In two days, we fly to Florida and say goodbye to my mom. I’ve known for a long while that there was no getting better for her. In my less selfish moments, I wish for her peace. There’s a little girl inside, though, who’s raging.
Both my parents will have entered life eternal without their full cognitive ability. This makes saying the words harder. I’ve decided to make a list of memories to read to her, because hospice says, though she may be resting in the drugs, she can hear. How many words will this little girl say?
Mom, I remember coloring with you on the swing set. You always outlined your figures in black, which made them look professional to a four-year-old.
You wore a headscarf and tin foil when you laid out in the sun.
You bought me two pairs of Keds every summer; one for dress and one for everyday. There’s a couple of pair in my closet right now.
You made me take dance lessons, because I was tall and you thought I would have bad posture. You were probably right. I walk straight and tall, so thank you.
You planned our vacations with fun and learning. I never plan a trip without a museum visit.
You packed our pop-up camper like a pro. On the trip to Arizona, you used the mattresses as a clothes press for each of us. Brilliant.
You loved teaching. Me, too.
You have an eye for detail. Some would call it “perfectionistic.” Okay, many would. And do. You passed this on to me, for better or worse.
You made the most beautiful presents, when I was little. You said that you and dad would stay up late before Christmas to make the packages wondrous. This lives on every holiday.
You sang all the verses of Amazing Grace. I sat pressed up against you in the pew at church and grimaced at your voice. I also sang every verse to my first colicky baby, as I walked up and down the driveway.
You took care of your mother, after she was an invalid and couldn’t marshal a farm house any longer. You never really talked about it. I believe in acts of service and I don’t believe in talking about them.
You were an amazing seamstress. You made me join 4-H for Home Economics and Sewing. I can sew a straight seam. I rip out my mistakes.
You told me I had a genius IQ. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But I believed you.
You let me read anything I wanted. I read The Exorcist, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Love Story in fifth grade. I asked you what “sonovabitch” was and you told me. You gave me your childhood books, written in the vernacular from the 1930’s: Pollyanna, Heidi, and Girls of Silver Spur Ranch. This may be the greatest gift you gave me.
You were on the Altar Guild. When you are small and next to a shining, wooden communion table draped with starched lace, you are next to God.
You told me anything worth doing is worth doing well. This is your second greatest gift.
You played volleyball like a mad woman. Your pinky is crooked because of this.
You made dad paint the house on Woodlawn in three different color combinations, until you found the right one.
The only “dirty” joke you told made you laugh like a teenager. I was a teenager, at the time, and rolled my eyes. But I remember it: “Have you ever smelled moth balls?” (Yes.) “What did you do? Spread his little legs?”
We drove to Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor to do our most sophisticated shopping. And then we went to the Gandy Dancer, every time. I look at the Gandy Dancer now and think, “Wow. Why didn’t I realize this was so special?” Teenagers are a special brand of clueless.
You went all out on the holidays. We lived modestly, except for Christmas. Christmas was a wonderland. Dave and I have many differing memories of childhood, but we both remember the one with desks, bikes, a toboggan, and every toy we picked out at the Big Toy Box at Sears.
I knew something was wrong by the time I was in high school, but I thought it was fixable by a new location. Our moves to Cleveland and Jackson went okay. So I made you and dad look at different houses, because I thought it would change things. I talked to realtors on the phone. And you let me. It didn’t stop the divorce. You let me deal with it my own way. When the time came, I fought it less. I knew.
Shoe shopping with you was a free-for-all. If you found your size (at that store in Sandusky), you bought them all. I can still see gold brocade slippers on your feet, and four or five 11 AAA shoe boxes stacked up, ready to go home. Ah, shoes.
You made me weed in the garden.
You made sure I had a piano when we moved to Cleveland. It saved me. And again, when I moved to Jackson. I don’t play now, but I imagine it could save me, still.
You were about 35, I think, at the time I remember you visiting with all our elderly neighbors in Norwalk. My next door neighbor, Carol, who is 81, is on her way over this evening.
Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, Nabisco Saltines, and 7-Up: your cure for the common cold.
You went back to school to learn the computer, so that you would qualify for a better job later in life. I am finishing my MA.
You ironed every little thing in your wardrobe when you were getting a divorce. All my cloth napkins are ironed and ready for service, stored in vintage picnic baskets.
In the days when Beaver Cleaver was the norm, you were a pretty damned good cook. I have a vintage cookbook collection of recipes from this time. The dishes I know how to cook from memory are yours (or Bill’s mom’s). I remember you were in a ‘Dinners for Eight’ group in the 1970’s and you made – tres exotique! – pepper steak. There are no words to express caramel bananas, only feels.
You were before your time: you signed us up for a food co-op, so that we could eat cheese without coloring and other “whole foods.” This was somewhere in my high school memories, but the current organic movement has nothing on you.
I can still feel the summer wind on my face as we drove back from Holiday Lakes, sun-burned, ready for a treatment of Sea-Breeze, and happy.
“Bright, and bold, and ten feet tall is how I feel today. A sunflower towers above every flower and brightens the fields as she plays.” Script from a Mother’s Day performance at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Norwalk…around 1968.
Bowling at Cedar Lanes in Sandusky was a guilty pleasure. You and dad bowled. Dave and I ran around with the other kids like banshees. Didn’t you notice? I think every single employee hated our Band of Brothers. We knocked down signs. We shrieked. We terrorized the hotel pool. And afterwards, we had Tin Roof Sundaes. Bliss.
You made us take swimming lessons at the city pool. Was this for self-preservation? Or your sanity? At any rate, I ended up getting my Red Cross Life Guard certificate.
You also signed me up for tennis lessons in Cleveland through the National Junior Tennis League. Another life saver. Keep your racket back and swing level.
At an Easter Egg Hunt at the Norwalk Reservoir, in one moment I had the most eggs in my basket then, after a trip, I had the least. Eggs spilled all over the grass, competitors swooped in and got them, and I was left with nothing. This was the last group egg hunt I recall. Thanks.
You helped my Girl Scout troop go to Washington DC, when I was just out of elementary school. What were you thinking? Today, the security arrangements would fell a horse. I recently saw the article I wrote for the Norwalk Reflector and smiled.
Perms. Oh, my god, mom. My straight hair has always been the bane of my existence. To this day, I have no idea what to do with it. But I am not getting a Toni.
If Dad was the “party” in my childhood, you were the rock. I can honestly say, I seem to have decided to be the rock, in honor of you. It’s fun to be around the party crowd, but at the end of the day…at the end of a life…the rock is where it’s at. “All men are like grass. And all their glory, like the flowers of the field, withers. And the flowers fall.” (I Peter 1:24)
My inner child knows this…