Catherine Anne Cox Veatch
It was a bloody hot mess when I first met my mom. She was very efficient and very no nonsense when it came to pushing her babies out. She described a quick drive to the hospital, a quick teaching to the nurse who thought she had plenty of time, and a quick push or two. The doctor may or may not have been there. She may or may not have been in the room vs the hallway. She remembers looking at the clock and it was 4 minutes before midnight and she said, I can’t wait for December 14th, this baby is coming now. Certainly there was no epidural, no hand holding, no bath tub birth, no pregnancy water aerobics, no wide eyed loving husband rubbing her back.. She pushed once or twice and there I was.
She was never a whiner, never needy, never complained. Rarely emotional.
My mom was born on September 16th 1931 in Hollywood. She was a California girl. Her uncle wrote the fight song for USC in the 20’s.
1931 lets put that in some perspective.
It was during prohibition, which ended in 1933. Her family drank a lot as a group, illegal or not.
It was during in the great depression, which started in 1929 and ended in late 1930’s. People were starving and full of despair.
It was the year that Albert Einstein moved to Caltech almost walking distance from my grandparent’s home.
A car cost 600 dollars, a house 6000 dollars, a hamberger 11 cents, average annual wages 1850. Her grandfather got the first TV set for the family in the late 30’s.
The US entered the second world war when she was 8 years old.
I saw the handwritten receipt of my grandmother’s hospital stay when she gave birth to my mom. It was no more than 5 dollars.
She was an only child. Her mother worked and her grandmother basically raised her. In the 1930’s her mother had a good job as a kindergarten teacher. Her mother went to college in the 20’s to UCLA. Her father worked too, he was a book keeper for Los angeles electric company. He had to quit school and go to work in 8th grade to support his mother, a new widow, and his 5 younger siblings. His family were immigrants from England via Canada. They had a large extended family in Pasadena that got together every weekend and discussed finances, drank liquor and chewed the fat.
She described her childhood as lonely. She wasn’t allowed to play sports being a girl. Her grandmother did not entertain her nor play with her. She did not really care for the dolls and girly stuff. Her grandmother could have taught her endless homemaking skills, but she admitted plainly that she had no interest in homemaking. She described the best times of her childhood besides her family, as time spent time with the plants and flowers in the yard. Later she said her true love was Botany and she should have been a botanist. She was the first in her generation of children. The oldest of the cousins. The first grandchild.
My mother’s grandmother insisted on the Queen's English and constantly was correcting grammar apparently. So there was one thing my mom knew and that was English grammar and she knew it cold. Dementia, no matter how thick and dense it was, did not get to the part of her brain that corrected other people’s grammar.
My mom went to college. In 1948, as a girl, she went to college. She described limited options in those days. Get a job as a secretary or a nurse or a teacher. This mindset stuck with her throughout. When I was in Junior High she insisted I learn to type and also that I never tell any boys that I know how to type because they would make me type their reports in college. I took that advice. I learned to type. I got a job in fact as a transcriptionist in college and could type 90 words per minute. Makin' mama proud.
Mom got a degree in general junior high education from the University of California Santa Barbara. Her mother was a teacher; she, too, became a teacher.
In 1955, she went to graduate school at Stanford University. In 1956 my mom earned a graduate degree at Stanford in genetics. Imagine a young woman getting a graduate degree at Stanford in 1956, just imagine. In genetics of all subjects. Not English literature, art, music, homemaking. GENETICS. So, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. And here she is studying genetics at Stanford in 1955. And by the way, Crick and Watson could not have published nor made their discovery without Rosalind Franklin’s work, yet she received no honors while they went on to get the nobel prize. Did mom ever complain about the profound impact of sexism on her life? Never. She would say something like “well sure” if you fed her a line about a totally unfair unbelievably sexist situation, but she herself would never ever submit a complaint about the restrictions that sexism imposed upon her. And yet she was a feminist to the core, before the 60’s. She was born a feminist.
