The first version of All Our Mothers Babies was written more than ten years ago. It is a story of our mothers love, perseverance, and courage.
Mom’s birthday is near so I decided to pull up her story again, put a birthday cake on it and add a few candles.
This is our mother’s story:
Mom grew up on the north shore of Chicago one of six children; music was her gift and passion from early in life; she graduated from New Trier High School in 1950 and won a music scholarship.
From there it was off to the University of Arizona and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra to pursue her dreams of a career in music.
But destiny walks softly when it doesn’t wear its name or when its identity is hidden in the immediacy of a moment. Without a doubt, Mom did not see her destiny walk through the door of her dormitory with her first date with Dad.
After a rapid romance with this young Marine, she married Dad in the early 1950’s and accompanied him to the University of Illinois. That’s when mom’s life jumped the tracks entirely; she went from college to marriage to motherhood.
In 1952, my sister was born; our mother’s dreams of a career in music dimmed into diapers and a backyard clothesline. Fifteen months later I arrived, and then another sister and a brother joined us while Dad was still a student.
When our father graduated, he took a job in Miami; two more brothers and two sisters followed until moms flock filled out at eight. Eight was enough.
In 1965, mom’s life turned upside down again; our parent’s marriage folded and collapsed. When a marriage breaks up, the pieces can scatter and fall everywhere and so it was with Mom and Dad; at age thirty, Mom found herself the single mother of eight kids under fourteen.
Our future was shaky and unclear, but Mom’s love held steady and true; we were her eightfold destiny.
Life in Miami was filled with heat and hardship; our central air conditioner was broken more often than it ran; so most of the time we only had one room with a window air conditioner. On nights it was too hot to sleep we gathered up our bedclothes and settled down on the floor under the stream of cool air. Mom sat in her grandmother’s rocking chair and read to us from classics of children’s literature.
Her love for books and her children ranked even higher than the heat; we flew on the pages of the London wind with Mary Poppins and her magic umbrella. We went to the moon, to the centre of the earth and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” with Jules Verne.
There were so many books we read together that I don’t remember them all, but there was one that reached through time and space to snag me forever.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is as clear and vivid to me as it was in 1960’s.
It is a science fiction story about three children searching for their father through warps and wrinkles in time. I will never forgot those children; the search for their missing father stayed with me all the years of my life.
We traveled the universe on those hot nights; mom reading to us in the special effects of the authors own words; eventually, we fell asleep on the cool terrazzo floor with our sheets and pillows tumbled and tossed in all directions.
Other nights Mom sat down at her piano and filled our house with the sounds of the music she loved; Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart visited us and left their melodies on our lives.
Long after the covers of the books closed and the last notes were played I saw the candle that mom carried through all those nights. They were the most difficult years of her life.
She told me once that throughout the years she could not go out and leave us alone it was books and music that saved her sanity. So she became a late-night student of history, knitting books and murder mysteries.
In 1965, she decided to move north to Orlando in search of new beginnings and a full time job.
The moving van left ahead of us and we piled into the station wagon. Mom switched on the ignition and announced, “We are off like a herd of turtles” and that is exactly how we traveled through life for the next twenty years.
Mom got a full time job in the insurance industry right away; the brothers and sisters and I settled into our new neighborhood and schools quickly; the upheaval of our lives was buffered by our sheer numbers. We didn’t need to troll the neighborhood looking for other kids to play with. We had each other.
Throughout our school years, we occasionally threw ourselves an all-night slumber party on a Friday or Saturday night. We pooled our change and had enough money to buy a big bag of potato chips and sour cream dip for everyone.
We poured the chips into giant bowl; dragged the ratty Monopoly game out of the closet and set it up on the center of the living room floor. We divvied up play money like high rollers in a Las Vegas casino and then circled our cars and ships around the game board in a closed circuit of endless fun.
We brokered our properties with glee and counterfeit greed, passed ‘Go”, got out of jail free and stayed up all night chasing each other through one monopoly game after another. Mom knew where her kids were those nights but like many other working parents, she constantly worried about what we doing while she was at work.
We were children of a troubled generation marked by monumental protest of the war in Vietnam, exploding drug use and moral standards crumbling on the edges of the era.
Even though she didn’t always know what we were doing after school she never let go of any opportunity to make sure we knew the difference between right and wrong.
