Dad's birthday was just a couple of days ago. And I know I've neglected this blog a lot in the last three years. It's not for lack of want. It's just a busy thing. However, everything that's happened on the last 3 years will be written another day. I originally started this blog as a means to make sure my children know me, should something ever happen to me. I know that's macabre, but it's true. And that desire will become clear through this post. The last entry I have been re-reading is the post about my dad. And it occurs to me that I've never written one like that about my mom. Why? I don't know, really, but I suspect subconsciously, it has to do with the raw wound left by her passing. This last December marks 10 years since she passed. It's time I write a tribute to her.
So, without further ado, I'd like you to meet my mother, Nila Marie.
Nila Marie Reas was born on a winter day in December 1957. She often referred to herself as a classic, because she was born the same year as the 57 Chevy was produced. She was the youngest of two girls, which, for that time, was an abnormally small family. I secretly think it had something to do with the fact that her mother, my grandmother, was one of 13 kids. Bless my great grandmother's soul. Mom was born in Hicksville, Ohio, which is about a 30 minute drive from where she ended up growing up. A buckeye forever, her hometown boasted a million cousins that I remember her talking about. One incident in particular, she was riding a dirt bike with her cousin Randy and laid it down on her leg. She told me that someone called a faith healer, and that he blew the fire out of it. My whole life, she never even had a scar on that leg.
Which brings me to high school. Mom was a cheerleader in our small town high school. Our high school, which is where she, dad, my sister, and I graduated from, was small. In the middle of cornfields, Mom never really enjoyed the learning aspect of things. She spent her days, to hear her tell it, working in Grandma's restaurant, cheerleading, and gabbing with friends. Mom was gorgeous, but had a friend that she thought was prettier. One day in 1975, a guy driving a flashy car saw Mom and her friend washing a car at Grandpa's garage. He circled the block, and Mom was convinced he was gawking at the friend. He wasn't, and that young man was my dad. Nine months later, 5 months before she graduated high school, Mom and Dad married. She spent the rest of her senior year finishing cosmetology school to become a beautician.
Mom and dad spent a lot of time with his brother and sister in law. Lake trips, beer, fun. I was born in 1980, four years after they were married. My sister was born 4 years and 11 months to the day after I was. Mom was a stay at home mom, which is to say she worked within the home during a great portion of my childhood. She enjoyed Little Debbie snack cakes, swimming in the pool, and playing with our dog Chelsea.
Dad worked third shift in a foundry, and he would save all his vacation from the year to make every weekend a 3 day weekend. We'd pile into the Blazer and make the drive north to Crooked Lake. We'd stay in Grandma's and Grandpa's fifth wheel trailer every weekend. We didn't travel far distances, but those weekends are some of my favorite memories of my life. Fishing off the dock, paddle boating, playing in the water, Mom skiing and losing her swimsuit repeatedly, cooking hot dogs over the campfire, sliding on cardboard "sleds" down the big hill, playing countless games of Uno, Skip-Bo, Crazy 8s, 31, learning euchre, and sleeping in a camper where Grandpa's snoring kept us all awake and giggling.
At some point, Mom took a job as a cleaning lady for our small town library. On the weekends, and on weeknights during the summer, Stephanie and I would tag along and read or play games on the computer. Mom's job may very well be the reason I love reading and learning as much as I do. She trusted us to ride our bikes to the gas station, or to Grandma's house, or to the park to watch baseball games. Mom's trust in us kids helped us become responsible and trustworthy, and to have that at such a young age was remarkable.
When I was in junior high, Mom applied for and accepted a job in a factory that was new to our town. She started off on an assembly line, and quickly moved to shipping and receiving. This gave Mom something that was all her own, something she could be proud of outside the house, and it gave me some responsibility looking after my seven year old sister in the evenings. During this time, Grandma would come over in the mornings to get us up and off to school, and those times were equally special in comparison to the mornings spent eating jelly toast and watching Good Morning America with mom for years prior. As I grew and moved into high school, Mom became and remained one of my very best friends. She would confide in me drama from work, and I really felt that I could, and did, open up to her as I would a friend.
I was not what anyone would consider pretty for the majority of my growing up years. I was awkward with buck teeth and glasses, and gangly. Mom always did her best to keep me confident, and to tell me things that I thought were silly at the time. Things like, men will find your intelligence sexy. And that I could do anything I put my mind to. She never scoffed at my ambitions to be an astronomer, or a teacher, or a nurse, or my final destination of physician. She listened and encouraged, but kept me grounded. I never felt my mother was against me in any way, even when I was a crabby teenager.
My mother was a gifted beautician, and even if she didn't work outside the home, she always kept her license current. She cut our hair at home. In fact, I didn't pay for a hair cut until I was 21 years old. We would sit and watch movies, and she'd play with my hair. As far back as I can remember, one of my favorite things she'd do was play with my hair. Whether it was drying it after a bath, or concocting an updo for prom, or laying my head in her lap and scratching my scalp gently when I didn't feel good, I miss that so much. Once my aunt and uncle moved back from Arizona, every 8 weeks Mom and Aunt Linda would gather in the kitchen to cackle and color hair while Stephanie and I sat and played video games.
Some of my very favorite memories still play in my head like a broken film strip. I see Mom on a raft in our small pool, rolling her eyes and sticking out her tongue at something goofy Dad said. I smell her perfume when she and Dad would drop us girls off at Grandma's so they could Christmas shop. I taste her pancakes that she made most Sunday mornings while Steph and I watched WWF and Cartoon Express with Dad. And every New Years Eve was spent in the living room with Mom, Dad, and us girls, playing Dr. Mario on Nintendo, while listening to music. She and Dad danced to music in the living room on summer afternoons with the windows open. Mom took Steph and I to our first ever concert, Alan Jackson. She and Dad would take us to a movie every summer, and every summer, we made a trip to the zoo. These things are not expensive or fancy, but they are the things that make up my core.
I was so very fortunate that she and Dad supported my going away to college, and I'm so thankful I was able to enjoy some of my adult life with my mother. We bar crawled together, got tattoos together, and we talked every day. She stood back and let me make my own way, mistakes and all, and helped scoop up the pieces when things went wrong. And she laughed. From the depths of her soul, she laughed more than she ever frowned or cried.
My mother wasn't perfect. But she was many things....she was beautiful and kind, she loved deeply and giggled, she was silly and classy, she could tell someone off without them having any idea the insult, but she only did that when she had to. She was, and is, the standard to which I hold myself when I mother my children, and I hope to show the love to my husband that she showed to Dad. The world without her smile is bleaker than I wish. But man, do I look forward to the stories I will tell my kids, and to making their lives enriched the way she enriched ours. I look forward, too, to the tight embrace waiting for me someday.