To the very end. That is what I think every time some asks me who my inspiration is/was and I tell them my Mom. Why “To the very end”? Well, let me tell you the story that is my Mom and give you a glimpse as to why I am the way I am today.
So the other day I was on a TikTok live and someone asked me this question. “Lonni, who is your inspiration?” Without hesitation I said my Mom. But the answer has so many meanings, it’s not just a simple black and white answer. It’s a rainbow of colors kinda answer. She inspired me in so many different ways. Her strength that I didn’t give her enough credit for while she was alive. Her love of fashion that has given me my thirst for everything fashion. Her unwavering love for her family. Her ability to light up a room, just by walking into it. But mostly, what I draw inspiration from on a daily basis was her ability to absolutely, 100% be true to herself. She was true to herself to the very end.
When I say be true to herself, I mean she was so incredibly comfortable in her own skin that she didn’t change who she was regardless of the situation. She could be at church and speak up when women were told that they should be seen and not heard. She could be at a five star restaurant, wearing whatever she wanted and every woman in room would want to be wearing the same thing. She could go into a tattoo parlor at the age of 73 and get into a political debate with the shop owner. He was one of the scariest guys I knew and she never backed down from her belief. It’s that simple trait of being herself, regardless on her surrounding that really gives me the most inspiration.
Now I didn’t realize the depth of this or how true she really was to herself, until she left me. My Mom had to endure the pain of losing her oldest daughter, then she had to bury her husband of almost 60 years, then it was my turn to help her go be with them. It was during this time that I learned the biggest lessons. **Side Note – When I speak of my Mom’s passing I don’t do this with sadness. I do this with pride for the woman I call my Mom. Yes, I miss her with every breath, but I’m going to tell you the story of the last few months of her life and how my love and respect for her grew during this time. I don’t look focus on my loss, I focus on the gifts that she left me with.**
Let’s start from the beginning of what made my Mom who she was. My Mom started her life one day in March 1934 on a farm outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was born premature in a time that most women didn’t give birth in hospitals, they gave birth on the farm and that is where my Mom’s story began. She was the youngest of six children and by far my Grandfather’s favorite. The family moved to California in 1940 to small beach town outside San Diego called Encinitas. My Grandparents didn’t have much money and both parents work to feed the family. My Grandfather worked on Camp Pendleton as a contractor and my Grandmother worked whatever job she could get. Moving from Arkansas wasn’t that easy for my Mom. I remember her telling me that she fought kids who made fun of her accent. She had to wait for the free dentist that came to schools to get dental work done and being the youngest daughter, she wore whatever her sisters grew out of, these days he would have been considered a “Latchkey Kid”. She got taken on dates when her older sisters couldn’t leave her at home and learned quickly what she didn’t not want in a husband. She was small in size and big on personality. With dark hair, green eyes and beautiful shape, she was an Audrey Hepburn lookalike and everyone took notice of her. She was a High School Cheerleader and the Homecoming Queen. She met and fell in love with the man that she would spend the rest of her life with at the young age of 16. Did she meet the quarterback or the valedictorian? Nope, she met my Dad when he was 17. She met the young man who grew up in an orphanage, rode a motorcycle and was the complete opposite of the homecoming queen. She met exactly who she was supposed to.
If you remember, I told you my Grandma took whatever job she could find and when my Mom was 16 she happen to working for the Thorntons. The Thorntons were a part of the flower industry that was Encinitas (fun fact Encinitas was the “Flower Capital of the World” until the late 80’s). The Thorntons owned the wholesale part of the family business. My Dad and Uncle Fred grew the flowers and my Uncle Bob shipped them (see where I’m going with this). So my Grandma worked for Uncle Thorny and my Mom went to see her at work one day and my Dad happened to be there. It was literally love at first sight. The cheerleader fell for the family bad boy and the bad boy finally found the one person who he would love his entire life. They dated while in she was in High School (my Dad dropped out) and were married shortly after graduation. Within months of being married, my Dad packed up my Mom, took her back to her parents and went to Korea to fight in the war. My Mom never gave up hope that he would return and he did not let her down. He carried her picture and a four leaf clover with him the whole time (we still have both) and came home three years later.
