My mother died last night at 1:45 am. She was a remarkable woman who spent seventy-nine amazing years on this earth. I am thankful to her for my very existence, for carrying me in her womb for over nine months, for bringing me into this world, for raising me up to be the person that I am now.
Lois Teresa Rosenfelt was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 10, 1937. A famous photograph of Pablo Picasso comes to mind that is from that year, showing him in the process of painting Guernica in Nazi-occupied Paris, in what looks more like an abandoned building than a studio.
My grandfather, William Rosenfelt was preparing to enter military service when his wife, my grandmother Ruth let him know that she was pregnant with my mom. My grandfather was excited and happily surprised, but because of the unexpected pregnancy, my grandmother forbade him to join the service. Instead, he decided on a domestic defense role with the Coast Guard, working off the coast of New Jersey, and building the naval ships at Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia.
Soon thereafter, the Rosenfelt Family moved to Atlantic City, to be closer to my grandfather's post in the Coast Guard. Raised a Jew, my mother attended Hebrew School, which she admittedly didn't like, often making grim faces and commenting on the 'doom and gloom' of it all when I asked her about it. After the war, the family moved to Arden, Delaware, which was also closer to Marcus Hook. From what my mother told me, these seemed like the happiest days of her life. It was a small community, and she took part in a Shakespeare Festival that the community put together every year. She worked on set designs, and acted in the performances.
When my mother was sixteen, she became unexpectedly pregnant, and her parents sent her to live in Philadelphia with family relatives. In 1953, she gave birth to her first child, a sister that I have never met, who was given up for immediate adoption upon birth. I didn't know this until today, the day that she died, when my dad told me. I had always heard my mom say things like 'I wish I could have given you a sibling to play with,' or 'do you ever wish you had a sister,' but I never knew what she actually meant by it. My lost sibling would now be sixty-four. I'd love to meet her if she is out there or if she reads this.
After finishing high school in Philadelphia, my mom enrolled in art school at Tyler School of Art, which is part of Temple University. She told me about how much she loved creating work there, and about the senefelder stones that she used to make lithographs.
It was around that time when my mother met her first husband, Jay Gerber, a Harvard business major. The wedding portrait at the beginning of this post is from that marriage. I think that my mother was happy about marrying someone financially successful, but his long European business trips, and comments that the prospect of children make him 'feel nauseous' put a strain on the relationship, and they eventually divorced.
My mother then pursued a master's in education at Temple University, and after graduation took a job teaching high school art and social studies in Agoura Hills, near Los Angeles. While on sabbatical from teaching, my mother vacationed in Ensenada, Mexico, where she met my father, Jorge Badillo-Cochran. My father's father, an immigrant from San Francisco that settled in Ensenada when he couldn't find work during the war, had developed Lou Gehrig's disease, and died a year before I was born. Because of my grandfather's illness, my father became very interested in natural medicine, and introduced my mother to a diet that was new to the west called Macrobiotics. They began giving cooking classes in Ensenada and sold whole wheat empanadas for a living. Soon my mom was pregnant, and I was born, in a small yellow apartment, delivered by my father who had taken only one community college course in physiology, on September 22, 1978.
My dad wished to pursue naturopathy school in the United States, and they moved first to Chula Vista, then to Boston, and finally to the Northwest, where my dad eventually enrolled in Bastyr College, now called Bastyr University. My mom worked doing advertising for several radio stations, and I played a speaking role in a couple of commercials as a 'satisfied kid customer.'
My parents divorced when I was eight. My father remarried a woman named Jan, who was a beautiful and gentle stepmother that I loved dearly, but she soon developed cancer and died just over a year later. My mom went on to hold many kinds of jobs, including her own temporary services franchise.
After I graduated high school, my mother moved to the mountains of Northern Arizona. She was always on the move, wanting to see new places, to travel and to explore. According to her, this was because she was a Sagittarius. We were always road-tripping. The majority of this country that I have seen is because of our trips together across country, down through the shimmering leaves of summer in the Blue Ridge mountains, to the pueblo of Acoma Sky City, to the mountains of Colorado. We kept moving. My mother was a free spirit.
The last trip I went on with her was across country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco. But something was beginning to go wrong. The money from the $60,000 row home that she sold in Southwest Philadelphia was gone before we made it out to California. We struggled to find housing, and she finally rented a basement in South Oakland, and I ended up homeless on the streets of the Tenderloin District, until my father helped us to move down to Tucson. She was beginning to develop dementia.
For years her illness progressed, from exhibiting confused, irrational and compulsive behavior, to living in squalor, to wandering out at night and getting lost. I received so many police calls, until it was finally time, with the help of adult protective services, to put her in a skilled nursing facility.
Over twelve years she lived with Alzheimers—twelve long years when she was not the free spirit, the joyous, boisterous spirit that she once was. But I will always remember her as that person. I love my mother dearly. She was an amazing, giving person, who was always open with people. She was the type of person that people felt comfortable telling their life story to. She was an incredible human being, and I owe my very existence to her.
I love you mom, forever.