On Mother’s Day last year, my adult children, my sister and I created a potluck brunch. It was a beautiful and sunny day. As we set up our cozy spot in a courtyard, I tripped on an uneven surface and the plate holding a frittata smashed down on the pavement. The frittata stayed together well without it’s plate and we continued with our picnic.
It was one of those moments for all of us and we were grateful -- family and love and food, one more time. It was the celebration of sorts. There would be no holidays for Mom in the next four months, except for some legal holidays which changed the pattern of her caretakers.
Mom was in a mood that day, one year ago. Such moods would happen for no reason, I had come to understand. Though Mom always had to find a reason. I think the fervor kept her alive. Being all bright and sunny that day, we all just kept talking gaily while she looked on.
But Mom chose ME to give The Stare. I smiled just shy of neutral. Then I smiled and stroked her face. She jerked away a little but she did like the touch. Her confusion was visable.
“You’re no goddamned good,” she declared to me for the first time. I had heard her tell others this very same thing.
I was sincere in asking her a respectful question;
“What do you think I should be doing in my life?”
There was no delay amidst her waning executive function;
“Keeping your mouth shut.”
I burst out laughing and lay my head on her lap.
“Oh Mom, I can’t do that. I’m just like you now.”
Her eyes flickered. She looked down and clucked her lips. She met my gaze again and said without emotion,
“I will take that as a compliment.”
* * *
To say she was sassy is a rookie understatement. To say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree would not be the best metaphor. I am quite meek and mild, comparatively. And I am made of more than one biological and cultural systems.
My Mom did a lot of good in her life. There are pieces I am still discovering as I slowly wade through her files: notes, clippings, drafts, copies. She did not equip me with certain skills. I would have liked to explain to her that not everyone is brave like she and that being nice (and truthful) was a worthy life purpose. I would have liked to talk about the other facets of confidence and justice – namely, the people we meet along the way. She was both process and goal based. She was both traditional and revolutionary. I think I would finally be ready to insist that we talk about subjects like kindness in the face of hatred.
There was one thing that was constantly true even though the presentation of it could be quite confusing – she loved children. When I became a parent she said, “you know Anne, you will never truly love your own children unless you love all children.” This confused and worried me.
But how, Mom?
Time has taught me this, bringing it from an adage to actualized. My notes, clippings, drafts and copies are an intimidating mess, and I’m mindful to consider their usefulness to the next generation. Actually I am more than mindful. I am diligent, committed and fervent.
Mom was a gardener too. She poo-pooed annual plantings saying they were a short-cut and unimaginative. She collected, pinched and stole seeds wherever she went. She sowed them and gifted them also, and would teach anyone how to raise them. She would say, “you’ve got to feed them with what’s in your environment.” She would help me collect buckets of seaweed.
Peonies and tomatoes (principe borgese); lily of the valley and angelica; Siberian iris and rose: some years ago she planted a tree, fertilized by a placenta. I cannot visit the tree or see how it’s growing because where it lives is no longer our family’s home.
Unless it has been knocked down or cut down, I have faith in that tree even though I will likely never watch a child climb it.
But a tree it is – roots and tips, leaf and bark, rings and stories.
MOM!!!.....how much salt should I put in the sauce?