Long after we were grown, Mom confessed that her deepest fear was that we would fall prey to a drug culture that was snapping up one young life after another.
Every year mom’s job offered her two weeks’ vacation but we never went anywhere. We were sidelined by the high cost of gas and lodging.
One year mom took an account of the fact that we had never been on a family vacation. Determined to give her kids a vacation before we all grew up she called a motel on Orlando’s main strip.
It was a few years before Walt Disney World came to Orlando and rate discounts abounded; at a special price, she was able to book one room for two days.
We loaded the car with swim fins, water wings and bathing suits and hit the pool on arrival with eight joyful, carefree splashes. The housekeepers whisked away from a tornado of wet towels while mom read and rested. We dined in the motel restaurant two nights in a row; we didn’t know we were the guests of honor.
Although it was nowhere to be seen on the menu, the waitresses brought platter after platter of hot, fresh fried chicken to our table. Soda glasses were filled and refilled.
Looking back on this “conspiracy of kindness” I knew that someone in that motel knew a single mother on a shoestring budget was trying to give her kids a summer vacation. It was the only vacation we ever had.
The Fake Fur
Most of the years we were growing up Mom had so little money that she only committed one excursion into fashionable extravagance. At the time, the ultimate signal of wealth and status was a fur coat but with the cost of groceries, clothes and doctor bills there was no money for an expensive coat.
One day, on her way home from work, mom saw a cheap, irresistible fake fur looking at her from a store window.
She brought the poor thing home and then made the mistake of modelling it in front of her children. One of the brothers said it for all of us; “Mom, you must have killed a thousand polyesters for that coat!”
I remember when the coat bit the dust and thinking that it wasn’t the shine in the fake fur that brought out her beauty; it was her overcoat of loyalty and persistence.
Mom went to work every day and came home each night to the eight kids she loved. She gave us all her time, her working wages, even her college dreams.
The Dixie Drive-In Theatre
Sifting through years of memory as I wrote moms story I remembered some of the good times we had even with little money.
With nine people to support, mom couldn’t take us to the regular “sit down” movies, along with impossibly priced popcorn and sodas.
But movies have always been big business after they made money on the first sweep through the box office; they came to the Drive-In theatres on the second circle. “Drive-In” theatres were cheap and they were everywhere 1960,s and early 70’s.
The shows were projected in grainy images after dark on giant outdoor movie screens; the sound was piped in through a metal intercom box stuck in the front window of the car.
An occasional second-hand movie was affordable; all nine of us and every mosquito in town could get in for fifty cents a carload.
In the 1960s, Beatle mania was sweeping the nation. We waited for months for the famous Beatle movie “A Hard Day’s Night” to come to the drive-in movies.
The night finally arrived; as soon as it got dark we loaded the car with a two-gallon jug of Kool-Aid and a bucket of homemade popcorn. We jumped into the car, drove into a gravel parking space and hooked up the Beatles.
I will never forget the generosity of that hard day’s night. There was mom, the classical musician sitting in the driver’s seat of the car surrounded by eight kids, droves of hungry mosquitoes and the Beatles coming in through the window.
Over the next twenty years, we grew up in Orlando, rotating in and out of our teens in solid secession.
Mom survived sixteen-year-old drivers, boys with long hair and the 1960s, 70s and 80s without shock white hair or heart failure.
The years came and went quickly; one after another we left high school and went on to jobs, college and the military.
Moms nest emptied as fast as it filled. In the 1980s for the first time in 40 years, she was on her own. Typically courageous and not knowing a single soul, she packed up her life and relocated to Dallas, Texas with the promise of a better job.
She worked hard, saved her money and finally retired, returning to Central Florida with her beloved Kerry Blue Terriers, Vic and Seamus and memories of her good friends.
Years have passed since we left home. Although Mom is in her seventies I still hear people ask her in disbelief, “How did you ever raise eight children by yourself?” Her answer is always the same; “I don’t know, I just put one foot in front of another.”
It is easy to see courage in the sudden act of a selfless person saving a life. But courage is also in the slow steady motion of putting one foot in front of the other in the face of what seems insurmountable circumstances.
These footsteps are our mother’s finest moments; they are the steps of a long and difficult journey. But she preserved and we found our way in the light of her love.
In loves light, the future does not always fall to fate but to courageous choices and a kind of perseverance that never blinks.