Stanford University is where the Veatches and the Coxes intersected.
My mom married my dad in 1956. She got a job in Santa Barbara as a teacher and one year later they went on a one year vacation to Europe. They rode bicycles then eventually bought a VW van which they lived in. It cost 2.25 dollars per day. Both frugal, they kept records and accounting of all their expenses.
They started having kids in 1959 and racked up three by 1962. I was later. They moved to Thailand in 1962 and lived in Bangkok for four years. My siblings spoke Thai as toddlers. The family moved to Okinawa in 1966, the height of the Vietnam war.
After I was born, she basically called it quits with having babies and a husband. She decided that my toddler years was the best time to give up being a mother altogether and to start being a father, a provider, a strong backbone, a no nonsense, unemotional doer of what needed to be done. She decided to go back to work, save up her money, give up on working it out with her husband and plan her escape to independence and freedom away from the limitations and heartbreak of a failing marriage to a man who was not as it turned out, the best fit for her.
She did not ask her parents for financial help, nor did she consider moving to Pasadena where they lived, No. She moved to California and got a house and job. She became a single mother with four children in the 70’s and asked no one for help, ever.
My Mom was practical. She was realistic. She was hard core frugal and she had no time for nonsense or frivolousness.
If we could get our dental work for free in a research study looking at why some kids get so many cavities, the tender child’s embarrassment and shame about having a “bad mouth” aside, its free and that’s what we will do.
If we can NOT go to the doctor for any reason, ever, except required school physicals for sports, then that is what we will do. We will instead be healthy and not bring on illness to ourselves.
If we can NOT buy new clothes and instead get garage sale, good will, or giveaways, by all means, that is what we will do.
If we can get food cheaper using an AARP card, or going to food outlets or even going behind stores because they “throw away so much stuff”, then that is what we will do.
If we can get 50 gallons of apricots that we pick ourselves and fill our entire freezer with frozen apricots for five years rather than paying full price. Then that is what we will do.
If we can buy half of a cow for 10 cents per pound cheaper rather than buying it normal at the store wrapped up pretty, then we will fill our spare freezer with that cow and we will take a decade to eat it ... and at so many pounds, how much money did we just save.
If we can get sleeping bags, garden tools, clothes and other treasures at the garbage dump for free, that is what we will do. We will take our garbage to the dump rather than paying for the service, and while there we will pick up a few fun items to bring home. So don’t ask for a new sleeping bag for your sleepovers in junior high when we just got a “perfectly good one” from the dump.
If the food in the camper we bought from one of her friends had old food in the cabinets, we were going to eat it first before buying new.
My Mom loved to travel. She travelled all over the world and was absolutely fearless. When I travelled with my mother I saw a side of her that I had not seen before. She was intense, indefatigable and adventuresome. If it was anything new to her, she was up for it.
In China, she approached a group of sharply dressed Chinese businessmen in black suits in the middle of an intense conversation at a park and proceed to gesticulate out a question that basically meant, “Where is the mausoleum for Sun Yat Sen?” and they would stop talking, watch her intently, understand her body language and show her the way. Meanwhile, I was hanging way back, so no one knew I was with her.
We went to India together with Tom and while I personally was in shock through all my senses, barely able to comprehend the magnitude of the situation and scared half out of my wits, my Mom would approach anyone for any purpose with the sole intention that their job in life had just changed to helping this white foreign woman with whatever it was she needed.. She went up to a group of men sitting on the sidewalk playing a game and smoking long pipes and asked if she can join. Meanwhile, I have three orphaned homeless toddlers wrapped around my legs begging for money, wounded three-legged dogs running by and she jumps up suggests we eat some “tasty delight” at the street stand nearby. When we first arrived in India at our hotel, after 24 hours of travel, she immediately wanted to go take a walk. A long walk. She explained if we slept now we would be up all night. Can’t we just rest a little bit? I was choking my tears of fatigue and culture shock down and covering it with a tough face. I am pretty sure she thought to herself then and millions of other times: How did such a wimpy girl come from me.
