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I've been putting off writing this entry for years.

Literally.

For so many reasons, not the least of which is that I don't know if I can be fair.

Or charitable. So I'll say up front that this narrative will be a combination of facts and my perspective having lived through these facts.

This one is about my mother.
Judith Ann Williams was born on 20 Oct 1937 in Little Rock, Pulaski Co., AR to Joe Duffie Williams and Doris Geneva Balding. She had an older brother, Joe Carlton Williams, known to everyone as Buddy.

By all accounts, Mom led a fairly privileged childhood. She lived her early childhood years with her parents and brother at 213 Dennison, and had extended family very close by.
 photo 213Dennison.jpg


She told me of happy memories of her childhood - visiting with her Mema, Hattie Chapin Balding, who lived next door at 217 Dennison. Mom said Mema let her play in her china cabinet, taking things out carefully, having her tea party, and putting them back just as carefully.
 photo Judith Ann Williams enhanced.jpg
Mom, about 4 years old


Mom spoke of her memories of sharing ice cream cones with her dog, and of the lovely clothes her own mother made her. Clothes that were envied by her girlfriends.

But Mom positively beamed when she talked about her dad. She was his princess, and in my memories, she was never happier than when she was with him.
 photo August1967a.jpg
Mom, third from right, with her arm around her Daddy. Photo August 1967

My mother would freely admit she was a Daddy's girl.

It was her relationship with her own mother that first cast a shadow in her life. The relationship was competitive and hurtful - on both sides.

Mom was about 4 or 5 when my grandmother was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to the TB sanitarium in Booneville, Logan Co., AR. Booneville is just under a two hour drive one way these days. I imagine it took longer in the early 1940s.

For as long as I knew my mother, she said her own mother abandoned her - that the black maid employed by my grandfather during my grandmother's confinement raised her - not her own mother. I can see how a young child might feel that way - TB was highly contagious, and children weren't allowed to visit patients at Booneville.

But mom repeated the story her whole life. Even as an adult, she didn't seem to be able to reconcile the facts with the childhood perspective. She also felt that her mother favored her brother, Buddy.

But still, she had her Daddy.
When I was 11 years old, my Papa Joe died -suddenly, unexpectedly as he was going down the stairs in his home on Lombardy Lane. He had an aortic aneurysm that ruptured and was dead before he hit the floor.

My mother sank into a deep, profound depression. Even I as a child could see that.

She self-medicated with alcohol. But she had been doing that already for several years. The fact of my life since I had been in the fourth grade had been to look after my younger sisters when my mother had a hangover. She called it a "swollen brain," and it meant that she pretty much did nothing for the day following her alcoholic binge.

Those binges took place at night at first, and were accompanied by Mom screaming at Dad, slamming doors and throwing things into the wee small hours of the morning. Later on, she would rise mid-morning and start her day with her first drink (vodka was the preferred beverage), continue drinking all day, and rage all night. Lather, rinse, repeat. She meted out physical, emotional and psychological abuse to me and my sisters fairly even-handedly. As we got old enough to date, she'd hit on our boyfriends. I decided by the time I was 12 or 13 that it wasn't safe to bring friends home with me after school. For my 13th birthday - and each year after that, when my Dad asked me what I wanted, I told him I wanted him to divorce Mom and get custody of all three of us.

Mom hit me for the last time when I was 17 years old. It was unprovoked. She slapped me with an open hand against one side of my head and tried to get her fingers into my hair. (One of her favorite tactics was to grab my long hair, and kick me with her knee into my coccyx.)

She tried to get my hair and missed. I decked her. She fell flat on her butt. She ran to go tell my Dad, who was in their bedroom. He stepped out into the hall, sized up the situation, looked at Mom and said, "I guess you better not hit her again."

But the violence against my sisters continued. I left home on May 18, 1977 - the night I graduated from high school. I'd like to say I never looked back, but that would be a lie. I felt incredibly guilty about leaving my sisters with Mom.
I saw the film Ordinary People for the first time in 1981, about a year after it was released, when I was living in Lake Charles, LA during my first marriage.

Mary Tyler Moore's depiction of Beth Jarrett took my breath away. There was my mother, but sober.


I have no idea how many times I've watched the movie, but I cry every time.

So much pain. Such an awful waste.
I split with my first husband shortly after that, and in 1981, moved back to Little Rock.

Things were different, and if it were possible, they were worse. Mom detoxed and sobered up for a few years, before unceremoniously announcing to me one day that she wasn't an alcoholic, she just had problems with alcohol. She could still drink now and then.

And by now, there were grandkids...
Mom liked being a grandmother from a distance. She was clear that she did not want to be called Grandma, or any similar moniker. She was Nanny.

Nanny competed with her grandkids to be the center of attention at their birthday parties. She would agree to babysit, and call the parent before the agreed upon departure time because she just couldn't take it any more.

I took a four day, three night business trip when my son was six years old. When I got back, Mom had a litany of complaints about him - he was noisy, too active, and he put his feet on the bed with his shoes still on. I asked her if she told him to take them off.

Yes.

Did he mind you?

Yes.

Then, what's the problem? He's 6 years old.

As we were driving away from her house, my son begged me to never again leave him with his Nanny. I didn't.
As the years went on, things got worse. Mom had a drink in her hand almost all the time, even when she was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and had to start dialysis.

She would try to start problems between my sisters and me by telling each of us something about the other designed to be hurtful. She became cruel and cutting with her best - and probably only - friend from childhood, another woman named Judy. Judy in particular mourned the loss of the friend she had always known, and told me repeatedly how my mother used to be. Back in the day when she was the envy of all their girlfriends.

We stopped having alcohol at family gatherings when we knew she would be there. She brought her own. I never drank when I knew I was responsible for a child, yet she would follow me from room to room, insisting I drink with her.

My grandmother died in 1998. My mother's performance immediately following her own mother's death killed any remaining love I had for her.

I gave myself permission to divorce my mother.
During the last five years of my mother's life, I can probably count on both hands the number of times I had contact with my mother - either by telephone or in person.

Judith Ann Williams Neumann took herself off dialysis and went home to die in hospice care. She crossed over on 22 May 2004. The memorial service was on 5 Jun 2004.

I felt no sense of loss or grief. To this day, I do not grieve my mother's passing. I would like to be able to unravel the tangled web that was my mother's life, and get some understanding of what it was that made her so desperately unhappy - and in the process made her want to create misery for those closest to her.

Perhaps I'll get to ask her. On the other side.
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Dee Burris Blakley

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