My mom died last Thursday. When someone important dies, and you have moved a thousand miles away from your family for a little beauty and grace, it’s easy to wonder if you did the right thing after all. My sister and I are estranged, and so that made a sad time a little more complicated. She planned all of the services by herself which is how she wanted it. But I secretly hired a bagpiper and called the minister to tell him the fellow was coming and would play Amazing Grace at the end of the service. That was something I could do from far away and bagpipes always appealed to Mom’s Scotch-Irish roots. We sent enormous flowers and the pastor kindly placed them high and center.
My family and I flew to St. Louis for the Memorial, and I had a few tiny little nervous breakdowns about everything along the way. Thankfully I am one of the luckily marrieds, and my husband had been holding me tight and strong all week. The kids have always brought the best pleasures and this week was no exception as they made me laugh and reminded me to be grateful. And then there were all those calls from aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. They made me feel their warm embrace even at 1000 miles. Course I still got good and sick, and walked around hacking and coughing and carrying messy balled up Kleenex smelling like Vicks which probably made the folks on the plane want to kill me. And I was as nervous as a cat about seeing my sister, wondering what in the world might be coming. But when we got to the service I wasn’t thinking about any of that.
Instead I was remembering how I used to roll out pie dough with my mom when she ran a bakery from our basement. I thought about how she always gave me my own ball of dough to make cinnamon rolls with, and I’d roll it over and over in the shape of our house or a smiley face until it was hard and tough and no good for eating. And then how she always had another ball set aside for the cinnamon rolls, and how I was surprised and glad every single time. I remembered when after my dad died I’d get to go to her monthly club meetings where all the women gave me Lifesavers, pinochle cards, and stuff to play with while they talked about who was marrying who and whether Eva or Naomi would bring the paper decorations for the baby shower. My mom was friends with those ‘Club’ ladies for 66 years. Then I remembered how she took me to the Muny every summer all dressed up when we had good seats. The big fans would blow away some of the words, and Mom would scratch my back during the boring parts. I thought about the time she had me tell Miss Rose, my fifth grade teacher, that she had made a mistake on my report card, and how Miss Rose had cried later that week after reading a letter Mom had sent to her. I learned right then and there to stand up for what was right, and that if I didn’t stand up for myself nobody else would either. I also learned, when Miss Rose read Mom’s secret letter and cried, that my mom had my back. When I saw my cousin Carol I thought about how the fighter in my mom, had called the nuns at the local Catholic hospital and said how it wasn’t right that only the childless Catholic couples in town got to adopt the babies. A bunch of calls to all the OBs in town and a few weeks later my mom delivered my cousin Carol to the doorstep of my Aunt Loraine and Uncle Louie. She brought Philip James, another ‘club baby’, to his parents the same way. I thought about how she dressed me up, and we took pies one summer evening to the black family at the army depot when some ignorant mean people had burned a cross in their yard. And gently I remembered how she always smelled of Pond’s face cream, and loved black licorice.
I came home to big flowery bouquets from friends, and a basket of chocolate and cheese from another. There were lots of cards and letters, and phone messages from friends who wanted to bring us supper when we got home. Surrounded by my family, amid these beautiful nurturing mountains we live beneath, and our friends who are our chosen family in Vermont, I realized that another of her lasting gifts were these friends that she and the club ladies taught me how to make and keep. And as I look at my kids, I know that my mothering, and our deep and close relationships, one way or another… all started with her.
So today, after a week without my Mom, I thought about how she always said that change is good,
and that the seasons really are quite a blessing, unlike places where Christmas blindly comes in summery weather. They give us something to focus on, something to remind us we’re moving forward, not back, and imagine what it would be like if nothing ever changed.
At this moment of profound change I am trying hard to stay thankful and in her honor looking forward to all that comes next…..