100 years ago today, my mother Jeanne Madonna Jacques was born. If you’ll indulge me I’d like to tell you a little bit about this extraordinary woman.
Jeanne was the oldest of 7 children. My aunt Carolyn (who was 19 years younger than her) described her as this elegant stranger who would come to visit from college.
My mother married my father on December 2nd, 1944. My father explained to me once why he chose her. He said he’d dated a woman who panicked when a bee flew into the car while she was driving him, and nearly drove off the road. He never went out with that woman again.
His first date with my mother was quite the contrast. It was during the Christmas season and he brought her home to his parent’s house where he was living at the time. They lit a romantic fire in the fireplace, but my grandmother had put evergreen boughs on the mantle which had dried out and they caught on fire.
As my father told the tale, my mother leapt up off the couch and grabbed the flaming boughs and flung them into the fireplace. While he still got in big trouble with my grandmother for getting black soot all over the mantle, he did find the woman he would love for the rest of his life.
I asked my mother to tell me what it was like to have her husband off to war but she would change the subject suggesting we talk about something more pleasant. She was like that about any sad memories. The only time she ever mentioned the hardship of having her husband away was actually in the context of technology. She once told me, in a rather irritated tone, that she thought the wives of soldiers today had no idea how good they had it, being able to talk on the computer to each other. She compared it to the weeks she had to wait for a letter from my dad.
My mother had several tragedies in her life and yet she lived a life filled with joy of her own invention. I remember coming home from high school one day and I found her in the kitchen dancing around in bare feet crushing cereal all over the floor. As I started dialing the phone to contact the local mental health people, she explained what she was doing. She said she was opening a bag of puffed rice, one of those bags that’s overfilled with air, and she struggled to tear it open and suddenly it ripped and poured cereal all over the floor. She said she looked at it and realized she had to clean it up either way, she might as well have fun with it before she did. That’s how she lived her life.
My relationship with my mom during my teen years was exactly what you imagine – tumultuous to say the least. I remember describing one time (in front of my mother) how happy I was the day I got out of her house and went away to college. Without missing a beat, she said, “You didn’t see me trying to hold you back, did you?” I’d never once thought of her perspective on those times.
It wasn’t until I had Lindsay that my mother and I really began to get close. I know that I didn’t really appreciate her wisdom and patience until I was a mom myself.
The thing I’m most pleased to have inherited from her was her silliness. She and my dad helped form a club called the Eagle Rock Cruising Club, abbreviated ERKK. My parents and their friends were avid sailors but didn’t favor the fancy yachting clubs so they invented their own ridiculous imitation. Eagle Rock is a tiny, bird-poop covered rock off the coast of Catalina Island. Yes, the Catalina after which the Mac operating system is named.
The ERRKs held elaborate events like the annual Regretta (not regatta, regretta) with highly competitive boating exercises. Like the one my mother invented where each couple competed in an inflatable raft where the husband wore a paper bag over his head on which was drawn a muppet of their choosing and the wife had to give the husband instructions on where to row the boat, but without talking. I have no idea why there was a muppet on the bag! I’m just spitballing here but I think there was alcohol involved.
I put a photo in the article of my mother’s 2010 Christmas card photo. In the photo she’s dressed in a red clown outfit, with giant red shoes, her face is painted as a clown, she’s got a ludicrously small parasol and she’s carrying a rubber chicken. Now this is the way to live your life!
In her 60s my mother began to lose her vision to macular degeneration. I’m sure that behind closed doors she expressed her grief about this to my father, but not once did I hear her complain about it to me. She took it all with grace. I remember she went to the Braille Institute where she took a cooking class for the blind. She came home and promptly threw all of her cookbooks in the trash. She said they told her that if she couldn’t read them, why keep them around to depress her?
I also remember her getting her first tech assistive device. It was a small metal prong that hung on the side of a cup. As she poured liquid into the cup, when it hit the metal prong, a circuit was completed in the electronics that caused a sound to tell her the cup was full. She was so excited to explain it to me.
In her mid-70s she learned to use a DOS computer (that’s before Windows existed, kids) with Word Perfect. My brother set it up for her with a utility called Lion Large Type. This software printed a tall banner at the bottom of the screen showing whatever she was typing. She explained that different types of visual impairments caused different color combinations to be visible depending on the person. For her, red text on a green background was easier to read than yellow on blue. She took to this immediately and was able to continue to write letters into her 90s. Yes, the computer lasted that long with one hard drive replacement.
My mom loved tech gadgets up to the very end. I remember her calling me one day and saying, “Are you watching what’s coming out of that Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? They’ve got a TV that’s 10mm thick! How do they get power into that thing?” She was 92 at the time…
My mom called my show “The Silly Cast” which I thought was kind of appropriate. She even came on from time to time to do tech reviews for us. She became a favorite of the NosillaCastaways and was dubbed The Podmom. They wrote her wonderful fan mail which I would read to her over the phone. She really loved the NosillaCastaways right back. I pulled out one of her reviews from May 9th, 2010 and I’d like to play it for you:
I have to say I teared up listening to her voice after all these years but then I had to laugh when she made fun of me to you. I think you have a small insight into where I got my sarcastic sense of humor!
My mother was a woman of great faith and lived her life with grace and poise. I know she’s with the angels and probably still making fun of me.