She was fearless about any kind of street food actually any kind of food whatsoever. Any possibility of infection did not get in her way one bit. Flavor was also not an issue. When I was in my twenties I realized my mother could not taste nor smell. Then my entire childhood as it related to my Mom and food made perfect sense.
Her cooking was angry art. A little of this a little of that, eat it or I’ll serve it up again tomorrow. We joke about a particular cow bone in a pot of soup for many months. Some ingredients coming and others going but that same big cow hip bone in there to keep the savory flavor coming.
WE didn’t buy fancy bottles of olive oil for cooking. No. We had a coffee can full of grease and fat, regardless of the food cooked in it, fish, beef, vegetables, it was a pot pourri of flavors. No, we did not throw away fat, we used it. Over and over and over again.
We joke about our VERY fat dog Amy who sat under the table and helped us all out with meals.
Mom always talked about Alzheimer's. Her mom had Alzheimer's and died in her mid 80’s and she was pretty sure she would do the same. She started to show some signs of cognitive issues and eventually after a series of unfortunate events, it became apparent that she needed some assistance.
In the summer of 2014 Mom moved into a “facility” in Chula Vista called Fredericka Manor. All of us kids went down there to help the move and get rid of piles of garbage from the outdoor unheated unplumbed uninsulated art studio of sorts that she rented from her very best friend ever, Johanna. This move was basically the beginning of her misery.
We were sitting in the hotel jacuzzi, she and I, when she told me she was pretty much done. I remember my body sort of turned cold. Done? Yes, she said... I have lived long enough. I don’t really want to live any more. I’ll probably live another year, max.
In my head I quickly calculated, one trip to San Diego per quarter for the weekend for one year, I have 8 days left with my mom. That pretty much changed my perspective on everything.
In the fall of 2015, Tom and I met Mom and her dear friend Andrea in Oregon and on that day, she moved to Washington. She stayed with me for two weeks then Tom for two weeks. We did this for 19 months. We both had caregivers at our houses.
Although this was harder than having a third child, or even three more children, it was a very, very precious time for me. I provided basic care for my mom. Her vulnerable and emotional side started being verbalized and I learned some really important things that I never knew. I learned that she did, after all, love me, a lot. She loved us all, a lot. She didn’t love Tom more than me or the rest of us, she just liked him more because they were so much alike. I learned that she was sorry and she did have some regrets about some decisions she had made that impacted our safety and security and emotional health, and she did in fact acknowledge our journeys as well. Also, I was able to apologize to her for the negative feelings I had harbored, I apologized for being a horrible teenager, I apologized for not seeing the rest of her, beyond who she was as my Mom but in fact for being the most amazing person in my life.
On July 18, 2018, the kids and I were planning a two week trip and I knew Mom was slipping away. I asked my Mom if she wanted to say goodbye to everyone and this is what she said. (I do have this on video if any of you want to watch it.)
“Hi Andrea, Laura, Mary and Tom and all the people that have touched with my life that I am now touching their life or will touch. Our lives have been close and yet there are so many things that I don’t notice or know about each of you and I feel sorry for that, but I also feel an incompleteness, an emptiness in my life in readjusting from the life we had in Ridgecrest.
It was fun living in Ridgecrest and I hope that things were not considered too deeply since we had so many special times. I realize now that Tom, Mary, Laura and Andrea and all those special relationships were not so special. I finally caught on to the idea that life is really not special but just the same for all of us, do good, love, angels. Anyway, I don’t expect to see you again but if I do it will be a lovely experience I'm sure. And I do love all parts of you that I have gotten to know. Amen.”
Mom died on September 15, 2018. That meant she was 86 years old the day she died and not one day more What she wanted most was to not have another birthday which would have meant living one more day.
I will close with a quote from July 19, 2018:
Love and peace are the most important things in the world.