May 9, 2008

Mother's Day

As Mother's Day approaches, I think more of my own mother and how she left this world far too soon and how much I still need and miss her. She was an amazing woman. The last words she said to me, while clutching my arm from her deathbed were, "I thought I had to go, but I realize now I have to stay." How I wish she would have stayed. I miss her so much.

When I think about my mother, I want everyone to know how wonderful she was. I want you to know that she was kind and generous. I want you to know that she was an incredible mother and wife. She was patient and loving and easily the smartest person I’ve ever known.

I want you to know that she not only was a conspiracy theorist in the way that makes you actually question everything you believe to be true, but that she also had a deep faith in God and throughout her life continued to nurture her spiritual growth.

My mother was wickedly funny and often made me cry I laughed so hard. She gave me a birthday card last year that said I was not only her daughter, I was her friend; I was her fraughter. She said I had her same weird sense of humor and would appreciate it. And I do appreciate it. The fact that my mother liked me as a person carries tremendous weight and significance for me. I am honored that she felt that way about me because I often said that I liked my mom so much, that even if she wasn’t my mother, I’d want to be friends with her.

My mom and I used to ride to school together every day of my high school years. We often talked about playing hooky one day and just driving across the Causeway for the day. She loved to go on meandering road trips around the state. Last year at this time, she drove with me to McComb, MS on a business trip I had to take. We took the long way and stopped to eat every so often. I was just a few months pregnant with Max, so we stopped a lot. On the way home, we ate dinner at a Waffle House. We each had eggs and bacon and split a waffle for desert.

I want you to know that my mother adored all of her grandchildren – Robert, Nicholas, John Paul, Jacob, Maggie, Andrew, Grace, Celeste, Thomas, Mark and Max. She had 11 grandchildren and a few extras, too – Alex, Sophia, Joshie and Isabella meant just as much to her. Unlike some grandmothers who tolerate their off spring, she lived for them. She loved to hold the babies. I am so grateful she was able to hold Max before she died. After he was born, when we were still evacuated in Houston, she would walk using crutches down the hall to our apartment and just sit for as long as she could bear the pain and rock Max back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I want you to know that my mother was a patient and compassionate wife. Marriage is not easy, but Mom made it look that way. She made everything in life look easy because she was so positive. She rarely got angry and when she did, it was usually at her self…or George Bush.

I want you know that my mother believed in UFOs and that she let me sleep in bed with her way too long. I want you to know that she would rub my back before I went to sleep at night. I want you to know that she cared for her mother until the very end. I want you to know that she cared for all of us more than she cared for herself. She always put others before herself.

I want you to know that she instilled in all of her daughters a love of reading. And read, she did. One time, when I was in High School, she broke her foot. Emily and I went to Wagner Library to get her some books. We picked a few newly released mysteries and brought them to the check out desk. All of the librarians asked about Mom and were concerned for her health. They all knew her well. She had a secret life at the library. When we brought them home, she ever so kindly let us know she had already read all of the books we had chosen. We tried a few more times, but it seemed she had read every book on the planet already.

I could go on for hours about my mother and her varied interests and talents. She worked with a group for a long time that reunited adopted kids with their biological parents and vice versa. She wanted my sister Angelle to find her birthmother. She wanted Angelle’s birth mother to know that everything had turned out alright. She wanted her to know she had done the right thing and that Angelle was safe and sound and happy. Her incredible persistence paid off and she did find Angelle’s birthmother.

Soon after Mom learned of her cancer, I went over to visit her one evening while Dad went out with some friends. Mom had been working on finding the biological daughter of a woman in Mississippi. Mom had figured out the daughter’s name using the detective skills she learned from the 1 million mysteries she had read from Wagner library. Once she narrowed down the name, she had me call every one in the phone book. That night, we found the daughter and talked to her. Mom’s voice was too hoarse to talk, so she had me do it and I was honored to do so.

I want to tell you so much, but what I will carry with me always is a specific memory I have of my mother. One summer, Mom and Miss Sue Barker took all 7 kids to Grand Isle. I think I was 7 or 8. If I close my eyes I can hear the waves crashing on the shore and smell the salty humid air. I can see my mother standing in the surf. She is wearing a red, white and blue bathing suit and one of my father’s old dress shirts over it. She has on a white hat and dime store flip flops. All the kids are playing in the surf lathered up in sunscreen. I can still smell the Coppertone and feel the sting of it in my eyes. My mom is catching crabs, one by one off a line she has strung in the surf. In my mind, she was out there for hours occasionally coming in to check on us or mediate a dispute over the proper engineering of sand castles. She caught a huge bucket of crabs and let us play with one or two.

At the end of the day, we all traipsed back to the camp and washed off in the outdoor shower. We were pink from the sun and had that tired feeling from being at the beach all day. Later, after the crabs are boiled, we sat at the table still in our bathing suits, itchy from the nettles. My mom peeled crabs and made little piles of crab meat for the little ones who couldn’t peel crabs themselves. She was so genuinely happy and free that day. I remember her smile, wide and bright while eating crabs, laughing with us and drinking a coke over ice.

After dinner, we all washed off and dropped into bed exhausted from the day. The fans whir and the smell of honeysuckle shampoo and Dove soap filled my senses with comfort and safety.

That is how I will remember my mother always. On that day, in her red, white and blue bathing suit, happy and free and beautiful. And I know that where she is now, she is eating crabs and laughing out loud.

My mother’s favorite poet was Edna St. Vincent Millay and I remember vividly a book of poems she kept by her bed. The poem I remember most is Lament and I would like to read it now.

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

My mother will never be forgotten. Her memory will live in each of us forever. I hope that one day, I will be just half as good as my mother was. She was not just my mother, she was my frame of reference, my spiritual guide, my friend and my role model. I will miss her terribly.