My mother (Laura Randall Elstad) was born on June 2, 1923, she was the youngest of four children, the other older ones were all boys. Because they would occasionally let her tag along with them, she was a bit of a tomboy and liked to go fishing; grew up interested in understanding how things worked and even eventually got a job pumping gas. She had somewhat of a tough childhood—her father locked himself in the garage one night and ran the car until the carbon monoxide killed him. I’m not sure how old she was when this occurred but I know it affected her. A couple of years later, her mom remarried and mom’s step-dad was not nice to her on at least one occasion that she told me about. Seems mom was eating a lemon and he didn’t like it, so he pushed her down the basement steps! Not sure if the man was abusive or just ignorant, but I don’t like thinking of someone doing that to her and for so little a reason.
Growing up in the Depression, mom had to go to work to help out my Nana (who by the time Mom was a teenager, was a widow again). But mom had girlfriends to spend time with too, so it wasn’t all hard work and no fun. Somewhere along the line, my mother visited a church that my dad happened to go to. Dad was, by his own admission, a jack of all trades around the church—chief bottle washer, janitor; sunday school teacher, etc; whatever they needed him to be. He headed up a young adults group and from the pictures I’ve seen of it, mom was there whenever they gathered. But all was not smooth sailing for mom and dad. At some point Dad broke up with her to go out with some other girl (!!); but eventually he came back, proposed and they married. Mom was 29 when she became a bride. The doctors told her they didn’t think she could have children (although I don’t remember what the reason was). But my parent’s were praying people and didn’t let that report bring them down. In fact, mom would have three children and miscarry a fourth.
Growing up, my mother was very instrumental in educating us even though she made it seem more like a game. Whereas I get my creativity from my father’s side of the family, I get my curiosity about how things work and my ability to work through a challenge from my mom. Mom encouraged my creativity in an active way—she wrote down some of my stories before I had the skills to do it myself. She allowed me to have as many imaginary friends as I wanted and would scold my older siblings if they teased me about it. It seems funny now to realize, that as a preacher’s kid, I never believed in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, but I was allowed to believe that there were imaginary friends who lived in the wall of my living room. And under the guise of playing a game, mom devised ways of having us learn the name of the states; their Capitals; we played memory games such as I’m going on a vacation and I’m bringing—(usually Apples, bananas, etc until every letter of the alphabet was used and you had to recite 26 different things). She introduced us to crossword puzzles, word searches and jigsaw puzzles. Dad was all about getting on the floor with us to play Monopoly; Mom would rather sit us down at the card table and teach us Scrabble. And while my Dad had no interest in sports whatsoever, Mom was all about her favorite New York teams. I get my die-hard love of the New York Yankees from her!
Mom was not afraid to get her hands dirty, whether it was looking under the hood of Dad’s car (she seemed to know more about what might be going on there, than he did), or fixing a broken lamp or radio. She was a stay at home mom for many years until around 1974 or so, when the economy wasn’t all that great, she had to find a job. At first she got work locally, but then a few years later, had to commute to Lower Manhattan and I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that she worked in one of the Twin Towers for awhile. To be honest, I was a teenager then and didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what she even did there; I assume it was something along the lines of file clerk, because Mom could do alot of things, but typing was not one of them, so that ruled out Secretary.
In 1976, Mom (and Dad) faced the toughest situation that a parent can; the death of one of their children. As I already spoke of in another entry, my brother Kenneth got a very rare form of bone cancer, had his left leg amputated from the hip down and eventually lost the battle altogether and passed away when he was 19. They had the assurance that he was resting with Jesus, but of course, that didn’t lessen their grief any. But mom never really shared her sorrow with me or my sister that I can remember. What I do recall, was her telling us, shortly after he died, that we were not to blame ourselves for his passing—-that even if we had gotten mad at him at some point and told him to drop dead—that we hadn’t made it happen with our words. I can’t help but think that my nana must have said the same thing to her after her dad took his own life.
Life rolled on for mom and dad; she continued to work for a good while and helped Dad out with his ministerial duties until finally, years later, he made her his assistant pastor. Eventually too, my sister and I moved out of the family home to live in New Jersey and our parents moved to the second floor apartment over where they held their church services.
In 1982 I met my future husband, Bob and in 1987 I married him. Mom walked me down the aisle and gave me away since Dad was officiating the ceremony. We lived in the second story apartment in my in laws house and for most holidays, everyone would gather at our residence, Mom and dad included. There are many happy memories (and plenty of pictures) of times spent together whether it was on the Fourth of July or Christmas. We were all one blended happy family—Bob’s and mine.
In 1993, Bob lost his job on Staten Island and saw it as the perfect chance to relocate to Virginia, a place he had visited many times as a child and already had a sister who lived there herself. It was like an adventure to be sure, but leaving mom to move here was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I may look like my dad, but I was a mommy’s girl all the way! We had always talked on the phone a lot; whereas mom’s calls to my sister made her feel like she was being interrogated; I welcomed chatting with my mother. And I was used to being able to see her in person at least once a week, things that added to a bad case of homesickness the first six months we were here. I wanted to return to New York, but Bob didn’t and I felt like I was in between a rock and a hard place. I knew I wouldn’t be happy up there without him, but I wasn’t happy here without my parents and sister. That’s what drove me to salvation—needing God to make it alright in my spirit to stay in Virginia. Mom was the first person I called to tell that I had gotten saved and she was overjoyed. She had been praying for that for me for many many years! I’m glad that she also lived long enough to be here when I got baptized in the South River in 1994.
In the summer of 95, after taking a trip with my dad and sister; Mom started going downhill fast. She ended up in the hospital after losing consciousness one night; there they found she had diabetes and a heart condition. Bob and I made an impromptu trip up north just in time to see her get released from the hospital; but after we came home, mom had an appointment with her regular doctor. He took one look at her and sent her back in because he saw the yellowing of her skin which he knew to be jaundice. Test results would show inoperable Liver Cancer. Mom had smoked in her youth, but never drank a drop of alcohol, so it wasn’t that. Of course, dad had everyone who would do so, pray, but we lost her on Sept. 8, 1995.
It took me a long time to stop crying for her. Up to that point I had lost others, but there is something about losing your mom, especially if you were close to her and although I wasn’t close in actual miles; I was so close to her in my heart. We used to talk every Sunday afternoon and it seemed to take forever for me to get used to not doing that anymore. A lot of time has passed now, I’ve lost many others since then, but I’ll never forget her and I can’t wait to see her again someday. I know when I see her next, she won’t be as frail and as sick as she was at our last meeting. What a glorious day that will be!