Mom still carries the candle that led us through all those years. In her light a mother’s love is eternal; it survives adversity and picks up its strength in its hopes and dreams for her children.
My brothers and sisters and the grandchildren visit often. We go to the store, the bank and the pharmacy together. If other customers notice us at all they might see an older lady with thick grey hair and a faded face. I know they don’t see her garment of grace or recognize that it is woven of hardship and seismic shifts in her life.
The days are passing quickly now with the warning that once a day is gone it is gone forever but love is times redeeming trait. It is where the mistakes every mother makes fall away as if they never stood.
Someday, when I find myself at Heavens Gates with my inheritance in hand, my deepest desire is to hear the words as my mother before me:
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
After “All Our Mothers Babies” was written, I saw that it had already been written in Heaven and that the greatest stories are written when love keeps turning the pages.
There are eight children written into the story of Moms life. Her signature is written across each one; no one any less loved than another.
We are all our mother’s babies; her eightfold destiny.
Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you!
Copyright Peggy J. Symons
Hope is a journey and it is a destination.
It is a vision of many lights and it
dwells in Psalm 40:
“I waited patiently for the Lord to
help me and He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of
despair, out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground and
steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing, a
hymn of raise to our God.
Many will see what He has done and be
They will put their trust in the
Hope is my story
The vision that opened the door to
hope kept coming back to me like it was sitting on my
I saw hope and the power of its
counterweights, hopelessness and despair in a sweeping panorama of the darkest
place on earth.
Hopelessness was a vicious vision but
hope kept the edge; in the end, its light stood
The biochemical errors that burden
mental illnesses create molecular level thieves that steal hope with a thousand
They are ungoverned intruders with no natural enemies.
This kind of hopelessness is
different than the despair that abounds in circumstances and life’s common course.
It steals the breath of life; all hope is buried under a blanket of suffering so heavy it separates people from the will to live.
I stood on the outskirts of hope’s
vision and saw the despair of mental illnesses moving like an eclipse of the sun; the shadows got longer and
the dark side of the moon showed its face.
My own story fell out of the night sky with the power of shattered stars.
Mental illness with all its terrible
power and consequences swept out of hell and struck me down at age 19, just when I was starting a college career.
My hopes and dreams for the future
folded and collapsed like a house of cards in a high wind.
I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt in 1975.
One hospitalization followed another until 25 years of my life disappeared into despair and its revolving doors.
Every day I woke up on the wrong side of death.
Dawn broke into pieces before even I opened my eyes.
Everything I saw was the color of grief and the grave.
Eventually grave sight usurped eyesight.
There was nothing noisy or intrusive
to mark the place where my life blended into death.
Despair didn’t come on the high winds of a
hurricane or with the shearing power of a tornado.
It was more like a slow dose of lightning on a grey day.
There was a softness to my fall, despair blended into to a slow roll of falling footsteps.
On the day I decided to die I left
the office of my psychiatrist and headed west toward home on the main highway through Orlando.
The sun was a huge ball of brilliant orange setting on the horizon.
I was traveling into the setting sun.
Death was as inevitable as the sun
setting in the west or closing the covers of a book when the last page is turned.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about a setting sun or a book with closed covers.
The sun sets and the covers close at the end of a book, don’t they?
That day was the last page of the book of my life.
The only hope of release from my suffering was beyond the setting sun.
I decided to end my own life, I think it may have been summer but I’m not sure.
I had already stolen a gun.
There was a gun shop about three miles west on the same highway that carried the bullet I needed.
All hope was gone.
I knew where I was going to die.
It was in a dumpster behind a restaurant near the Catholic Church.
Dying in the dumpster was the final piece of the puzzle.
My life had jigged and sawed
everywhere; I had no hope of recovery and nowhere else to go.
The perfect place to end my life was
in the banana peels and used coffee grounds that filled the
Nothing seemed out of place in my mind when I
went home to get the gun and write a note to pin to my
I walked in the front door of the house; my decision was final.
The people I loved and who took care of me for
20 years were at home and sitting in the living room.
The antidepressant effect of the decision to end my suffering was striking.
The relief was better than any
antidepressant drug I had taken in 25 years of one drug failure after
Death was light and life was heavy.
I laughed and talked with genuine lightness and good humor.
There was nothing garish or forced in this last exchange with the people I loved.
As I walked into my room, I remember thinking
they would be completely shocked to find out I had shot myself in a dumpster. I wrote my intended note.
