Requiem for a Sacrificial Life
My mother, Carole Ann Fairman, was born to Eugene and Gwen Field on May 15, 1937 in the Los Angeles area. Although her parents have long since passed, she is survived by her sole sibling, Eugene, who is 7 years her senior. She attended Garfield High School and married my father Fred Fairman at 19 years of age and to whom she bore seven children: myself, Gary, Jeannene, Eric, Shawn, Dennis, and Stephanie. She raised her family in the towns of Pico Rivera, West Covina, Rowland Hts., and Rialto. In addition, she welcomed 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren into the world. She passed on to her Maker on August 22 from an aggressive malignant brain tumor within two months of its visible onset. These are her vital statistics. Please allow me to share with you a bit of her life and legacy.
Who can doubt that a vast multitude of our society has now forgotten in its tin-plated narcissism what it means to put its own desires aside for the sake of a greater vision? My parents, and particularly my mother, did not ascribe to this current banal philosophy of decay. Having and raising children meant putting their own ambitions on hold and getting their hands dirty in the process of parenting -- which everyone knows can at times be a thankless business. My mother, who did not herself fully complete high school, possessed a natural inquisitiveness coupled with an innate intelligence and good sense. She was morally integrated enough to put her considerable dreams and ambitions on the back burner as she poured her hopes and efforts into her own children. As such, we were astoundingly blessed to have her as an inspiration to draw from: even though failure to live up to those expectations could be fraught with consequences. She was well aware that education and tenacity were the keys to a successful life, and so she began early on in paying close attention to our schoolwork and citizenship. I believe that my brother Eric said that she was the brains while Dad was the muscle. Ergo, one impassioned sentence from her to my father upon his arriving home from work after a tiring day was all that was necessary to set her stratagems into motion. Only on reflecting upon her methods as we grew up did we understand that we were the true beneficiaries of her loving plans.
My earliest memories involve sitting on her lap while staring down at the Herald Examiner and reading the headlines and print copy. Before I even went to school she was attempting to teach me phonics and opening the world of reading to me. It was the greatest gift she could ever have bestowed. She never grew tired of her duty to her children. She would attend every parent conference and grill the teacher on our progress. She would question our grades and if one of her children were having trouble with other neighborhood kids, she was not above injecting herself into the situation to get her point across to them -- sometimes with fierce but effective results.
It is said that maternal love is stronger than justice, and this held true for my mother. God help those that offended her children in some way: even if the offender was one of us. In high school, I had once slugged my brother Gary for some reason and he went home to extract a bit of that justice. I soon found out that even then, I was not too old for "mother dearest" to stroll on over to the handball courts with a baseball bat to chasten her eldest. Love and retribution went hand in hand with her -- and I learned a vital lesson from it: including the distance that my mother could hurl a full half gallon glass bottle of milk at me from the porch. For the record, in her prime she could almost clear the sidewalk.
Shortly after brothers Shawn and Dennis were born, my mother was struck down with one of the most severe manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis. It would not be an understatement to describe her affliction coming as sudden as a thunderbolt, and barely into her thirties she began wrestling with this lifelong demon that sapped her vigor and brought her untold days and nights of suffering. I can remember her weeping as I massaged her legs in the early days while she held forth against what this monstrous evil was doing to her joints. Everyone that knew her can attest to the nodules on her elbows and hands; and during the passing years, despite: surgeries, gold injections, and a mountain of experimental prescription drugs, our mother grew old long before her time.
While in hospice, I had the opportunity to finally come to grips with what her nemesis had done to her. As she lay in bed, growing increasingly motionless from the ravages of the tumor, I studied her feet as if for the first time. Many of her toes had settled into angles that were nearly perpendicular to one another like the gnarled limbs of an ancient tree. I marveled at how she had even managed to walk in those elastic slippers that were her mainstay. Yet she rarely let it stop her. Despite the excruciating pain she endured, Mom made every one of my Home cross-country meets and would amble over to the mile marker to scream encouragement for me and mild expletives at our opponents. She and my father were fixtures at my brothers' baseball, football, and wrestling matches and would beam with pride at our accomplishments. For Mother, as with Father, she was content to withdraw so that we would increase: the hallmark of a sacrificial life.
