My mother was born Marilyn Marie Alff in Texas in 1923 to Rudolph E.G. Alff (a sergeant in the Army during World War I) when he was a professor at the Medical College of Baylor University, Dallas, Texas and to Meta Lisette Radtke Alff, a former music teacher. By 1926 her family had moved to Northampton County, Pennsylvania and my grandfather opened a pharmacy where he was a pharmacist for 50 years. As a young girl and prior to the discovery of penicillin, my mother had a bone infection in her leg. She spent a long time in the hospital and recovered using a wheelchair at home. She used to talk about the painful scraping of the infection from her bone and she wore a large scar on her leg for the rest of her life. I remember children looking at the scar on my mom’s leg when we were in public places. It didn’t stop her from wearing bathing suits, shorts and dresses, she didn’t seem to ever try to hide the scar. She always said she felt lucky that she didn’t lose her leg.
My grandparents divorced when my mom was very young and I think it effected my mother her whole life. She was unhappy with her father because he had left my grandmother, though we did visit him once or twice in Pennsylvania and he always sent my mother Chanel No 5 at Christmas. My grandmother moved to California around the time that my parents moved to California, prior to my birth. I knew her well as a child and remember her fondly, she passed away when I was 14 years old as a result of cancer surgery. My mother was an only child. She said she always wanted a sibling, I wish I could tell her now that from my experience, having siblings isn’t always so great. Just because someone is a sibling doesn’t mean they will necessarily treat you like a sister. Sibling rivalry has been a problem in my family.
My mother grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania and was “pinned” to her high school athlete boyfriend Mer Rasmussen, who played baseball and football. He was later again a dear friend of hers until even after my mother was ill with Alzheimer’s Disease and in the nursing home, where he would send her beautiful roses.
After high school my mother went away to college. I think she first went to college in Texas and was studying to be a singer (she had a beautiful operatic style voice), but then she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to study something more practical, chemistry, like her father. She met my father, Charles F. Montague at Penn in a chemistry class, he was studying pre-med. They got married in Florida before he set off for Japan during WWII. My father was an officer in the Navy.
My mother gave birth to four girls. I was the youngest, their last hope to have a boy. I am quite a bit younger than my sisters. By the time I was a child, my mom was tired of being a housewife, so she became active in the community, she opened what she called a drop-in center down at the end of Seaward on the beach in Ventura. She called it “Horizon”. It was a place for teens and young adults to go for free counseling and safe socializing. My mom was concerned about homelessness and the safety and well being of the young people in the area. Horizon was an experiment, my mother loved the people she met there, but at some point she felt she couldn’t do it anymore. I’m not sure of the reasons, I think one concern was her safety, because she was often the only person there other than the people who would just drop-in.
When I was 15, my mother decided she wanted to see the world and that I was going with her. Honestly I was not that thrilled with the idea. I didn’t want to leave my friends for one thing, and I was just about to get my driver’s license and start driving for another. But it was not my decision, I was going whether I wanted to or not. I eventually adjusted to the idea and accepted it, and now am very glad I had that opportunity. The trip brought my mother and I closer after a rather strained adolescent relationship and I saw a great deal of and about the world that I would never have been able to, had it not been for that trip.
Around the time that we returned from traveling, my mother decided to go back to school. She attended Pepperdine University, got her Masters Degree and then she earned a PHD from the United States International University in San Diego in around 1985. It was USIU until 2001 at which time it merged with the California School of Professional Psychology and became Alliant International University. After graduating with her PHD, my mother became a professional marriage and family counselor. In addition to seeing clients in her home office, she had an office on Loma Vista Rd. In Ventura.
Her office is where she was adopted by her Siamese cat named Putty, who became one of the family. Putty was the first cat in the family though my mother had many dogs over the years starting as a teen with her boxer named Sigerd, then numerous dachshunds (Wosie, Pace, Fuzz, Brilla, Easy, Pippi etc..) a Labrador Retriever named Kali Jo, an Elkhound mix named Elka, and a Rottweiler mix name Delta.
After retiring from professional counseling, she set up a counseling center at the Church of the Foothills in Ventura and donated her services. I think she called it Mindspring. I’ve met many people who say she counseled them there and were grateful for the experience.
My mother had a positive attitude, a strong faith, an open mind and had high hopes for the world. She spoke a lot about the Paradigm Shift. Unfortunately I think my mother was depressed later in life. I regret not spending more time with her, she, it turned out, cared about me the most in the family. A mother’s love is like the love of no one else. I found that out too late. One of my greatest regrets regarding my mother is that I never recorded her singing. She had a wonderful voice. After her death I heard someone sing who sounded like her and it made me cry.
I wish I could remember the details of my mother’s life better, I currently do not have access to all of her photos and records. My mother stopped talking completely in about 2009. I think she was still capable of talking at that time but was just embarrassed by what was coming out of her mouth due to her health condition. Alzheimer’s Disease is an evil illness. Watching my mother decline slowly and then waste away a little at a time was a horrifying experience. This last decade of seeing my mother wither away from Alzheimer’s Disease and thinking that mercifully the end must be near, to see her then go on for a few more years, even after a mastectomy, which she may not even have known what was going on when they removed her breast or what was causing the pain. That was a very sad Christmas, seeing her alone in the hospital. I’ve had some complaints about my mother’s care over the years. People with dementia really need someone to stick up for them after they no longer can stick up for themselves. I visited her at the nursing home as often as I could over the years and tried to think of ways to improve her life there. It was usually a very depressing experience though, I would talk to her and never knew if she was actually listening or understanding any of my words.