Well, it's Mother's Day, and this morning I read a little piece that Caitlin Shetterly wrote about her mother for Oprah's magazine. (I didn't know Cait was now writing for Oprah, since I don't read O, but that's great for Cait!)
It got me thinking about things my mother always says, and it makes for a strange list, very much impacted by her diminishing memory. Our phone conversations (I call several times a week) are rather formulaic and predictable, unless I have some piece of unusual news to share that catches her interest for a few minutes.
A list of things my mother always or at least often says would include:
"The trees have gotten so big." (even if she has only been looking at these particular trees since January)
"Thank heavens for my word books!" (I agree--they give her something to do and keep her mind engaged; though the way she bends over them to see better doesn't help her over-all physical comfort.)
"I'm kinda tired." (which at age 92 is understandable)
"Well, you're nice to call." (This is one of her ways of saying good-bye on the phone. Or it's at least a prelude to the end of the call, which, with my mother, does not always involve the word "Bye." Sometimes she just hangs up when, I suppose, she feels finished and believes she has expressed some sense of closure. David has remarked for many years that he can tell it's my mother I've been talking to when the phone conversation seems to end rather abruptly.)
"Onward and upward." (This is another signal that she's ready to end the conversation. For me it carries a sense of the stoic perseverance that has kept my mother going. I'm not always sure that she wants to be alive or is enjoying her life, but she most certainly knows how to carry on and keep going.)
So that's five things she always says. Now how about five random things about her?
She likes Andre Rieu. (Sorry, I don't know how to put the accent on the "e" in Andre, but I know it belongs there.) This is something I only learned about my mother yesterday.
When I called my mother last night, she had been watching Andre Rieu on public TV and seemed nearly ecstatic about that! David and I often remark on the phenomenon of Andre's appeal to elders--we just don't get it. But I was glad yesterday that my mother had been enjoying watching and listening to him make music and engage with an audience. She sounded more animated than in most of my near-daily calls. (So, three cheers for Andre Rieu and what wikipedia calls his "melodramatic stage performances and rockstar demeanor!" He gives my mother enjoyable entertainment.)
She still makes her bed every day. Even if some days it is nearly noon by the time her bed is made, it is a foundation of her day.
She taught me how to bake bread--every year at Christmas-time she and my sister and I made yeast bread using a recipe from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. (The Joy of Cooking was our cooking bible; Julia Child came along later.) I still make the same bread every year before Christmas--sometimes with my daughters, but more often alone. It's called "Cinnamon Swirl Loaf" and is a basic hearty white bread with butter and eggs in it, and that wonderful swirl of cinnamon sugar.
She loved to garden and would still if she were more physically able and less sore and stiff. I often say (to myself) that by osmosis my mother taught me "the pursuit of beauty." So I suppose that even though she didn't paint or draw and didn't especially encourage me to do either of those (at least not that I remember), her aesthetic sense so present in her gardening lies somewhere behind my painting.
She knows how to persevere, how to keep going, in a mostly positive frame of mind, even if that frame of mind seems largely won by way of repressing rather than processing painful events and emotions. I imagine her many griefs and sorrows, as well as guilt, shame, and anger, largely lie buried in her bones and joints. As much as my sister and I have at times thought that a compassionate, attentive counselor or therapist would be just the thing, she has never seen the point. That, too, is part of who she is.
Oh, I just thought of something she often says: "At least I still have my sense of humor." Which she does, even if I don't always appreciate her sense of humor as much as others seem to. Still, I'm glad she has it.
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