, her family and church and followed him back over the Blue Water Bridge to the States. He left his musician’s life and they settled into the post war baby boom and produced 3 children in 4 years.
Cue: “Mary’s Song” For 25 years she danced to someone else’s tune. She did manage to carve out little niches for herself. She kept a part-time sewing business at home. She did a little painting and sketching and once in a while would sit down at the piano and play “Claire de Lune.” And, up until her mother died, she made regular trips back home to Canada. We all have fond memories of those train and car trips to Sarnia for 2 weeks every summer. She would take the three kids for a week, then Dad would drive up to meet us for the second week.
Her parenting style was laissez faire. But perhaps because of her English Canadian upbringing, she had a keen sense of propriety. She insisted that the dinner table be properly set. Sunday dinner was in the dining room, with the good dishes and her china cups. Linens were properly starched and ironed. She made a lot of our clothes and even altered and refit any hand-me-downs we received. And Lord help us if she found safety pins holding up our hems, buttons or seams!
“Mary’s Song” describes her battle with depression. I watched her struggle with it from my childhood. And, with little or no understanding or support, each battle took another piece of her heart.
In my mother’s eyes, “The Day the Music Died” was the day my father died and so did her will to go on. Yes, she loved him so much, she couldn’t imagine life without him.
And, so she began her eight month journey down the rabbit hole. She emerged on July 17, 1971 and joined my dad, her Beloved Gene. And they’ve been together in Heaven for 40 years!
So, Happy 100th Birthday Mom! Now you have another special person with you up there to help you celebrate your Centennial: Hey Jude—Let’s get this party started!