Don’t let mother remain a mystery

It’s a curious old photograph, an 8×10 in black and white, taken professionally, perhaps, for publication decades ago.

The photo shows a young nurse caring for a patient in a hospital room. She is dressed in the white uniform of a traditional nurse. A starched nurse’s cap is draped over her shoulder length tousled black hair.

Her smile is sweet, her bespectacled gaze comforting. Her hand rests on the patient’s outstretched right arm as if about to give her an injection or check her blood pressure. A ray of sunshine shines on her like an ethereal ray from heaven.

The young nurse is Angeline Gutierrez, my mother, and this photo has fascinated me for a long time because I know her so little – and so little about her because she has been around for so little time in my life.

Too short a time.

Little is known about this photo other than that it was taken of nurse Angie Gutierrez caring for a patient some time before she became the mother of columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger. (Courtesy of Joline Gutierrez Krueger)

My aunt Josephine, my mother’s older sister and the last living member of their nuclear family, gave me the photo in 2010, but she couldn’t tell me much about it at the time. She is now two weeks away from turning 98 and remembers the photo even less.

Those of us who lost our mothers young, whether through death, divorce, adoption or alienation, still have that hole in our hearts that we try to fill with details of the woman who gave birth to us. On Mother’s Day, this need becomes acute.

So I look at this photo and wonder.

Angeline Gutierrez (diary file)

As far as I know, the photo was taken sometime after my mother graduated in 1942 or 1943 from St. Vincent’s Academy, a Catholic school for girls a block from the house in which she – and, much later, I – grew up. near Sixth and Lomas NW.

From old Albuquerque Journal clippings, I learned that after graduation, she joined the Cadet Nurse Corps, a federal program established in 1943 that provided nursing training to women, especially to minorities, like my mother, to meet a critical need for nurses. whose ranks were stretched by the Second World War.

Her training took place at St. Anthony Nursing School in Denver and graduated there on July 11, 1946. She would have been 21 years old.

The article says she planned to continue working in Denver, but, at some point, she returned to Albuquerque to work at the Veterans Hospital, the likely location where the photo of her and the patient has been taken.

She started a family later in life than most women of her time, marrying my father, Don Krueger, in 1956, when she was 31, in what another Journal article called a “silent ceremony” in Las Vegas, Nevada. By then, she had cut her mid-length hair into the pixie pixie style that I had always known her to have.

I was born a year later. In quick succession came two sets of twins. Being a mother became her full time job and she was fierce about it. She coached us after school with flash cards she made on the back of cut cigarette cartons, entered us into all kinds of competitions, from piano recitals to essay writing and talent shows. , whether we like it or not.

Another mysterious photo shows Angie Gutierrez, second woman from left, posing with cousins, siblings and others. Her glasses and hairstyle resemble those worn in the nurse’s photo. (Courtesy of Joline Gutierrez Krueger)

She urged us to read voraciously and write honestly. She wanted us to do good and be good, and only expected the best from us and for us.

She was steel, not soft. She was not affectionate in the hugging way, but in the way she was always there when we needed her.

Until she isn’t anymore. She was 45 when she died in 1971, five days before Christmas, and after an excruciating and calculating secret battle with cancer that she and my father had gone to great lengths to hide from us children. We were only told that she was sick and that she had to live next door with our maternal grandparents so that they could take care of her. We were told that my father’s red eyes, which he often hid behind sunglasses, even during dinner, were the result of corneal irritation.

Little did my parents know that I had known the secret all along, having overheard his doctor’s grim prognosis as he told my father.

I was 13 then and learned to think of the secret as more of a blessing than a burden because I knew not to waste the time I had left with her.

I spent our after-school moments talking to her about me, believing that the best thing I could do for her was to let her know that she had raised me to be as strong as she was, and that she didn’t have to worry because I would be OK without her.

How I would have preferred to spend that time hearing about her, what she was like as a girl, a teenager, her hopes and dreams, if she was funny, if she was wild, if I was like her.

I don’t know the woman she was. I don’t know the young nurse with the sweet smile and the tousled hair. I don’t know the friend she might have become once I was old enough to appreciate that. I never knew if I was fine, really fine, without her.

My mother has been gone for 50 years now and remains as mysterious to me as this photo of her. The more the years pass, the more I fear that I have lost forever the chance to know who she was.

And, again, I know the most important thing about her: that she loved me and my siblings in her own way. And that I look a lot like him.

If you are lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, remember her, not just on Mother’s Day. Call her. Now.

If you are a mother and you are lucky enough to still have your children in your life, allow them to know you as a person. Don’t be such a mystery.

And if you no longer have your mother, know that she is still there within you and around you. She influences who you become, whether she was good at motherhood or long enough to see you as an adult. She is there, like a soft smile, like an ethereal ray from the sky, in her own way.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Contact Joline at 730-2793, [email protected]

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