Saturday, May 13, 2017
I thought I might skate through this one unscathed. Walking into Wal-Mart a few days ago to buy camping supplies, the bouquets and candy were lined up at the door and I felt a tiny hitch in my breath. Towards me on the opposite side of the aisle was a woman who appeared to be older than my 53, almost 54 years. 'She has probably buried her mother already as well,' I thought in order not to cave in to a private pity party.
Maybe she is one of the lucky ones who has an ancient mother. My mother had one who just missed living long enough to wish her a happy 63rd birthday. A distant cousin by marriage had her mother until she was in her mid 70s. Both their mothers made it into their 90s! My mother's assigned years were 68. She didn't live quite long enough to tease me upon turning 40. I immediately felt guilt upon completing that sentence, thinking of a group of sisters I know whose mother died while they were all still in school, from elementary to high school age.
And I realize it was my mother who didn't abide feeling sorry for oneself...she once told a great-aunt, who was still crying daily after being widowed for five months, that she wasn't grieving for her husband, she was grieving for herself. If you knew how much my mother respected and revered older people, you'd be as surprised as I was she said that. But Mom had a knack of knowing what to say and when to say it. Her aunt accepted the glass of cold words in her face and began volunteering at the nursing home where her husband had lived his final days.
The day to honor mothers hit me anyway, as it does most people who've lost a loved one, at the most random time. Washing my hands, I thought of the fall of 1974 when my father died. Yes, both my parents checked out of this life quite young, Daddy at 42. After all the wrenching emotion of myriad people dropping by the house, the visitation the night before the funeral, and the service and burial the following day, I crawled in my mother's bed.
Ordinarily she'd have told me to get back in my bed and furthermore to brush the sand off the bed my feet had brought in. Mom was the remotest one from being a good housekeeper; when Daddy was living, she paid people to do that, but she was a stickler about her bed being clean.
Having just buried her husband, she didn't cry that night, that I was aware of, anyway. Mom didn't often cry, but would save it all up for an occasional sob. She didn't cuddle me or say any comforting words. I suppose at age 11, it was high time I became even more independent even though I already did my own laundry by that age.
She tolerated my presence in her bed nightly for a season that ended when I became angry at her for something. What, I don't remember, but I reassembled my twin bed in the room I had previously shared with my sister, where my dresser and other belongings still resided, and I made the bed with Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets. Mom said nothing, asked no questions. Her mother, my beloved Grannie, who lived with us at that time, scolded me. I don't remember Grannie's exact words, but in hindsight I realize that she was, in her own way, defending her daughter.
My sister was likely disappointed to be sharing a room again. She is nearly 9 years my senior and has never been particularly fond of me, nor our mother for that matter. Long after our mother was dead, my sister spat at me, "You're just like her," and it wasn't a compliment.
Absent from my memories, or more truthfully, the affection and nurturing simply wasn't there. My Grannie confided in me once that Mom did not cuddle and kiss and ooh and ahh over her babies like most women. Four babies...extended family and maids and cooks and a gardener filled in.
But it was the things Mom didn't say, like not saying no to me crawling in her bed when a pre-teen girl should be sleeping by herself. Like coming into my room on the day I was getting married and silently handing me a paper plate with scrambled eggs and toast on it, nothing to drink. She didn't wait on us and often expected us to wait on her after a long shift at the nursing home where the bulk of her career was spent. Did I say I often did her laundry, too?
So why the tears for a mother whose English ancestry seemed to have bled through her DNA in the way she parented?
Because I'd love to have a conversation with her about all that has transpired since her death. Her perspective was uncannily wise and calm. Not very long ago, my husband told me I knew the right thing to say to people at the right time. He had no idea what high praise that was to me.
In some ways, Yvonne still lives. I see her in the mirror as more of my wavy hair, a genetic bequeath from her, turns white. She was not vain and did not dye hers and she encouraged Grannie to let her "pretty white hair" grow in instead of those awful Miss Clairol home color jobs.
She never once said she missed me after I left home, and more than once or twice, she'd say of her children, "I'm glad mine are grown." One of the most truthful things she ever said to me was if there'd been better birth control in her day, she wouldn't have had so many. Being the youngest of four and a very obvious oops-a-daisy, arriving six years after her third child, that was brutal to hear, but nearing my 54th birthday, I understand more this kind of honesty.
She was steeped in integrity and wouldn't speak a lie. She had a way of silently circumventing a truth if need be, but she did not abide a lie or a liar and the contempt for the same resides within me.
She occasionally would say it didn't pay to tell everything you know. She wouldn't like all I have told in this essay, but as she also occasionally said, "The last time I checked the calendar, I was grown."
That meant she could say and do what she wanted and owed no one an explanation for how she lived her life.
I'm grown, and this is what was on my heart this Mother's Day. If you have a sweet one, I envy you in the nicest possible way. If you have one who granted and insisted up complete independence, I understand.
Thank you for giving me life, Mom.