Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Legacy


We visited my mom yesterday, and as we drove away from the nursing home, I asked myself the unanswerable question that floats through my head so often these days: Why has she lived to be 99? The only reason that I’ve been able to come up with is that she feels compelled to be here on this earth until her only grand-daughter is grown up and living a happy, independent life.  I know that my mother has really never trusted me to do a good enough job protecting my child, and that she has always believed that things will only go well if she personally prays to God hard enough for it to happen the way she wants it to be. It’s always worked before, she thinks, and her belief has only solidified over time.
My mother and I had a contentious relationship from the time that I was a teen-ager. She is a dictator and a perfectionist, as many remarkable, strong people are.  It is a direct line from her mother, who was even more stubborn and heroic than her youngest daughter. My grandmother, whose family owned an estate in an area that Russia and Poland continually battle over, was the iron hand that held my rebellious mother in place until World War II shook everything apart in their world.
My mother was in medical school, married to a doctor and helped transport the wounded officers from Poland to Hungary when the bombs began falling on Warsaw.  My grandmother was forced onto a cattle car and shipped to a gulag in Siberia with her daughter-in-law who was pregnant. All she took was pillows, blankets and a pair of long white gloves. My grandfather was killed in the bombings, and one of her sons, whom I am named after, was tortured by the Nazis. 
When my grandmother got to the gulag, there was nothing but some piles of wood, and they were told to build their own shelter. She marched into the office of the Russian who was in charge, wearing her white gloves. There were two soldiers blocking her path with their bayonets, and she pushed them aside, throwing her gloves disdainfully on the floor because she had soiled them. In perfect Russian, she insisted that the Commandant give milk and food to the women and children, lying that she was friends with a high-ranking official in Moscow who would learn if they were mistreated. Completely cowed by her, the man in charge gave her what she asked. 
After six years in Siberia, one day, the gates of the gulag were opened, and everyone in it was told that they were free to go because the war was over. Their captors assumed that everyone would starve or freeze to death out there in the middle of nowhere. My grandmother found a farmer who was willing to take the small frail  group of old people, women and children on horses as far as he would go to another farm, where she persuaded the next farmer to do the same. Eventually, she managed to get them all back to Warsaw. She lived there until she was 96.
My mother’s family was excellent horsemen and horsewomen. Two of my uncles were Calvary officers. My grandmother and my mother could both ride sidesaddle and bareback effortlessly.  It’s no wonder that I was riding a horse at the same time that I learned to walk, or that my daughter is also blessed with the ability to ride like that.  But horses are not the point of this story.
Both my grandmother and my mother felt that through their faith and their actions, they were able to control what happened and keep others safe. I’ve always marveled at it, but never believed that anyone can really do that.  Yet, at the points in my mother’s life in recent years when I’ve been faced with making scary decisions about caring for my mom, I find myself looking upward and saying, “Okay, God, you drive.” Miraculously, the best outcome for her always occurs.  So, even though I can not have any way of seeing it now, I often wonder if there is still some reason that my mother is here with us.

Her love for my daughter far outshines her love for me.  As my child becomes a woman, I see the similarities in her and my mother.  My daughter is never afraid to stand up for someone else.  She has no idea of her own strength and persuasive abilities, but others clearly see them the moment they meet her.  She deeply connects to my mother, and it always grabs me by the heart to see them conspiring and laughing, while my daughter helps my mother eat a piece of cake or walk down the hall. So, maybe that really is why this old warrior is still here, to ease the passage for this young being from childhood to adulthood in a way that was more gentle than her own transition in 1939. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.

9 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

What a remarkable story. You really should consider writing a book about your family history.

As to why your mom is still here...well, I guess she wants to stay for a while more to stay in your lives. I'm sure she doesn't love you any less than she does your daughter. It might just be your perspective because of your past relationship.

Lori Skoog said...

Oh Victoria! This was a fabulous post and I loved learning more about you. There is a long line of strong women in your family and you are one of them. I hope your Mom sticks around for many more years with your daughter as her inspiration. So beautiful.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Arlene, I probably will write a book when my mom is gone. I'm not ready yet. I don't think it's a matter of my mom not loving me as much as it is that she feels a spirit bond with my daughter that is stronger than what she feels with me. I may not open myself to her love as much because I always felt like it would obliterate me. She is such a powerful force, as her mother was. I think that's why she moved to America to be out of the energy field of my grandmother.

Wolfie said...

Great story. It never ceases to amaze me how brave our relatives were; surviving wars, emigrating to new countries, doing what it took to survive. I believe that everyone needs to feel like they are making a contribution or are needed. Perhaps your mom doesn't feel that her "job" here is done. I think it's wonderful that she has such a great relationship with your daughter. :-)

Oak in the Seed said...

I agree with Grey Horse Matters-write more about the courage of the remarkable women in your family, including the courageous bridge between generations-you, and the gift of life you have delivered to both your mother and your daughter.

billie said...

What a great story - I had a similar relationship with my grandmother, who was almost too strong a personality for her own daughter to bloom beside. My grandmother lived in her own home until she was 91- at which time she cut down a big tree in the back yard b/c it had died and no one (in her opinion) was dealing with it quickly enough. After finding the tree and my grandma, my mom moved her into a facility for safety. Anyway, I love the way the special spirit bonds can sometimes skip generations and in doing so make the entire chain of mothers and daughters even stronger.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Everyone, for your encouraging comments. I was just out in the ditch next to the barn, digging out ice chunks so the water can drain before we get a big freeze tonight. It's raining, so I was soaking wet and laughing about how I probably have more of that warrior woman in me than I care to admit. I do think that, as Billy suggests, sometimes the bond skips a generation because the daughter needs to differentiate herself from the mother. I'll bet if I had ever met my grandmother, we would have been very close too.

C-ingspots said...

Wow, that is quite a story! You come from strong-willed stock with a strong sense of faith. I have no doubts that faith can move mountains, but one cannot control the outcome of another's life. But, through faith and prayer, God will answer a believing heart and will clear a path for what their best interests are. The path we choose is ultimately our own though. I'm sure you're quite right that your mother is a strong influence on your daughter if they're that close, and you just never know what plans God has in store...

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Well, add me to the chorus recommending a book - what an amazing story that will be.

Agreed about the generation skipping. I had a super strong bond with my grandmother, a dedicated, hardworking and successful farmer.

I hope your mom continues to enjoy good health and her family of amazing women, for as long as she wishes.