Even though times were often financially rough at our house, we were not overly cognizant of being in want. My mother always prepared enough food to feed a small battalion, but prudence dictated that one should not be late for dinner. She went through culinary phases: sometimes with eggplant or apple pie, but her mainstays were well known: spaghetti, meat loaf and the infamous "Bum Stew." My father loved her cooking and so did we. Truly here she could do no wrong.
It is impossible to relate to you just what my mother meant to her grandchildren as they grew. Their Primrose Ave. home meant the world to them and it became a place of joy and escape from the "horrors" of their own evil parents' clutches. Mom would spoil the children in the most delightful way possible: with love and affection, and the children would often spend weekends there in the early years. And as the "at times" combustible temperament of my mother mellowed with the wisdom of age and perspective, she reaped the glowing satisfaction that comes from those who manifest the qualities of the sacrificial life -- the undying devotion of those souls who had been entrusted to her ample care.
When I think of it, it is near impossible to separate the virtues of my mother from that of my father, since they became a true organic union that with each complementing and enhancing the other. Would you find it strange if I told you that my father was my mother's only love -- a love that spanned well over a half century of marriage? And even though they fought and disagreed often, I find it absolutely amazing that this pair, out of all the souls that populate the earth, found each other and were so much alike in their vision. Both came from, if I may be honest, "difficult" backgrounds. My mother used to say that when she came home from school as a young girl, she was afraid that she would not find her mother alive. And yet, despite that troubling anxiety, she forged a life together with my father and created something beautiful and lasting in the world.
Writing about my mother is a difficult thing because in many ways she and I were so very much alike. I have inherited many of her features -- some say the eyes as well as certain mannerisms -- and that damned temperament. I pleased and displeased her throughout her life, and perhaps I managed to redeem myself a bit with my children Aaron and Melinda, whom she loved exceedingly. Moreover, I always grew weary of hearing how I should have chosen the occupation of writing. This irritated me to no end because I knew her assessment to be dead-on correct. In all honesty, she knew me better than I did myself, and it comes of some comfort to me that in the last year of her life I took up her challenge and found that writing was as natural and satisfying a life as she knew it would be. Perhaps such epiphanies are better late than never. I hope you are reading those American Thinker articles now, Mom: for I owe them all to you.
The philosopher Hegel said that:"The Owl of Minerva flies at dusk," and if I may amplify this for you, it means that wisdom generally only comes at the end of an age, or when considering the totality of a life. Or as the philosopher Kierkegaard offered, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward." It can be said that had we had known the end of a thing, we might have responded to it quite differently. The great perennial human tragedy has always been the regretful knowledge that oft-times we have waited too long to say the things that we would have our beloveds know, especially since people do not die like they do in the cinema: so beautiful and witty and dramatically satisfying as the camera pans away and life fades to black. My mother's mind -- a wonderful steel trap of wit, humor, and luscious sarcasm, was taken from her at the end by a ravaging curse so that in her final days she could only utter the simplest of sounds: but I know that she could hear. And so I pray that she heard every private confession we all whispered into her precious ears: "I love you." "Thank you for my life." "I shall forever hold you in the vault of my heart, Mother." In truth, these were the gems that she would have valued. These are the riches that the sacrificial life labors its entire span of existence in order to call love's golden treasure its very own.
How little we understand as we scour the paltry horizons of our knowing. When this ordeal began I prayed for the life of my mother in fervent supplication, hoping against all hope that it all was just an infection that science could wipe away like a child's tear. At the end of it all, God help me, I prayed just as mightily for her release from the pain and humiliation of it all. But we are just not privy to the lessons that the Great Creator has in store for His children. My mother, with courage and dignity, truly lived life on her own terms. Outspoken and brilliant, she was as inquisitive as any Athenian philosopher and was fearless as she interrogated others in order to make sense of the world. She would undoubtedly have wanted to be remembered with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee cup nearby, rolling her lovely eyes as she offered a laser-like commentary concerning politics or in casting her considered judgments on the absurdities that are ever befalling the human condition. In this way, she was indeed a character larger than life -- and we love her for every drop of it. I pray that she has found her way to our father -- the great solace of her loving and vibrant life. Be thou at peace, Dear One. Not one single scintilla of who you are has been lost upon those who now stand vigil in your honor.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org