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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