In our busy lives we give passing, fleeting and (hopefully) loving thoughts to the woman who wiped our noses, made us kneel to do our prayers, held us close after cleaning up after us when we got sick and warned us of every evil she could think of. She told us the unvarnished truth when we didn’t want to hear it and never stopped insisting that we do the right thing, (whatever that was), no matter what. So in my mind, a 24-hour period dedicated to her contributions, inspiration, influence and even hard-headedness in our lives seems fitting.
As I face my sixth decade, I have begun to not only notice but also feel more and more of my mother’s legacy like a slow-release time capsule within me. From the funny wrinkle (just like Mom’s) that appeared near my right eyebrow to the sound of her voice in my head, Mom is with me more than ever before. Part of that is probably because some of my most recent memories were of her close to the age that I am now.
Mom was a worker bee. Her beehive was our kitchen, where she produced some of the most heavenly aromas known to man with her meticulously prepared meals. No matter how at odds my brothers, father and I were with anything that was happening between us or in our lives, her universal language of food so lovingly prepared forced us to shut up and eat, giving us the kind of communion only dining together can. When dinner ended and dishes began making noise, it was easy (even for me) to leave her there, smiling from the reaction of her well-fed family and happy to hear the day’s rhetoric die down, because she just seemed so content to stay in her little world. In fact hours later, after my father would become enthralled by his TV shows and my brothers and I had finished our homework, she was still there.
I’ve often wondered if this was the life my mother envisioned for herself, or perhaps it was indicative of her having created her own little Stockholm Syndrome scenario, where kidnapped captives begin to actually embrace their surroundings and love their captors, giving up on the idea of escaping. But Mom was one of the few people I had ever met who was content to center her entire life around the needs of her family and her desire to make our lives easier and more meaningful was nearly insatiable. She was, then, where she wanted to be.
“Al?,” my father yells over from the family room. My mother’s name is Alice, and Mom actually loves being called by her name, especially by my father. He knows this, and abbreviates it regularly — just because… “What are you doing in there? For heaven’s sake, it’s nine o’clock! Come in here and watch this with me!”
“Okay. In just a few minutes. I promise,” she responds sweetly. Minutes go by, then another hour. My father’s voice becomes more insistent. “Will you get up here and relax a few minutes? I want you to sit down and watch this program with me!”
“Oh, all right,” she answers. “I’m almost done.” And about fifteen minutes later she appears, taking a place on the sofa and asking what the program is about. Dad gives a brief synopsis and Mom feigns fascination just to appease him. A few commercial breaks later, it becomes obvious that Mom’s head is in that temporary sitting-up-sleep-position – her chin planted firmly on her chest in blissful rest.
“Al? For heaven’s sake, you’re missing this!” Dad wants company and Mom, like the Energizer bunny’s competitor, has run out of steam. Her head jerks up. “Oh no, I heard it,” she’d say.
“Okay, then tell me about the last scene,” he challenges.
“Now that’s not fair,” Mom counters. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Dad just shakes his head. And when the program starts up again, she dozes off once again, this time with the satisfied look of the day’s accomplishments on her little face. He quits trying.
By now it’s bedtime for kids of all ages. My brothers and I make our way into the family room to say good night, something for which Mom is always suddenly attentive.
And as we file back to our bedrooms, I take a peek inside the kitchen. It shines from being polished and organized, the meal’s aromas now mixed with those of Ajax and Palmolive. And there, in the breakfast nook, is a perfectly set table, all ready for the next morning’s breakfast.
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