Patti, Mom and Me
8:25 AM, October 8th, 1964, my mother’s birthday- her 40th, now that I do the math. I’m sitting in Mr. Dortweiler’s English class when I realize, with a shock that produces a bit of a yelp from me, I left for school without saying Happy Birthday to Mom. The yelp, of course, disrupted his lecture on Macbeth, and Mr. D. asked for an explanation. I guess he felt my reason was a good one because he let me go to the office where, after pleading my case, I was allowed use of the phone to call my mother and wish her a happy birthday.
The next clear memory I have of my mother’s birthday was her 60th when we surprised her with a big blowout of a surprise party. My sister came from New York with cannoli’s from Little Italy, shells and filling packaged separately so they wouldn’t be soggy. Cousins and aunts and uncles came from the Bay Area and San Diego and from Arizona, and friends who were there included the woman who introduced my mom and dad, and the couple who hosted Mom and Dad’s wedding at their home in Santa Monica. I lassoed my husband and my kids, and my cousin, and her entire family into a kitchen crew to prepare a feast for 70 that included grilled chicken with slivers of raw garlic and chopped parsley under the skin. Becky, I’m sorry you had to peel all that garlic, I wish we knew the trick of putting a head of garlic inside two inverted bowls and shaking until the skin falls off, but it was really good chicken, worth your day-long effort. Mom was totally surprised, and everyone ate, and drank, and danced, and had the very best time.
Mom’s 60th, my big hair. It was the ’80’s!
But I think the best birthday present I ever gave her was actually on my birthday, probably my 50th or somewhere near that. While on my way home from a birthday lunch I was inspired to stop and pick up a bouquet of flowers to deliver to Mom, a thanks for having given birth to me. It seemed obvious that it was probably more appropriate for my mom to be honored on that day than for me to have all the attention. She was so happy when I walked into the hospital thrift shop where she was volunteering that day, so pleased that all of her friends got to see the flowers, and me, because she always liked showing us off to everyone, even strangers.
Mom died, suddenly, in the middle of my husband’s cancer treatment, and, because I was just a bit overwhelmed, I felt like I never really adequately mourned her loss. It was three months before I actually cried, a crying jag that came on while out for a walk, triggered by Dolly Parton singing “My Coat of Many Colors (that my mama gave to me)” into my earbuds.
But, then, again, I’m guessing there is no way to feel like any amount is enough when its your mom. It’s a void you feel when you need to talk with someone who will understand, when you need comforting, It’s what my son, Zach, needed a few months ago when his daughter fainted, and, after a trip to the emergency room, even though she was seemingly fine, he called, first to inform me, but, he said, also because he just need to hear my voice.
I know we were lucky to have mother with us a long as we did- she was 87 when she died. Most women in her family succumbed to cancer in their 40’s, she was more than twice their age. I also know that certain things will never be quite the same without her, like Christmas without her bourbon balls, like any time that she would try to appear clairvoyant by saying “I had a feeling”, like driving down the street with her reading every sign out loud, like a barbeque with her deviled eggs.
My sister and I were upset with her the last few years because she was always reprimanding Dad, pushing him to move faster, leave the newspaper and “Do Something”. A few weeks before she died she said “Dad has gotten so bad”, and I, consumed with Frank’s withdrawal into chemo brain, didn’t ask what she meant. Now, after four years of caretaking we see how small his world has become: Fox News and jigsaw puzzles are just about all that occupies his mind, 4 course meals can be consumed without a spark of conversation from him, little about the world outside his own being registers interest from him. I regret that I was not able to recognize her need to talk.
There is no way to make up for the slights, some satisfaction to be had from the consideration I showed her, a forever of sadness because she isn’t here.