Posted on May 14, 2006
There are flowers, and around the flowers are several sundry cards, and the lady sleeps. Which may not, by itself, guarantee me “da man” status, but certainly gives me the inside track. Combined with brunch reservations, and maybe the facilitation of a solo shopping trip, gift card included so never you fret.
My own dear ma, God rest her soul, has been gone to her reward going on 24 years, although it seems nearly impossible to think so. Red-headed Irish she was, with laughing green eyes like the surf breaking on Bantry Bay, but just as quick as a lark to fly off the handle when things went amiss. Loving too, in a no nonsense, do your homework and this mess isn’t going to clean itself up, is it? kind of way. Learned her guilt lessons well at the knees of the sisters at St. Mary’s School for Girls. Brooked no sass, which was a shame on the face of it, because I was born – and I know this will come as a shock to regular readers of this space – with sass enough to spare, and was fair bubbling over with it by the time I was an adolescent. If you were going to be quick with your mouth in my house growing up, you had better learn to also be quick on your feet.
A complex woman, who’d come up proud-hard in Pennsylvania coal country, her sainted father killed in a train robbery when she was only nine years old. Married a young boy from the local church when she was 18, which was what you were supposed to do. Left him at 24 as a drunken lout and gambler, which was not. Took the girls down to Washington, DC, to get away from the opprobrium of small town disapproval and to start a new life, which was a hard thing for a young woman of any age to do, but harder still in the 1940’s, maybe. Met my father a few years on, and the rest, as they say, is history.
She had this strange little lullabye she’d sometimes sing:
“Me little, me boy is no good,
I’ll chop him into firewood,
I’ll put him in a butter churn,
and there I’ll churn him very well.”
This served to pique my curiosity on the topic of butter churns, their shapes and dimensions, even if it didn’t teach me much about meter and rhyme. And was only marginally better, if at all, than her standard imprecation if she saw one of her brood about to cross a no-go line: “I’m going rip your arm out of the socket and hit you over the head with the bloody stump!”
The visuals were enough to give us pause, back in the day, which was I suppose the intention, because in the event, we all grew up with the same number of appendages we’d been issued at birth. Moms don’t much talk to their kids that way these days, I suspect – the good ones wouldn’t think of it, and the bad ones wouldn’t bother with it.
It wasn’t until after she’d passed, my father having predeceased her by some several months, and we all were chatting about how we’d ever make do in the world without either of them that we came to realize the fundamental facts of her meaning to our lives. She’d raised us all right: Full of faith and love and laughter, mindful of justice, eager to hope, strong to learn.
She also managed our transitions to adulthood about as well as I’ve ever seen it done. I wish I’d gotten a bit more practice at that than I did in the event. Even after nearly a quarter century, I still miss her.
So if your mother is still with us, thank her for all she’s done, and be thankful that you’ve still the opportunity to do so. Send the card, make the phonecall.
It’s Mother’s Day.