“Your mother was a tough-as-nails cowgirl,” her friend Alex said.
“She was a tough old bird,” her physician said.
“Your mother could have run General Motors,” my aunt Pat said.
My mother, Betty McFerren, died at 91.
At the nursing home in Lakewood she had a sort-of-boyfriend, Ray. When I’d come to her room and Ray would be visiting, he’d look at me and say with a devilish grin, “He needs help with his hearing.”
Ray was talking about my mother.
This nettled me. “Why do you call my mother a “he?” I asked.
“He wears men’s clothes.” Ray pointed at Mom’s denim jacket and Levi jeans. I looked at her. She was still beautiful, with good bone structure, lovely green eyes, white hair. And she looked good in jeans. That’s why she wore them. I said to Ray, “Men don’t usually wear makeup, earrings and necklaces, and get their hair done.”
“But he’s a he.”
If my mother was a “he,” then what am I? She was the competitive horsewoman, political-cause fighter (She helped save South Table Mountain from becoming a gravel pit.) In later years she invested masterfully in stocks and understood them sometimes better than the pros. With stacks of Value Line next to her, she said, “Energy is limited — invest in it, Mary. And make sure the owners own some of their own stock.”
When she was 85 and still living in her own home in Golden, my mother called me one day and said in a soft voice, “Mary, how would you like to go to Antarctica?”
I paused. She seemed vulnerable, not the same strong woman she used to be. She had mini-strokes and was hard-of-hearing. But I had to admire her courage.
“Antarctica? Of course,!” I said, knowing traveling with her would be challenging.
From Denver International Airport, we flew overnight and finally boarded the Russian icebreaker in Ushaia, on the southern tip of Argentina. When our ship crossed the Drake Passage,where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans come together, the ship rocked hard for 24 hours. Many passengers wore patches on their necks for seasickness and Mom stayed in bed all day. She said, “Mary, if I die on this ship, please throw my body overboard. But first take out my gold teeth.”
“Oh shucks, I forgot my pliers,” I replied. But inside I was considering how tough my mother was. Maybe that’s the way to be in old age; you have more adventures. But she was reluctant to get in an inflatable Zodiac to see the penquins.
“We got all the way down here to Antarctica, Mom. The penguins are the reward,” I said.
Wrapped in a red parka, Mom rode in a Zodiac out to see the penguins, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us.
Luckily she survived the cruise, but adventures continued. On the way home, when we dined at an elegant hotel in Buenos Aires, she ordered filet of sole. She ate half of it and took the rest to the room in a doggy bag. The next night we were back in the same restaurant, and after the waiter took my order, Mom pulled the doggy bag out of her purse and said to the waiter, “Heat this up please.”
I about slid halfway under the table.
When we got home to Colorado, Mom said, “That was the greatest trip I ever took. I loved every minute of it.”
My mother was one of a kind — a heck of a lot of fun. And if she was a “he”, then maybe a “he” is the thing to be.
Mary McFerren Stobie grew up in Golden and lives in Wheat Ridge. She is a storyteller, and has had columns published in the Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post and Chicago Tribune. Please contact her with comments atmry_jeanne@yahoo.