We all know that tomorrow is Mother's Day. I gave some thought to spending a few moments educating myself on the origins of this annual commemoration of procreation. But then again, I don't really need to know why we honor our mothers only once a year. At least we do that. And inevitably, in the coolness of this morning when I stood out on my porch surrounded by blooms, I thought of my mother and missed her for the millionth time.
I scrounged around the house trying to find a picture of my mother to include in my Musings today. I pulled boxes out from the backs of closets and down from shelves too high for me to reach without climbing. I finally resorted to a photo album that my sister and niece created one year. I stare at the photo before putting it on the scanner. In this picture, my mother has some frou-frou product smeared on her skin. In the mid-seventies, my mother went through a period when her face hurt every time she got anxious. To alleviate that sensation, I would give her facials. And the process worked -- not because facials ease tension, but because my mother felt so ridiculous that she would howl with laughter. My family had some rough years, but I remember laughing with my mother so many times. It's a good picture. It represents us.
I'm a terrible poet and a passable essayist. I've written a lot about my mother over the years and I often quote her, sometimes attributing things to her that I'm not really sure she said. But my mother permeates every thread of my being. I have her frame, her hair, her eyebrows. I have her dogged determination which some characterize as relentlessness. I hope I have her ferocious protectiveness of weaker beings. Her love of cool mornings, hot tea, pretty flowers and Willie Nelson certainly survive in me.
In my mother's last months and weeks, I sat beside the hospital bed in her room at home on weekends, having made the trip from Kansas City after court each Friday. I would put "Always On My Mind" on the turntable over and over, followed by the New World Symphony. One Sunday we watched Terms of Endearment, not realizing that the main character would die of cancer, leaving her children in the care of their odd grandmother. We looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. "Maybe not the best choice," my mother admitted. Then we laughed and the mood lightened.
My mother supported my dreams, though she often tried to steer me down practical avenues. She dissuaded me from taking dance lessons but enrolled me in tumbling classes.When I proposed spending a year in France during college, she mildly pointed out the implausible aspects of the scenario that I painted. On the other hand, she helped me move to Boston and then orchestrated my return when the experiment failed. She gave me hope when I felt most desolate and courage when I felt afraid. She made mistakes without question; but her most tragic errors flowed from the time in which she lived -- a Catholic convert, she did not believe in divorce and stayed with my father despite his monumental failures and the terrible price those failures extracted from all of us.
I see my mother in my strengths and my weaknesses. I have difficulty delegating, and I know my inability to trust others comes in part from her example. But my generous heart comes straight from my mother. I don't know if the ways in which I am like my mother come from nature, or nurture, or both. I'll take the bad because I could not exist without the good that she gave me. I might walk a lonely path at times, but the sureness of my tread comes from her and makes the journey worthwhile.
I think of my mother nearly every day. She's now been dead for half my life. She drew her last breath fourteen days before my thirtieth birthday and twenty days before her fifty-ninth. I am older than she ever got to be but not one wit wiser nor, truth be told, nearly as kind.
Whatever she was, or wasn't; whatever she did or did not do, my mother loved her children without reservation and in that, I hope that I have followed her teaching. She also taught her children to think for ourselves. She encouraged dialogue, provided information, nurtured curiosity, and rewarded achievement. I felt loved; I felt cherished; and even though we all knew that my brother Mark was her favorite, each of us felt we might just be close seconds.
I thought about dredging up a cute story, or a touching moment to describe, but the memories crowded too closely. I felt to pick any one of them might leave some important tidbit behind and give only a partial picture of the woman who gave birth to me. Her character seems so complex in retrospect that no one account could possibly do her justice.
My mother raised eight children despite having an alcoholic abusive husband who did not work and sometimes stumbled home cut, bruised, and ragged but other times came home with pockets full of money, new suits, and diamond rings. She found money to feed us even though working for a dollar an hour at a department store before finding a job at St. Louis County Hospital. She learned to drive at forty-two and let her husband's brother prepare a legal separation so that my dad's small trust fund could come to her, even though she felt disloyal doing it.
No matter what happened, she found a way to give us Christmas and birthday presents. I am sure both her parents and my father's mother helped more than I will ever know, but my mother made things happen day to day. We were not wealthy nor even solidly middle class. Every one of us started working in high school but frankly, that did not hurt us at all. I remember my brother Kevin buying groceries for the household with his tips from Steak n Shake. His face shone with pride that he could help Mom. I've never forgotten that radiant gleam.
My son told me not too long ago that a blog is a way of answering questions no one has asked at a time that no one wants to hear the answers. I daresay he is correct. These musings started out, seven years ago, as amusing accounts of past events sent to my lawyer's list serve. One listserve member called them "fluff pieces". I did not take that as an insult. Everybody needs a soft place to land. But today I have no fluff for you, no quaint recollection of a time with my mother. I just wanted to talk about her for a few minutes, and to tell you how much I miss her.
If your mother still lives, please, won't you call her tomorrow and tell her how much you love her? Better still, why wait? Call her today. After all, Mother's Day is just a Hallmark Holiday. Nothing says you have to limit yourself to one day of the year to honor your mother. And you never know -- tomorrow might be too late.