From an AirBnB in San Rafael, I search for pictures of my Mother to share on this, the ninetieth anniversary of her birth. I have few. I've scanned some; taken snapshots of others; and snagged a few from my sister Adrienne's Facebook page. Someone might have more but all I have sit in space somewhere, grainy and awkward.
But she cannot fade from my memory. Recently one of my siblings reminded me that Mom had her flaws -- and she did; we all do. She allowed our father to commit atrocities on us which had no name then but today would be considered felonies. While I understand what happened to her, and why she felt powerless to fight him, still, there it is -- leaving us scarred, damaged, different, disillusioned. Some of us rose above what we felt and saw; some of us sank below the muck and mire. None of us emerged from our childhood without a profound burden, however easily or awkwardly each of us learned to carry it.
However, my mother had magnificent qualities. She gave me many of them. She steadfastly endured, and I have leaned on her example through my own travails. Mother could skip one moment and hold a troubled child the next. Possibly this mercurial quality would be seen today as manic-depression, but I just thought of it as adaptability. She had little tolerance for inanity, or cruelty, or illogic. She protected her babies with an unparalleled ferocity in most realms, though at home, only by standing in the way of many of my father's blows.
At least, I remember her this way. Others might have their own images, their own memories, their own opinions. But I persist in my assessment. Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley stands tall in my mind. Not perfect, certainly. Irreverent, often. Tired -- most assuredly. But present -- ever present, and unwavering.
It took me nearly 37 years to successfully bear a child. My mother died six years before my son's birth. I mourn the fact that he never got to meet her. They would have had fabulous talks, Patrick and Lucille. They have much in common, including an inner gentleness that happily came out in his genes though they skipped mine.
My first pregnancy ended in a bloody mess on the floor of my mother's bathroom in late winter, 1977. At twenty-one, aimless and undirected, I would have been a terrible parent. But I had known the child inside for a month or so, and desperately wanted the baby even if I had no earthly clue what to do with it. I stood helplessly clutching the sink, pressing a wash cloth to my mouth to stifle the sobs. My mother knocked on the door. Mary, let me in, she commanded. When she saw my face, she folded me in her arms. She did not require a confession. She led me from the room, stripped me, found a nightgown, and settled me in my old bedroom without making me answer for my actions. I fell asleep with a cup of half-drunk tea cooling on a tray beside me. Though I went back to my apartment the next day, my mother's love followed me. I slept for days under my great-grandmother's quilt which Mother sent with me that morning. It carried the heavy fragrance of home: Mother's perfume, over-cooked coffee, and a curious blend of Pine-Sol and talcum powder.
In one of my many wooden boxes at home, I have my mother's defense medals, the bracelet she made from the baby beads of her first four children, and some pin that could be a Boy Scout den mother award. I have little else of hers. But every fiber of my being carries her stamp. I would not be sixty-one and still relentless if I were not my mother's daughter.
In a little while, I will go to see the garden of a gentleman whom I met on my travels. I will stand among the flowers in this temperate climate, remembering another garden, in Jennings, which bloomed beneath the tender care of a half-Austrian, half-Syrian, girl from Gillespie. I will think of how much my mother loved her flowers, and her vegetables, and her children. I will not cry. She would much prefer that her memory linger in my smile.