The Girl That Drove to Mexico

When I think of my mother two versions tend to predominate. The first tends to be the Mom of my most recent memories – the last several years of her life after my father had died. She’s the mom that I visited either at home or at my sister’s, or the mom that came out to San Diego to spend a couple of weeks with me from time to time.

The other version that comes to mind is the mom that I had growing up. She was the person that methodically ran the Ancestral Betz Home: cleaning, cooking, shopping, bills, educational oversight. Like many women of her generation, Mom pretty much did it all. It’s strange to realize that when I was in grade school that she was pretty much in the same era of life as I am now. Of course then she seemed “old”, whereas I am certainly still young and know how to have fun.

My Mom wasn’t one to talk about herself very much (actually, neither was my Dad, so who knows who I’ve inherited this trait from) and it often seemed even by her own account, Mom’s life consisted of her childhood in rural Delaware and then fast-forwarded to The Day She Met My Dad – a well-dissected blind date that was arranged by her mother and according to Mom was “nothing special”.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking about that time in-between that always seemed to be overlooked – the adult woman who had a life before my dad. I remember having a conversation with my parents one time about traveling and remarking that they’d never vacationed outside of the US.

      Mom perked up, “Oh, I’ve been to Mexico.”
      “Really?” I asked.
      “Yeah, once my girlfriends and I took my father’s car and drove to Juarez,” she said as if this was as common as a trip down the shore.
      “From New Jersey?” How come?”
      “Oh, we wanted to go see what a bullfight was like.”
      “What!?” I was becoming a little unmoored.
      “Oh… it was so bloody. And the crowd was crazy.”

I’ve been thinking about this trip and that girl a lot this year because the idea of my Mom going on a 1940s 4,000 mile road-trip to Mexico really doesn’t mesh too well with the proper homemaker and senior citizen versions that predominate my memories.

Who were these friends? By the time I was growing up, I don’t remember her having a lot of close girlfriends. Where did they stop along the way? I think she mentioned that they stopped in New Orleans for a night, but I couldn’t get any details out of her other than that stop helped her decide that she wanted to go back there for her honeymoon. Clearly, there were stories there.

Being Mom she didn’t want to talk about herself a lot and would change the subject, but I find that I keep wondering what that trip was like and the stories from it that she kept to herself. If it had been 65 years later, would there have been embarrassing Facebook pictures to explain away? My guess is yes. At least, I certainly hope so.

Mom and Me

She’s been gone for more than six years now and I think if I had a chance to talk to her again, I don’t know that I’d reminisce about some family Christmas. I think I’d ask about that trip and that girl in her early 20s in the 1940s.

I bet she was a great girl to know.

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33 thoughts on “The Girl That Drove to Mexico

  1. Many of us were fortunate to have mom’s that did it all. made for some wonderful memories. That trip to Mexico must have been a doozy, not something you would want any mom and her girl friend to do today . . . My mother’s been gone 46 years, a lifetime ago. Loved the picture.

    • Trailblazer — I think today girls in their 20s fly off to Cancun or to Las Vegas or something. I can’t imagine any of the 20-somethings I know do something so open-ended.

  2. I don’t think many of us as children or as adolescents believed our mothers had a life before we came along. That comes with adulthood and realizing our parents are human beings too (what a shock!). I’m glad you got to hear a little of your mother’s exploits. Her generation didn’t talk much about themselves, which is why it’s good to record those stories before they’re gone. I’m sure she’d enjoy reading your blog, Steve.

    • HG — I think one of the things we kids were really bad about was getting the stories behind the pictures that we have in our closets. Now that whole generation is almost gone and the stories will be lost forever. That really bums me out.

  3. Beautiful post, Steve! It was interesting to read how your discovered a different facet of your mom during your conversation with her. Wish she had told you more.

  4. It’s an odd moment when we realize our Moms were girls once. I love that she was so adventurous yet, like women of her time, so disinclined to talk about herself.

    On my last trip home, Mom told me (in total confidence) about the sports column she’d written under a pen name … as a high school girl. Unheard of in the 1940s. Here I thought that hanging with my Dad & brothers had shaped her love of sports .. not so. Turned out, she shaped THEM.

    Rock on Mom!

    and on this bittersweet day, know that she’s seeing you and smiling :) MJ

  5. Sometimes I think about the same thing. I remember my mom at the age I am now and back then it seemed silly/immature that she’d want to go out with her girlfriends dancing. And she seemed so old then. But I think about myself now, and there’s no way I’m too old to go out to a bar and have a drink. Its hard to imagine your parents being fun like that!

    • Real-AG — I know! My mom was 40 when she had me and so in my first real memories, she’s about my age now. Of course, to a 6-yo that seemed SO OLD — and now of course I know (pretend) that it’s not.

  6. That is so great, I am still smiling about it. My mom also went to Mexico when she was single (something I was surprised to find out as well) but it wasn’t nearly as mind boggling as a road trip to Juarez from NJ to see a bullfight!! It was a cruise with some girlfriends or workmates. Probably in the 50s. My mom is also a bit close-mouthed about things, but when she offers up a morsel we are always trying to get more info from her, though she doesn’t remember much sometimes.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing, great post.

    • Thanks cranky! I enjoy thinking about these different times from my parents’ lives. I wonder if life turned out for her the way she thought it would. Sometimes I think so: that she got married, had kids, raised a family, grew old. She always said in her last years that she was happy with her life. Sometimes I wonder if she’d wish that she could have broken free from the mom-wife stereotypes and been more adventurous.

  7. I loved this Steve! How cool it is to find out the juicy details of our parents. Then again, as you noted, she didn’t share juicy details. Like your Mom, my Mom is not much of a sharer. I recently found out she played basketball in college. Huh? Yeah, that’s all I know.
    Excellent tribute AND picture.

    • Thanks LD! Sometimes I wish we could do a “Back To The Future” to see our parents in action. Though maybe it’s better if we just get their filtered version… :)

  8. Really enjoyed this, Steve. It is a bit unnerving to think of our parent’s lives before…..us. A few years ago I found a very old photo, my Mom said yeah that’s me, and my horse. Horse?? I had no idea she ever even owned one. The things they don’t tell us!

    • Hah! My mom was a Depression kid, so I don’t think she was very sentimental about it. In some ways, I wonder if she didn’t talk too much b/c her early memories were the Depression and the War.

    • Thanks, Merc! Fortunately, we didn’t have a digital world to document our youthful (mis)adventures. Sometimes the stories are better anyway… :)

  9. Damn! A lot of women didn’t even drive at all in the 1940s. I want to know about this road trip, too!

    I once found my mother’s high school year book. She was a looker! But also clearly bashful and innocent. Takes a while to reconcile that with the image of her I had growing up – the boring, stable, hard-working, mother of three. Very important part of *our* growing up, though, to understand that our parents are people like everyone else.

    • beautimus — I was just writing with one of my old HS friends and he said this post made him realize that he’d never asked his folks about their “pre-kid/pre-marriage” lives too. I suppose it’s easy for kids to forget their parents were people before them, and we often realize too late.

  10. Beautiful story!!!! The picture is extremely touching, brought tears to my eyes, as your moms gaze reminded me so much about my mom.

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