Posts made in May, 2008

Mother’s Day

Posted by on May 11, 2008 in Death and renewal, Mother, Spirit | 0 comments

When I was a child, when I was a Baptist, when my mother was alive, we would be pinning on our corsages about this time on a Sunday morning. They would all be red carnations to honor our living mothers, and later I would look around the church sadly and uncomfortably at all the white ones that designated the departed mothers. My grandparents didn’t come to our church, but my mother’s mom attended the tiny chapel in Echols, Kentucky, where the only sign of civilization other than churches and houses was my grandfather’s general store. My dad’s mom didn’t go to church at all as she never learned to drive a car, had been reared as a Methodist, and was not especially religious, one of the things I liked about her. After what seemed an eternity of fidgeting on hard wooden pews in our itchy starched clothes, my parents would take my brother, sister and I out to eat in one of the two acceptable restaurants in our booming metropolis of Beaver Dam. It was a rare treat in those simpler times, a change from my mother’s roast beef waiting at home in the oven for the potatoes and carrots to be added and other vegetables to be cooked while we changed out of our Sunday best and helped Mother get dinner on the table.

This formulaic happy childhood exists for me now just out of the corner of my eye, disappearing if I look directly. Occasionally a smell assaults my nose and takes me back there in a quick flash, the wooden floors and ice cream smell of my grandfather’s store, the musty coal oil and biscuit odor of my grandmother’s house, the sweet funereal scent of a corsage, all transport me to those days of innocence. I can’t help but think about them all on this day, the tactless and self absorbed mother of my mother, the fierce and outspoken mother of my father, and the brilliant but insecure mother that reared me with a love that was deep enough to drown us all. Now they are all gone, dust to dust, and I am left to write the history the way I remember it.

Today my Mother’s day is not about flowers or church or dinner. In fact, we celebrated it yesterday, hiking the Rose River and Dark Hollow falls loop in the Shenandoah, my son and daughter in front of me most of the way, occasionally letting me lead. Dinner was an accidental discovery in Charlottesville in a restaurant that looked like a Big Boy Diner complete with a chrome counter, cozy booths, and black and white tile on the floor. It turned out to be an authentic Greek restaurant where we ate amazing stuffed grape leaves with Tzatziki, a delightful and authentic Greek salad with tons of feta, and grilled lamb and chicken on homemade pita. When I woke this morning I thought about what all of my foremothers might think about my unconventional taste, and I wondered what history will write for me in the hearts of my children and my grandchildren. I know it will be a story of love, hopefully one that knew when to let go, one where it did not take death to release a grip of control.

My girl and I sat in the back seat on the way from Charlottesville yesterday and I told her a story about the grandmother I loved most dearly, the one born on the day after her birthday, the one who may have bequeathed her a bit of stubbornness, a bit of delight. She was feeling patient and she listened to the tales of cooking stoves and flat irons. We moved on to summer evenings in Kentucky where we sat around the pool with her grandparents on the last night of our annual visit, the only time everyone finally relaxed. I questioned her about what the world could possibly hold for her and for me as we move swiftly into the future. I hold this precious minute in my hand, examine it, wish for it to last forever, and then it’s gone on the wind like dandelion fluff, to settle and grow in some unexpected place.

My children are restless today, one in Seattle with his wife, the future of our family in her body, one in Fredricksburg with a boy who wants to love her forever, one sleeping still in the basement, but soon to be gone, with only a spider’s silk string to find his way home. How I love them I cannot tell. Made of words alone, there is not a book big enough to hold the emotion. I want to thank them all today for making me a Mom, expanding my horizons, challenging me to do things I never believed possible when I was a child, when I was a Baptist, when my mother was alive.

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Rainy Days

Posted by on May 8, 2008 in Death and renewal, Spirit | 0 comments

This time of year never suits my temperament. I am too skeptical to trust the long soft days, the warm sun, the boring endless beauty of it all. Gerry, my daughter’s British father in law paid me his highest compliment on our children’s wedding day as I stood laughing under the dripping white tent in my backyard, barefooted and ankle deep in water. “You were born to be British,” he exclaimed and gave me a hug. I hugged him back and loved him from that moment on. Yes, I thought, I do pride myself on being a rock during disaster, but sometimes I wish I could relax and enjoy it when everything is going well. I’ve often tried to analyze this character trait; to decide if it’s good or bad. I have determined it makes no difference because it is too deeply ingrained to pry loose.

Even an innate expectation of disaster did not completely prepare any of us for the marriage not working out, but by the time she arrived home, my arm was steady for her to lean on until she found her feet again. She and Nick have managed to salvage a wonderful friendship from the ruins, as close as the one she has with her brothers. They talk on the phone every week and they still share each other’s joys and sorrows. She embraced his family as her own and he did the same with ours. Except for the ocean separating us we would find nothing awkward about including them all in family gatherings along with his girlfriend and her boyfriend. I’m certain his staunchly Catholic family would have more difficulty adjusting to that sort of unconventionality, but all in all, things turned out wonderfully well.

She went to Detroit this weekend, all sunshine and smiles on the outside, looking forward to the electronic music festival. She called me Friday night from somewhere in Ohio with that sound in her voice that sets off mama radar. “Bid is in hospital,” she said, in the British phrasing appropriate for the mother in law she still loves. “Nick’s in Shipley. He just called me. It’s a brain tumor Mom. She can’t speak or move her left side.” My mind flashes back through the relationship I too have shared with this lovely woman, the first time we met in there lovely family home, the bonding we all did together in August of 2005, during what came to be known as “Wedstock”, the bittersweet visit to say goodbye to those family ties a year ago this month. I allow myself only a microsecond of personal grief as I think about the faces of Bid’s children and grandchildren, but most of all, my own girl’s heartache.

“Are you okay,” I ask, knowing she will somehow feel to blame for this. She had a dream on Mother’s Day that Bid died. I know she’s thinking she should have insisted Bid go for testing at that time, perhaps before the tumor spread so far into the speech centers, perhaps when it could have been operable. It’s one of those foolish human things we all do, believing we have some control over a random universe. All weekend I have googled “brain tumor” and followed the threads past the grim prognosis for Ted Kennedy to a few places that give me hope for recovery. The odds depend on location and aggressiveness, neither of which we know at this point.

Tonight a part of my heart is in England in a comfortable modest home in Shipley. The piano in the dining room is silent, the brothers and sisters, the children and grandchildren who have come home from London, Scotland, Italy, and New Zealand sleep fitfully, if at all. It is dark there now, but when the morning sun rises it will fall first on the flowers in the back garden, the ones she tends so lovingly. They will all try to step around the empty place where she should be, but one by one they will trip and fall into it. There will be tears, but there will also be laughter, and hope, because she, the very definition of home for them all, has taught them well. For the few seconds after waking, before remembrance of the reality of the day, Gerry will think of the kettle, the trek to the kitchen and back to the bedroom with tea, the sweet moments together at the break of day, the ritual he has performed every day of their married life. Anguish will come back afresh when he rolls over into the empty space where she should be. I have no bargaining power with God and even if I did, I would have no idea what to ask. I only know life is capricious and even though the rain supposedly falls on the just and the unjust, this particular storm feels personal.

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