Remembering Mom by Dellani Oakes

Mom and me September 14 2014

My mother was a woman’s libber before the term became popular. She was independent, self-assured and the most fearless person I know. She turned 96 on Monday. Her vision has faded, her hearing lessened, her mind is going. She’s been in a wheelchair for the last four years, due to a re-break of her hip that didn’t heal properly. To see her now, you’d never know that she used to drive around the country doing speeches about a small Appalachian settlement school in Kentucky. Back in the 40s, there were no interstate highways, no cellphones and no GPS. She was on her own, with only her map and her fantastic sense of direction to guide her.

Mom married very late in life. By society’s standards, she was an old maid—36 when she wed, 38 when she had my sister, 40 when she had me. She gave us a childhood that was full of exciting experiences, chock full of great books, educational trips and just plain fun.

By the time I was 9, we had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas and Nebraska. Everywhere we lived, we visited spots of historical significance. When in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we visited The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, Longfellow House…. We drove up to the bridge at Lexington and Concord and saw the Cannonball House and the Minuteman statue. We made a trip up to Bar Harbor and rode a ferry across. We had our pictures drawn by a lady on the ferryboat. I look like I’m about to be shot. My sister’s is much better.

Every summer, we made a drive from our home in Nebraska, back to visit our cousins and grandmothers. Mom’s family lived in Ohio, my dad’s in Tennessee. Along the way, we visited friends or, once in awhile, spent the night in motels. Sometimes, we stopped in spots we’d read about in books: Hannibal, Missouri where we visited Mark Twain’s house. Also, one of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s homes there.

I’ve gone on a lot about our trips, mainly because it shows a lot about how my mother thought and planned. She would study maps until she had them memorized—or so it seemed to me. She remained unflappable when we had the occasional flat tire or radiator overheated. It seemed we always had our car trouble in the best spots, where help arrived in the best possible way. When I traveled with my mother, I was never afraid. She always was so confident, so sure she would never get lost. Oh, we got turned around from time to time, but she would say, “I may not know where I am, but I know where I’m not.”

Looking back, that probably shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was. It’s hard to see my mother so diminished. The spark is still there, but with the dementia and the mini-strokes, it’s hard to find her. I was happy to see that she recognized me, after not seeing me for a year. She lives in Kansas, I live in Florida. I surprised her, arriving without any warning. I did tell her who I was, and she remembered me and my children, even had a spark when I mentioned my granddaughter.

Mom playing dress up with Audrey December 2012

My daughter laments she can’t see her grandmother and bring her daughter to visit, but I suggested that she not. Let the six year old have memories of her GiGi as she was the last time she saw her, not as the woman who might not remember her name. I also want my daughter and sons to remember her: my mother a vital, energetic, brilliant, fearless woman.

With such a strong mother, it is no wonder that Dellani Oakes is such a creative writer. You can find her work at

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6 thoughts on “Remembering Mom by Dellani Oakes

  1. Christina G.

    This is a lovely tribute to your mother Dellani. She seems like a fascinating woman and she raised and equally fascinating daughter. I know she’s proud and can feel the love and admiration you have for her.

  2. Dellani Oakes

    Thank you, Kenneth. She was an amazing influence. I can attribute my love of the written word, my humor and my sarcasm all to my mother. I can also thank her for my keen sense of direction and the courage to drive through terrible traffic without falling completely apart.

  3. James L. Secor

    My family was into blah, into colorlessness, no waves or attention. Yet I did get through my mother’s repression and she, as opposed to my father, learned about me and my behavior. I have a love-hate relationship with her–had. She died in 1981 secondary to uterine cancer. Both of us were manic-depressive, though she was a text book case; perhaps that is the connection? Perhaps more. I knew when she died before my younger brother called to tell me. I was already ill. I have many characteristics of hers: in behavior and physiognomy. I knew of some stories of her childhood and perhaps that’s the connection: both of us were just a little outre, a little devil-may-care. But she was not at all as colorful as your mom.

  4. Micki Peluso

    What a lovely bittersweet tribute to a wonderful mother. Sometimes I wonder if old age is worth reaching for. My beloved mother-in-law was so much like your mom. She drove everywhere, was an awful driver, surviving only from angels riding with her. She flew to Rome in her 80’s to see a relative canonized by the Pope and always drove hours to see us. She’s 99 now with blood tests of a 20 year old. Sadly, dementia has set in after a fall and hospital stay. I empathize with you so much. One day I call and she seems fine. The very next day, she has slipped back into another time and doesn’t know me. Yet she clings to life, like your mother. And that’s amazing. And like you, I am not ready to let her go Home.

  5. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Mom’s are special. Mine was no different. Being an RN from NY Hospital Nursing School in 1929, she saw all the newest treatments on the scene. She was loving and giving to all. When dementia set in after a bladder infection, being a nurse myself, I surmised that there would be no mental improvement. The hardest was when she looked at me with those clear blue eyes, then said, “You’re so nice to me and I don’t even know you. You’re a kind person. Are you a nurse, too?” That tore my heart. I replied, “Yes. I’m a nurse. I’m your daughter.” Mom put her hands to her face, eyes full of surprise. “I have a daughter? When did that happen? I don’t remember.” Sadly for me, Mom passed June 25,2000 from multiple organ system failure. There isn’t a day I don’t think of her. She was my best friend.


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