Mary McLaughlin Sta. Maria was born in Minnesota but moved to the Pacific Northwest almost 30 years ago where she lives with her two dogs, two young adult daughters and her husband.
June Phebe’s Early Childhood
My Mom, June Phebe, passed away in January 2001. She was only 69 years old. I will talk more later about the surprising way she died.
She was born in Iowa and grew up on a farm. She attended a one room school house. She graduated when she was 16. She did go to business school and worked a little bit and then she met my father. I think they were in southern Minnesota and then they moved to Minneapolis where they lived for most of their life.
Challenges of Having Children
She wanted a big family, but it took her a while to have children at all. Then she had my older sister and then had several miscarriages. They ended up adopting my brother. Then they had one more child, which was me. A little bit of a surprise, but a wanted one.
She stayed home until I was in about the sixth grade. She was a stay-at-home mom and took good care of us. She was a really good cook. She grew up in a time where women should not appear to be too strong or too smart. In some ways, she and I were kind of at odds with each other because I disagreed with that viewpoint.
A Surprise and Wanted Child
I was a very wanted child. My life to my parents was probably a miracle because they had tried so many times to have more children, and she was truly convinced that she could not have any more children and then adopted my brother. Just the surprise of actually being able to get pregnant and carry a child to term. She was an older mother, especially for that time. She was 36 when she had me. More common nowadays, but back then, not as much. She converted to Catholicism when she married my dad. She was a church goer and a believer, so she probably did view it somewhat miraculously.
My mother was not someone who was very demonstrative or expressive of her emotions. She was just always there for us and supported us in whatever we wanted to do. Whichever direction we went into. She took us to do different sports and gymnastics, piano, dance, anything we wanted to try. She would drive us around and get us together with our friends. She was very supportive.
Her father was from Sweden and she had the stereotypical personality traits of Scandinavians. He came over when he was in his late teens. They just don’t express emotions or they don’t want to have any controversy.
When my brother got married pretty young and then he got divorced and his soon to be ex-wife came over to the house and my Mom’s brother and sister and their spouses were there, my Mom did not want them to know that a divorce was maybe going to happen. They just shooed her out of the house. She was coming over to thank them for all they had done for her while she had been married to my brother. You don’t talk about divorce. You don’t talk about anything that’s not perfect.
And also, her sister was like that. I remember when my Mom died, we were out to dinner. we were all together for when the funeral was going to be happening and somehow, we were talking about something about my Mom. I got a little teary-eyed because my Mom had just died. Her sister was so embarrassed because we were out in public at a restaurant and I was streaming tears. You don’t show that emotion out in public. That’s what they learned growing up.
There was an exception to my mother not having a lot of demonstration of emotion. When I was in high school, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was one moment that stands out where she sat on the couch in our living room and broke down in tears. Usually, she wouldn’t even ever show us crying or anything. I just put my arm around her. That was probably one of the very few emotionally connected times that we had. I think it was helpful for her and I was glad to be able to do that.
Connecting Through Doing
Even when I was younger, we did not have strong emotional connections. I remember a lot of arts and crafts. We would always be making things, pictures, or cutting out paper. She taught me how to sew and how to cross-stitch. We did crafts together, which was fun. She did also try to teach me to cook but that didn’t really take. But I remember it fondly because it was fun with her trying to teach me. We baked a lot together and made cookies.
I would say my mother loved me but I probably realized it the most after she passed away. It was the feeling that she was my biggest fan. She was the person that, and my dad too, but she was the one person that always supported me no matter what. She was never going to turn her back on me. I realized it so well as I had just become a mother. My oldest was one year old when my Mom passed away. Experiencing that love of having a daughter and how much I would do for her, that’s exactly what my Mom would do for me. She may not say it out loud or talk about anything too emotional or controversial. She just was a steady presence. I knew I could do anything and she would still be there for me.
Tomorrow, Part 2, My Scandinavian Roots: Unintended Consequences of Being Too Strict with your Children.