Every year when Mother’s Day cards show up in the stores, I remember the woman who brought me into this world and often threatened to take me out.
I remember her on other days, too, but especially at Mother’s Day. She never cared much for gifts. I could just send a card and give her a call and she’d be happy as a mother clam.
She died nearly 20 years ago of lung cancer after smoking for most of her 70 years. A few months later, I was in a grocery store picking out a Mother’s Day card when suddenly I realized I had no one to send it to.
I could send cards to several women who’d been like mothers to me. I loved them dearly. But there was only woman I called “Mama.” And she was gone.
It’s embarrassing to admit to having a major meltdown over a shelf of Hallmark cards in Safeway. But that is what I did.
I drove home, leaving a cart of groceries in the aisle, ordered a pizza for dinner and started a new Mother’s Day tradition: Remembering my mother.
It’s not as easy. I’d rather mail a card or make a phone call.
Not that my mother isn’t memorable. She blazed through life, sparking memories like a firecracker in a campfire. But her memories, much like some I’ll leave behind, are not all happy. It’s hard to live 70 years without a few regrets. My mother may have had more than a few. But she did the best she could. I try to remember that.
Each Mother’s Day, I pick a different theme, a different part of who she was that I want to recall. This time it’s some of the things she said. For example:
“You will have children one day and you will know how I feel.” It was a threat more than a promise. She was right. I did.
“You’ve got to learn to see danger.” I did that the minute I gave birth to my first child.
“Pretty is as pretty does.” I’m still working on that one.
“Try to use what little sense the good Lord gave you.” I try.
When I begged her not to send my brother, who was 7 years old and blind, to board at the state school, she said, “They’ll teach him to read Braille. If he’s ever going to have a life, he’s got to learn to read.” I didn’t know at the time those were some of the truest words I’d ever hear.
When I was a teenager and dared to suggest that she ought to get a life, she replied, “I work five days a week, clean my house on Saturday, go to church and visit my mama every Sunday. I don’t need a life. I need help.”
One Christmas, when we fell on hard times (so hard Santa couldn’t make it to our house and folks from church gave us a basket with a ham) she said: “Life is a bank. Sometimes you give, other times you take. Either way, it’s all the same bank. But try to remember how hard it is to take, because one day, you will do the giving.”
My mother was a very smart woman. I spent the first 40 years of my life thinking how different we were, she and I. Lately, I find myself thinking just how much we’re alike.
Her favorite question was “When are you coming home?”
My standard reply was, “As soon as I can.” It meant not soon and never often enough.
The last thing she said that I can’t forget: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Mothers come in all varieties. Some never give birth but spend their lives caring for children who need them.
We all have different styles, different philosophies, different definitions of what it means to be a mother. But one thing most of us can agree on is we’d like to be remembered by our children.
This year I will remember my mother. And someday, when I’m gone, I hope my children will remember me. But in the meantime, I’ll gladly take a card or a phone call.