When my Dad returned home, my Mom was ready to start her family but having children was not easy for my Mom. With years passing and no children in sight, my Mom and Dad decided to adopt. I guess that’s all they needed to do because as soon as they started that process my Mom got pregnant with my sister. My Mom had a history of health problems and her pregnancy was not easy for her and the birth of my sister was almost the end of them. My Mom broke her tailbone and my sister was pulled out with forceps. But that horrible experience of child birth didn’t stop my Mom from trying again. She still needed to give birth to me and it took her six years of trying to do so. I was the last child, my Mom just couldn’t physically have another child. She was lucky to have survived the first two times.
Now here’s where it gets real. In reading the history of my Mom and how I came to be, you would think this is a fairly tail romance full of good times. That was unfortunately not the case. Remember, I told you that my Dad was raised in an orphanage and spent a tour in Korea. My Dad was raised tough and he did not know how to show love and he was not an easy man to love. Our nightly routine was a never ending loop of hostility. My Dad fought his past and my Mom fought to keep the outside world from seeing what the inside reality looked like. ***I will write a different blog regarding our home life at another time, this one is more about my Mom*** My Mom by the her sheer strength keep her little family together. In looking back I know now that my Mom was one moment away from snapping. I saw this when she got into a fight with a neighbor over their son throwing paint on my sister. My little Mom had the Dad backed into a corner fearing for his life. I saw her march into my middle school and insist that her daughter(me) was not drunk and would not be expelled (I was drunk but I was not expelled). I saw her marched into my high school to insist the graphity be removed from the girls bathroom when bullies wrote not so nice things about me. I know now that her strength came from a woman who could not deal with one more thing.
Growing up in a difficult family wasn’t fun and I found my own way to protect my emotional self. When that didn’t work I turned to alcohol (I guess that ran in the family). So it wasn’t until I found my happiness and I found my sobriety, that I was actually able to stop and take a long look at my Mom. I stopped drinking a few years after my Dad passed away and I know without a doubt that my Mom would have not passed peacefully if I had still been drinking. So here we are, we are a few months from my Mom passing away and I spent just about every single day at my Mom’s side. Her health started to fail in the spring of 2016 with trip after trip to the ER then a stay at the hospital. Each time and each trip she had her trusty sidekick there. I grew up with a strong outspoken woman and I knew my how to get my way. I remember my Mom laughing every time I walked into her room and looking at me and saying “I heard your boots walking down the hall and so did every nurse on duty. They all came running to make sure I was okay before you got here”. I was always polite to the staff but that was my mother laying in that bed and I was her advocate. I channeled my inner mom and she knew she was in good hands with me there. The hours that I spent next to her bed just watching her talk to the Doctors and Nurses always left me amazed. She was in pain, she knew she was dying and yet she had the same spunk, same wit and the same charm she did when she was 30. She was the same person in death as she was in life.
How? How can one person be so true to themselves? How after everything she had been through just be okay with being her? There were hours and hours that I got to spend with my own thoughts. I got to revisit situations in my childhood and look at them in a different light. That gave me the time to look at my own life. How true to myself was I really being? Was I living my most true life? The answer was no. I was still trying to figure myself out, I was still tying to figure out who Lonni really was. I had spent so many years of my life drinking away my memory of who I really was, that I had lost myself. As I sat there during this time with my Mom know that it was coming to an end, I had a choice to make. Would I continue to hide who I was or would I take the time and reconnect with the real Lonni. I knew the right answer, the answer that my Mom had shown me my whole life. The answer was to find me and let the best me out to shine bright. I lost my Mom shortly after this conclusion but I only lost the physical part of my Mom. My Mom will always be a part of me and she will always be that person who inspires me most to be my true self. That gift is a gift that just keeps on giving. That is the gift that I wish to pass on to you. Stop and take the time to find the real you. Life can get busy and life can get hard and we sometime lose who we really are. We can be in a bad relationship or come from a difficult childhood and the real us gets pushed aside. Find that real you and once you do it is so easy to be you. You no longer worry about being who other people want you be and the freedom of being you is so easy that you can do it while dying.
So this Blog is for you Mom – Though all the good times and through all the bad times you never changed. You were Barbara, you were Mom and most importantly you were always true to yourself. Love you forever.