Her Lifetime of Giving, Enduring, and Loving
Married at 20.
grew up in the country, during World War II, before the Civil Rights movement.
fell in love with a boy from Mexico, against all the cultural norms and standards of her time.
had a huge family, and raised each of her children throughout the adventures of traveling from rural towns to big cities. She cared for her children regardless of whether or not she was living in a one bedroom shanty, or a 1950's Americana Madmen-Perfect styled home.
Buried beneath the closets of her class and style and appearance, she saw the world through very different eyes than for which she was ever given credit. Too young to know the troubles of the world, or the pain a person can go through trying to live day to day, and especially too young to empathize with the fear of "is what I'm doing the right thing?," I simply got to enjoy the warmth and infinite safety that she was. I'm incredibly lucky to have been born to her, something which I didn't realize until after she died. I was so blind to my fortune that I get to recall precious gems from my childhood where I criticized her faith, her choice in books, her advice, her rules, her friends - She let me say anything I wanted, and never called me a bad person for it.
It was like she let me be her painting, and just let the mess of me run beyond the borders of conventionality and maybe even common sense at times, because ultimately, she loved me like she did all her children, with that incomprehensible maddening acceptance and strength no man may ever be capable of understanding, which is seen so clearly yet almost invisibly, in the strength of a woman.
When I was little, my mom was the strongest, bravest, most intelligent person I knew.
When one of my beloved sisters was taking her prized 1977 Mustang out for a drive shortly after getting her first drivers license, with me along for the ride, we almost got killed falling into a river. My sister had parked along the lot that overlooked the river canal, and when we finished our errand inside the Day Old Bread Store, she had intended to reverse the car, but instead had it accidentally in first gear, which sent her beautiful rusty red mustang's front two wheels off the edge of the embankment, in one instantaneous lurch. All thoughts of imminent horrible death aside, from dropping twenty feet into the river and waking from unconsciousness upside down and under water, my sister and I slowly crept out of the dangling car to the safety of dry land.
Within 20 minutes, my mom showed up with her toolkit of station wagon and what seemed to be hundreds of pairs of old pantyhose. "What good are pantyhose lady?" several men at the shop were now onlooking the near trajedy and this seemingly crazy woman's tact, got the spookily technological forecast from my mom.
"Well if you're not familiar with pantyhose mister you'd know that they're stronger than steel if you wrap them up together." It would take me 20 more years to see the advent of microfibers and carbon nanostring technology hit the internet and facebook and reflect back, so many moons later, my mom's strange, cosmic, alchemical wisdom she cultivated all her life. Especially while she deftly wove, hooked up, then pulled my sister's rusty red Mustang up from the embankment, with just herself, her wits, her station wagon, and a cabling system that was stronger, lighter, and more flexible than steel, just made of pantyhose.
I wouldn’t really care while growing up, to keep track of all the ways my mom was crazy smart and eerily philosophical. There were little things like her saying at the kitchen sink when I was sketching on a desk nearby, “You know, all ideas are are energy that’s bouncing around in the atmosphere, and they’re everywhere, just waiting for us to catch them.” She took me fishing near the Great Lakes when I was little, and on a farm along the way where we stopped to take in the view, she knelt down and picked a flower, handing it to me. “If you ever get nervous, tense, or have a stomach ache, you can just eat this or turn it into tea.” It was a tiny little chamomile flower she had picked, and not a stressful moment nor a beautiful day amidst flowers and wonderful wild herbs goes by, without recalling that day.
I wasn’t there for her though, when she was dying. In her last years, I was living states away and treated our relationship like it would last forever. It wouldn’t last forever, because one day she laid without her children around, with only kind nurses and a few friends, in a small hospital in a small town, and lost her battle with Leukemia. I had become so busy trying to impress her with my struggles to make art, believing that some sort of materialistic accomplishment or talent would fill the space between us, that I completely missed the opportunity to be close to her. I felt a loss more deeply than anything imaginable, because my own shortsightedness had won.
Mom, I can’t tell you how ashamed I felt that I wasn’t there for you the day I got the text that you died. In the years since I have only grown to appreciate you more and more every day. All the ways that I couldn’t understand you, now slowly become ways of seeing the world with more and more gratitude for all the gifts of life I’ve been given, things that as a child I thought were just luxuries. But the food you put on the table is so much more than a cliche’, it’s thousands of days a woman spent struggling to stay sane in a world that offers little sanity if any at all.
Wondering what your struggles were like marrying at 20 years old. Wondering what you felt like as a little girl living in a small town, then crashing down and into a new life of a big city and children, far away from your home town. Living through the Forties and Fifties and Sixties and, dare I say it? The seventies! The Eighties? Seeing the rainbow of modern times come in from a bleak and grey firmament of switchboard phones all the way to the internet and social evolution. What was that like? All while raising a family and encouraging each of them to live their life to its fullest? It’s these parts of unanswered questions Mom, that show me now how Mothers everywhere reflect you, caring for their babies, girls out of high school, women going to college raising their children, and even sisters who are caring for their young brothers and sisters - Motherhood and all its mystery and memories, is as close as letting the light of thankfulness in through the cracks of missing you.
Your life and all the parts of it I never asked about, all claw at me like foster animals wanting my attention. And when I attend to this longing, I see you in all my friends who have children, who have mothers and fathers, who have husbands, who struggle silently to show love to those who are precious to them. The light from your life bathes moments in my waking life now like subtle shadings of pastel against a larger illustration of my own experience, heightening and deepening moments I didn’t notice someone who’s needing a friend, or care for someone’s dog who’s just had puppies for the first time.
I wish you could have been there then, to see my bewilderment and confusion learning to care for tiny helpless fragile creatures, you would have laughed and taught me something about warming milk just to it’s just right, I’m sure. But it’s here, in your absence, that I taste the tart, sweet, rich flavor of gratitude for you. These moments that I feel how messy raw and real Love is. It’s these times now when you are teaching me, and ever more present in my life than I could have possibly imagined.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I’m so happy that I got this moment to tell you that I love you, and I know that you’re there, catching these words of Love Gratitude Light and Laughter, as they bounce throughout the atmosphere to you.