It was simple instructions to law enforcement
to call the priest at the Catholic Church I grew up in because it would be
easier for my family to hear that I committed suicide from the priest than a sheriff’s deputy.
I clearly remember the decision to get into the dumpster behind the restaurant with a gun.
But there is some peculiar mercy of the mind
or maybe it is a biological trait of broken brains; I don’t remember some of the
worst of the episodes or downslides that ended up in sixteen
I don’t remember the events that led to the hospitalization this time either.
Instead of dying in the dumpster I spent two weeks in the hospital.
Someone at the hospital asked me why I wanted to die in a dumpster.
I told them that I had known all my life I was
human garbage and that dying in a trash can was a right and fitting
Some kind soul put a sign up on the wall of my hospital room.
It was a picture of someone praying that said,
“I know I am somebody because God don’t make no
I was released from the hospital on a slightly
higher dose of the old medication, only a few shades better than the day of my date with the dumpster.
I left with the grit of hopelessness and despair still stinging my eyes.
I found the gun when I returned home.
I held it in my hands; it was still hot and too close to me.
I wrapped it in multiple layers of newspaper and put it in a large plastic garbage bag.
I went to my sister’s apartment
complex and threw it into a dumpster with high walls, too high for a child to climb into and find.
Another decade passed, despair circled me like a city under siege.
There was no way out.
My hope grew briefly when I sought out ECT(shock) treatments.
False hope was worse than no hope.
When ECT failed, I cried out in the night sky.
Where is God?
Where is He?
Something happens to life when it
falls to despair; it loses its edges and boundaries, time and suffering warp into infinity and the night never ends.
Death looks like hope.
Suicide left the shadows every day.
It was a lurching monster with eyes that never blinked.
Hopelessness was in one hand and despair was in the other.
How did I fight these crushing hands every day?
Its arms were stronger than mine.
Even on the good days when I could fight suicide I couldn’t deny its power.
Hospitals were the only place the mocking monster could not trespass.
The hospitals of the 1970’s were little more than endless hallways made of grey fog and lost hope.
I spent two years in dayrooms watching clocks with hands that didn’t move.
Clocks didn’t move in the old psychiatric wards.
The hands were so heavy with despair they stuck in infinity.
I was as silent as a frightened fly with crushed wings pasted on the wall.
I watched nursing staff and orderlies in a procession of cruelty and lost honor.
I saw hope crushed like eggshells.
I saw men crying and people sent to state hospitals.
There was nothing to do in this forsaken place but play ping pong.
It was a cruel picture.
Hopelessness and despair bounced back
and forth smacking me with every crack of the ping pong paddles.
There were no code blues or flashing
lights to mark the place we were losing our lives to despair and the brutality of the old psychiatric drugs.
Before the new medications there was nothing
to treat mental illnesses except primitive drugs that dredged up hopelessness like steam shovels.
I took them for 25 years.
They felt like back hoes burying their dead and wounded.
I never thought that the light of healing
would come and dust the demons of mental illness from my eyes.
But in 1998, after losing 25 years of my life to chronic illness, hope finally launched its lifeboats.
My faithful doctor found a new medication that worked.
It was like waking up to see the sun for the first time in my life.
Several years passed before I turned around saw a beautiful tapestry of creative design unfolding behind me.
Ribbons of gold and grace were running throughout the fabric; hope was spinning through the
I saw the taters and rags of all the lost years and that they had been mended and rewoven with a thousand points
I saw all things given, all things overcome and all prayers prayed.
Every hand held out to me along the way was there.
I saw broken bridges and the faith
and courage that carried me over all of them and that in the darkest days of my
life the Light of my journey had been carefully kept and kindled in the Hands of the Master Weaver.
In the beauty of the tapestry I could see that
no one, no matter how hopeless, ill or lonely, lives out their destiny
unattended by the Light.
The words that spilled out of the
light were simple and clear:
Hope is a fragile flame and a bright light.
It is easy to give and even easier to take away.
Once the flame of hope is lit it must be carefully kept
When hope burns brightly there is fire in its feet and the
breath of life is on its
There is purity in its purpose, vision in its light and
healing in its
Whether we teach, write, counsel or mop the halls the hopeless walk we are all called to be hope givers and keepers of the flame.
Blessed are the hope givers.
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright