Deborah Lee Lavender was born June 4, 1954 in the desert of El Paso, Texas back when people used plywood school desks to hide from atomic bomb blasts, doctor’s recommended specific cigarette brands, and monster movies were metaphors for the impending communist invasion. Mom didn’t talk about it much, but she had a hard childhood growing up with one truly loving parent and one not-so-loving parent. To give you an idea: at age 14, her father died while serving on the El Paso city police force and it was simultaneously the best and worst thing that happened to her.
As she grew up, mom took dance in high school, kicked her bullys’ asses, hung out with rock bands and generally tore it up in a small town until she graduated. Then, because she did whatever the fuck she wanted to do, and it was the 70’s, she went to work in the male-dominated tech industry and got a job at Southwestern Bell. While working for “the phone company” (as she called it), and rocking a solid-white, Dr. No bikini, she met a pot-leaf, belt-buckle-wearing style-icon and the two were quickly married. (We’ve all seen the photos, Dad.)
They had a daughter, Cathy. And then, because you never get anything right the first time, they had a second, better daughter, Lindsay. The family moved to San Antonio, TX and had a
surprise bonus baby, Jimmy, just to round out the 2.5, 1980’s stereotype the family needed.
With a big conversion van, a wily dog, a host of stray pets and a DIY-perm, mom did it all: crafty tie-dye shirts, home-made dresses for the girls, baked goods, school projects, you name it. She ran car-pools and girl scout troops and made sure our clubs were always cooler and different than the status quo. For example, we didn’t wear lame-ass standard-issue brownie uniforms. Instead, we sewed our badges onto acid-wash denim jean jackets. We had music lessons, theatre practice, Tai Kwan Do, baseball and softball—meanwhile mom was busy going to school full-time. We took long family road trips and had fun vacations. Sometimes mom worked, all while going to school and doing all these extra things. We had dinners and school reports, camping trips and home-made Halloween costumes.
When we got older, mom went back to school for-serious-like, and finished her degree with full honors from UT Dallas. She became a science teacher and got a job at Schimelpfenig, the same school we all went to; but had the decency to wait until none of us went there anymore so we wouldn’t get beaten up. True to form, in her “Do All The Things!” way, she also ran the National Junior Honor Society and the Science Fair.
While she worked full-time, she decided to make us all look bad and went and got her Masters Degree. She then got hired by the school district to write science curriculum, because—believe it or not—you actually have to have someone like my mom fight to get science taught in the classroom in Texas, and not just mumbo-jumbo bullshit about space-cake and giant floods.
In 2012, after what felt like a typical post-Olive Garden stomach virus, she was devastated to discover she actually had colon cancer. But, she also learned that her first grand-daughter was on the way. When Wrenley arrived, that kid lit up her life. She made cancer her bitch for 4 years and did everything for that baby. The colon cancer was eradicated by a combo of science and (possibly) the strongest coffee I’ve ever seen a woman drink. When the second baby arrived, “little” Hawthorne came into the world and made her even happier—if possible. But, by then, the cancer had moved on to other parts of her body. Cancer, we’ve all learned, is a bastard.
I don’t like to refer to what my mom went through as a “battle” or a “war.” It implies that there was a winner/loser in the story. It’s not fair and life doesn’t work that way. We all know it doesn’t work that way. I know why people do, though. It’s easier to have an enemy or someone to be angry at: God, doctors, your stupid ex-husband, life, anything.
Instead, I like to think that my mom figured things out her way, in her own time as she went. She never stopped and thought, “Well, I wish I’d gone to college or finished my degree, but…I’m a mom now, so I can’t.” She just went and did it. She always felt a little bit like an odd-duck, but then would laugh at people trying super-hard to keep up with everyone else and fit in. She wanted to do her own thing, have her own life and enjoy it. And, she did. She loved her family and worked really hard. She was good at everything she did, but not because she was inherently gifted. It was because she tried. She gave a damn and that’s pretty rare.
I’ve paraphrased and borrowed this from Alan Watts: “The point of music is music. No one listens to music to hear it end.” No good song lasts forever. It passes through us, leaves its mark, and makes life better. We’re all better for it. She’s a part of all of us. That’s all I can say about that. I have a lot of good memories: hearing her cuss in the car at bad drivers, shopping together, having coffee. But also just doing things even when it felt like you were the only one going for it. We love you, mom.
The video below was made for her birthday a few years ago.