Last Friday, my mother, Isabella (Kyle) Campbell Bixby, passed away at age 92. She had been in an assisted living situation for almost two years, after a fall that injured her back and required her to use a walker, which she hated. And she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer back in March. So it was not much of a surprise. She suffered only briefly from pain associated with cancer, and died in her sleep. Her husband had died many years ago, but all three of her children were with her in her final days.
How does one commemorate a life? List everything the person did? That would take forever. And yet that is what makes us what we are. So any retelling of my mother’s story is incomplete. But I can try to give you a bit of her life.
She was born in Milngavie, Scotland, the third and last child of James and Isabella Campbell. Her siblings were 10 and 15 years older than her, so in many ways she grew up an only child. Her favorite enjoyment was to go to the movies in Glasgow. Her schooling ended at age 14, as was normal in that time and place. She went on to work for a noted optics firm, Barr and Stroud.
During the Depression, her older sister emigrated to the United States. After World War II, her brother, who had served in the army, decided to do the same. So when her father died in 1948, she and her mother decided they, too, should come to America, which they did the next year. They first resided with her sister Annie’s family in Groton, Massachusetts.
She hated it here at first. But after a few years, she met my father. They were living in the same boarding house at the time. Seventeen years between them, an unlikely couple. But she had a new television, rare in 1952, and he had a
new car. A deal was struck: he got to watch the television, she got rides in his car. They were married the next year. They also bought a house that cost them the enormous sum of $10,500.
Three of us came along quickly, and spent our early years in that house. My father worked full-time, my mother worked part-time, and her mother ran the household until she died in 1968. And then my father retired in 1973, and took over housekeeping. We called the years in between, when my mother was responsible for the cooking, as the “Age of Swanson,” after the brand of TV (frozen) dinners, as my mother did not like cooking.
All three of her children surpassed their mother in education. My brother graduated from the regional technical high school, my sister earned an associate’s degree from a junior college, and I eventually gathered up a Ph.D. It was one of my mother’s secret pleasures that I had graduated from a private preparatory high school where she had once washed dishes.
My mother spent years active in local organizations. But after she retired in 1985, she and my father became more homebodies than anything else. He died in 2001, after she had cared for him many years. And for the next 14 years, until she fell and hurt herself, she lived, alone and independent and happy.
In sum, she was a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, even great-grandmother, clerk, friend, church member, and a lot of other roles. I can’t capture them all. With her death, a lot has been lost.
I have been regularly visiting her and managing her affairs these last two year. This is one reason why my blogging here has been less frequent during those years, and why I have been so often behind in reading the blogs of others in recent times. And will be for a while yet.