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Mother Is Alive and Well in Fullerton

October 30, 1987|MECCA REITMAN CARPENTER | Mecca Reitman Carpenter is the director of health promotion services at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and writes for a health newsletter. She lives with her husband and two of her daughters in Fullerton.

A recent article in The Times quoted Shirley MacLaine on her philosophy of life, including reincarnation. I'm not sure what she means by many of her points, but I can speak to my own experience with reincarnation.

My mother has been dead for 18 years. While I am not sure I would call it total reincarnation, there are certainly parts of her that are alive in my daughters, who did not know her except as very small children.

Graduating from Cal State Fullerton was difficult for my 23-year-old daughter, Holly. She went through multiple majors and took an extra year and a half to get her degree because she thought there was so much to learn that she didn't know enough to graduate.

How could she know about my childhood memories of a mother who was always taking a class? Although my mother graduated from college in 1924 and worked continuously until her final year of illness, she continued taking classes, long before campus parking lots were filled with cars of mothers and grandmothers making up for missed opportunities.

A recent incident with Holly made my mother's presence particular real to me. My husband, Holly and I recently attended a luncheon in San Diego's Balboa Park. We agreed to separate after lunch but went back to our car together so my daughter could get a change of clothes for her afternoon activities. By then the parking lot was full of anxious drivers questioning anyone who looked as if they were pulling out.

Holly started to change into her shorts, take off her hose and put on her tennies behind the open door. She was modest about it but determined to do it regardless of who was waiting. That small incident reminded me so much of the kind of thing my mother would have done. She was very clear about what she wanted to do--and seemingly impervious to what I viewed as social do's and don'ts.

I was 10 or 12 shortly after World War II. We had no car, so my mother, my three sisters and I would take the streetcar on hot summer weekends to the 69th Street Beach in Chicago. It was not an "official" beach with a bathhouse and a vista of sand, but it was accessible by public transportation.

My mother was a large woman who had loved swimming from the time she was a child. She wore a black wool bathing suit with a full skirt on these occasions. Today we are so used to nylon that it is hard to visualize what women used to wear to swim in. Dry, the suits were heavy and hot; in the water, you had to be a strong swimmer just to keep the voluminous material from pulling you under.

I assume she wore the suit under her dress on the way to the beach, but there was no way she was willing to wear that wet sodden mass on the one-hour trip back. She would wrap her beach towel around her modestly and proceed to change on the beach. I have since seen it done commonly on European beaches, but in 1946 in Chicago, I cringed as only a 10-year-old can who worries, "But what will people think?"

My mother is alive in my younger daughter, too. My 21-year-old is independent and loves the freedom her wheels give her--like my mother. My mother made her first trip looking for her spiritual home in her Model A when she was 23 or 24. After leaving Houston, she stopped in several cities but finally found what she was looking for in Chicago and lived there for the rest of her life. Laurel has a '74 Volkswagen instead of a Model A Ford, but she is driving alone from California to Missouri and Illinois to visit friends and relatives to take sustenance from her "roots."

Wanting to stay in touch with her "roots" was important to my mother, too. I remember the long drives to Houston from Chicago and back, once we had a car again after war. Much of the time in Texas we spent barefoot in those hot, pre-air-conditioner summer days.

I remember one trip back on a Labor Day weekend just in time for school. My youngest sister had outgrown her shoes, so I was assigned to take her into a shoe store in some small town and get some shoes for school. I do not remember whether I had shoes on, but she was barefoot. I had to buy her socks so that she could try the shoes on, and I remember feeling like "poor white trash" from the country.

If my constant worry about what people thought bothered my mother, I do not recall her ever mentioning it to me; certainly, she did not let it stop her. But her independent spirit in my daughters has both driven me crazy and caused me to greatly admire them.

My mother is indeed alive and well--and, I hope, will continue to be reincarnated in her descendants.

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