This will be my ninth Mother's Day without Mama. We didn't know at the time of my first Mother's Day that it was to be her last. She and my dad came for a visit and took us all out to eat. Mama held Emmeline as much as she could and over that pretty little bonnet-covered head we shared looks of understanding and a new camaraderie. We were no longer just mother and daughter, but for a short time--nine months--our relationship had a new dimension as we were now both mothers.
Mama is memory for me now. Memory of realities, blurred around the edges, softened with time, details fuzzy or sometimes sharp and focused. I cry on Mother's Day, usually the night before, after everyone is asleep and I am alone in the quiet. Just a good cry and then prayer. Thank you, God, for the time I had with her. Thank you for the mother you gave me. Help me to be even half as good as that woman. May my eyes not be puffy in the morning. May the sadness fade in the face of handmade drawings and sweetly-clutched flower weeds throughout the day. May the memories remain and not fade away. Mama, pray for me. Mary, my other mother, pray for me. Amen.
Scenes of Mama pass through my mind during the quiet moments of the day, as they often do throughout the year. Happy memories, sad memories. Heart-warming, treasured, always. Perfect, never.
The silly. Standing in line at a Brookshire's grocery store check-out, exact change in my hand and cans of tuna--six, the limit listed in the sale ad--standing behind Mama as she also purchased six cans of tuna.
The heart-breaking. Grandad's funeral, cruel snow and ice, Mama thrown across my brother's grave, shaking as she wailed, "I lost one baby and now I've lost another." The one and only time I saw her give in to it all. The image that made me a good college kid, not because I was such a great person, but because I would have never willingly added to the weight on her shoulders by causing her trouble.
The first months after Mama's death, with my father, his brain nearly given over to dementia, explaining how hard it would be to replace her because she was always such a good worker. Knowing all along that was the reality of the sentiment regardless of his mental state, but hurting from the actual words being spoken.
The inspiring. The stories she told me about my father's hard childhood, her attempts to explain that perhaps he did all, or the best, he could. The way she had of holding on to the good, letting go of the bad, especially when there was little or nothing to do to change it. I learned from others what she went through as the mother of a severely handicapped child; I rarely heard of the hard times from her and when I did it was always related to her helplessness as she watched Greg suffer. Sure, I heard her share some parenting struggles and receive advice from close friends, but I think burying a child eliminates navel-gazing and brings a keen awareness of that which is worth your occupation of time and of that you should let go. The way she treated everyone well. The neighbor's farm hand living in a shack to whom she always said, "Yes, sir," and eagerly spoke to whenever she saw him across our barbed-wire fence. The woman in a crumbling mobile home, in whose yard we stood for hours visiting, after we stopped to compliment her on her beautiful flower beds. The wealthy businessmen who visited our home after they entered the cattle business, especially the one who pulled up in a Mercedes to spend the night only two weeks after we had moved into our new home. Everyone has value, worth. People deserve a second glance and a second chance. A college degree is no guarantee of intelligence. The heart, not the clothes, make the man. Never forget from where you came. All lessons I learned, not as theory, but as her actual practice.
The initial embarrassment which always turned to pride. Changing clothes in a mall dressing room, while listening to tanned college-age girls joke about their recent sunburns. Thinking, "No, no, surely she won't..." And then she did. Pulled up her sleeve to reveal the semi-circle carved out of her upper arm. Lumpy, white skin, the shocking scar of aggressive treatment of even more aggressive melanoma. Exiting the dressing room to find the girls sitting on either side of Mama, nodding, talking in hushed tones with her. Thanking her and promising her to be more careful. Always, when I was embarrassed by my mother's lack of coolness, I realized that people were attracted to her for her mothering. Who needed another cool person around them? So many people just want a mom.
I admit I place my mother on a high pedestal. But not for perfection. Her position is secure because of her perseverance, her joy, her example in the midst of imperfection. I read the blogs. The wives who are striving to be holy, to be good mothers. Struggling as part of a couple where both husband and wife have the same goals, even if at every given moment they aren't on the same page. Beautiful stories of stressful times where a husband expressed appreciation after realizing he had become lax in such communication. Change resulting from prayer together, even if the answers to prayers were different from those initially desired. It's all beautiful, wonderful, and I have admired so much in those women. So much good, never claiming perfection, but on the road with an equal partner. Equally yoked. So much to which I may aspire. What a legacy their lives and their marriages will be for their children.
But, my mama? Her accomplishment leaves me in awe. She didn't crumble. She didn't become bitter. She had every right to do either. She didn't take me to church, but she taught me that God did exist and told me the stories of my holy grandparents. Her marriage was not the one she envisioned. The one she described as a junior high student in a hand-written essay I found in her cedar chest after her death. The marriage ideal she patterned after her parents and her eldest sister, Nadine, who married Bob, one of two men--other than Jesus--that I think my mother believed could walk on water. Still, she managed to teach me about marriage. An example in spite of the non-example. Amazing.
For people whose memories include looks of love between parents, catching that glimpse of "Ain't she something?" as your father watches your mother, you have been blessed. Husbands who lead the charge in the kitchen on Mother's Day to make mom breakfast in bed. Husbands who plan thoughtful Anniversary celebrations. The memories of fights or hard times diminished by the memories of tenderness and appreciation. I am genuinely happy for you.
In our family imperfection, though, came my mother's response. Self-sacrifice so I wouldn't suffer in as much as she could control. Finding joy in her children, friends, hobbies, surely God in private moments as there is no other explanation. It is a beautiful, real accomplishment to work hand-in-hand in a supportive union to raise children in a home of love and comfort, a place of refuge from the sometimes frightening, sometimes scarring outside world. But to manage all of those accomplishments on your own, in the face of the reality of lost dreams. That's just as much--if not more--being a Mother. No outward signs of self-pity. No transference of what must have been sorrow onto others. Too busy doing to sit and analyze it all. Sometimes, just the best she could do, but often, still the best she could have done. Just real living. Real loving.
And I make an addition to the prayer:
Thank you for the Mother you gave me. For the example she was in the face of all she lost or never had. For the example of how to strive, to continue--in joy and hope--regardless of the circumstances. May she rest in the arms of perfect Love, the heavenly reality of what she sought to show me while she was on earth. Amen.