My mother was born Elizabeth Kielkiewicz on December 9, 1922, right here in Chicago, the only daughter of two Polish immigrants. She grew up during the Great Depression, remembered where she was when the Japanese navy bombed Pearl Harbor, was amazed by the moon landing, and saw the beginning and end of the Cold War, and the dawn of the 21st century.
A lot of things happened to her along the way. None of them are very scandalous by today’s standards, but she probably wouldn’t want me writing too much about them, so I won’t. Besides, I’m sure I don’t know even half the stories.
Sometime in the early 1960’s, Elizabeth found herself back in Chicago, where she met a man named Burnett Draughn. They got married, and by May of 1964, they had their only child, a boy they named Mark.
(When she went into labor with me, my father had just returned from working the night shift and was sound asleep. Since the hospital was right across the street, she seriously considered not waking him because he didn’t really have to be there.)
My oldest memory of my mother is from when I was a very small child, no older than three. I remember being on the couch and burying my head against her side where I could be warm and comfortable.
I remember one Christmas when I had received a chemistry set as a gift. For several nights afterward, mom and I stayed up late at night doing chemistry experiments and eating pizza.
Mom drove me to school every morning, then some evenings we’d go out to my piano lessons (which never took) or a movie or some shopping. We went to the library a lot and she let me get as many books as we could carry. Sometimes we’d stop at a magic shop and I’d watch them do tricks. She bought a few tricks and taught me how to do them.
Mom drove our 1969 Plymouth Valiant. It was a classic grocery-getter when built, but by the mid-1970s the auto industry was making a lot of really bad cars, and its 225 slant-six was more powerful than the engines of a lot of new cars. My mom used to get a kick out of sitting at the light next to a new sporty-looking car and then punching it when the light changed, leaving them behind.
My mother had an extremely stubborn streak. On occasion, I may have overwhelmed her, or out-maneuvered her, and eventually simply outgrew her, but it was a rare day when I could change her mind about anything. Through judicious use of MTV (when they used to play music videos all day) I did convince her that rock-and-roll wasn’t all noise. I think she liked the Eurythmics best.
She was stubborn with other people too. A few years ago, a couple of FBI agents knocked on her door, looking for information about one of her neighbors. She refused to let them in, yelling through the door that she doesn’t let strangers into the house.
My mother worked for many years as a bookkeeper, back in the days before everything was computerized. I’ve been going through her finances, and they are very well organized. She kept the household cash in an envelope on which she wrote a transaction log explaining every instance where money was taken out.
Of course, my mom did all the usual mom things—cooking, laundry, and housekeeping—especially after she quit working. When my dad stopped being able to take care of himself very much, mom was his primary caregiver. She complained about it—she complained a lot—but she didn’t want dad to go into a nursing home, so she took care of him right up until the day before she went into the hospital.
Mom went into the hospital on Saturday, March 21st and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, poor circulation in her extremities, and kidney problems. A little later, they decided she also had pneumonia.
As she received treatment over the next week, she began to improve—her blood oxygenation got better, her heart rate settled down, and her kidney function returned to almost normal. By Monday the 30th, I was discussing rehabilitation options with the hospital social worker.
It was not to last. She took a turn for the worse, and by Wednesday morning, her doctors were asking me whether to intubate her. Based on her long-expressed wish that she not be “kept alive by a machine,” we chose not to. By Friday, it was clear there was nothing that could be done, so we let them make her as comfortable as possible.
Elizabeth Draughn passed from this world on Saturday, April 4, sleeping peacefully in bed, with my wife and I holding her hands.
She will be missed.