I first met my mother when she was around 30. It was during a February blizzard in the Pennsylvania dirt-road countryside. Due to our country doctor’s miscalculation, I arrived six weeks late. And I’ve been making up that for lost time ever since.
I didn’t need to wait for my hazel eyes to open to recognize my buxom, leggy mother was truly beautiful. I knew what Dad must have seen in her to ignite those dopamine’s and pheromones when he first spotted her behind the counter of her family store.
She could belt the blues at dusk and laugh to greet the sunrise. And if my brother and I slept beyond 5 A.M. she would bark up to our attic room that we were sleeping our lives away.
Her smile could raise your spirits, and her face, without it, was barren sorrow.
She wrapped her black hair in a bun, and donned big hats and pastel dresses even if they weren’t sometimes new nor in the fashion. She didn’t intend to make a statement. Nevertheless, she was an exclamation point.
I don’t mean to be talking about the first and only woman I ever called ‘dear’ for years as if she has gone up yonder.
Because now she has just turned 91.
It seems that when she went to register for Social Security a few years back they told her she wasn’t actually born on July 31st. And I got to thinking that once you got lost in the bureaucratic nether world it could turn out that you were never born at all — except in the eyes of the IRS.
Turns out that just like our country doctor and me, there was some miscalculations. You know how it is: All that paperwork between the hospital where she was born, the government clerk that registered her on the wrong line, and my very young mother informing my grandmother that she preferred her birthday be on the last day of the month because: “I can remember that.”
Yes, sir, that’s my baby. Like so much of the refined differences between sexes, women like to simplify by complicating. And my mother was hardly any different.
The older I get, the better I understand what drove my dear ol’ pappy truly crazy. And I do mean crazy. Whatever, my mother did, she surely done did it well.
She is not an insidious person by any means. She is all hearts and flowers. But I do sometimes forget that she is truly a woman, not just my mother.
And she and my father were a walking testament how love is often like a fire in the home hearth. But whether it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house you can never tell. Like dogs and cats they could sleep in the same big ol’ farm house, as long as the guns and knives were kept under lock and key.
All these years later, mother is not much different. And I am ecstatic. I don’t mind that she always gets in the last word. In fact, I am delighted when she gets to it – finally.
Oh, she is a tad shorter and a little more bent than her square shoulders and proud straight-back days. And her hair has been driven pewter like an inclement sky.
But she is the same bawdy belle that has been clanging in my ears from the time she once told me she wished I had been her illegitimate child. Given her a more interesting past.
Hmmm…. Or maybe I just mistook that for one of the times when she considered me a no good bastard.
My mother’s name is Betty. And she always told me two, three, four or more things I can’t help but remember. And if I ever see my own children again I’ll share it with them. I talk with her three times a week. And she always ends our conversations with something she says as if she has never said it before:
“Always remember: If you have your health you have everything.”
Well, my brother got my father’s brains and my mother’s great health. I got all the maladies and the shortcomings. No, I mean it. I am the shortest twig in the entire family tree.
My mother’s secret to her long, healthy life – besides knowing that age only matters if you are wine or cheese or past the expiration date in the refrigerator — seems to be the inability of life and its daily surprises to bury her spirit. Most things have merely been a bunch of funny and curious ups and downs on her ride in the hay truck along the highway of mortality.
“There is nothing you can do about the weather,” she has said a thousand times. “There’s nothing much you can do about life. That’s the way it is.”
But mostly, she is one of those laws of physics: a body in motion general remains in motion.
Always early to bed, early to rise. There was her family store to open early and close late. Then our family farm and later our chain-saw factory. She still exercises every day. Still drives, but not at night. Still volunteers at the seeing-eye dog clinic. Still reads newspapers. Still laughs in wry disbelief at the TV news idiots. Like when she saw folks lined up for miles to buy one of the Apple IPads.
“During the Great Depression,” she guffaws, “we lined up for an apple.”
Slim by no means, but my mother has spent her life, nonetheless, keeping the rust off. This has also been aided and abetted by a slow westerly move.
After having relocated with my father to the farm less than 20 miles west of where she was raised, she spent her first 68 years in the same county, before moving to Arizona, 1500 miles or so further on. Then after she lost Dad, her dancing partner, she eventually moved on to my brother’s realm in San Francisco.
She still barks at my brother-the-doctor and me, as if it’s an entitlement. And it is.
She is always my mudder. And as she always reminds us: “I’m the best mother you’ll ever have.”
Indeed she is.
And now she’s 91. So how much longer do I have, to tell her I love her. And to thank her for enabling me to have some dignity in my life. And for the way she always believed in her sons.
So I call her three times a week. And she upbraids me for my wise-acre humor. My mother once loved to laugh. Her sense of amusement may not have been quite cosmopolitan, but it was always genuine.
However I think, like most aging monarchs, she lost the desire to laugh at all the redundant stupid fools mismanaging the kingdom of her country where her father and mother immigrated, studied English and were proud to love their new world.
She was born at the outset of the Roaring Twenties, aged too quickly in the Depression. Watched her father lose the store and eventually regain it. Then fell in love with a man in a uniform and started life all over again.
She reads romance novels and endowed me with the basic tenet that life is an ongoing love story. And she is right, for there is no action without desire, and desire is love.
But, as with most relationships, the love between my father and she grew a far distance from the day my father quixotically penned her a letter that simply said: “Let’s consider ourselves engaged…”
Except for dancing together in the latter years, they had become very disengaged in separate rooms. And that just happens to be a part of most of our lives that we never anticipate – that is, expecting the unexpected.
What I also never anticipated was that a few years back my mother, in a sort of living will, donated her eventual cadaver to one of the local med schools around San Francisco.
Now I know…I know…her intentions are noble. But for some reason the disturbing mental drama of one of the future-medical-geeks of America slicing and dicing her, carving her up like a Thanksgiving turkey, truly harasses me.
You’d figure I’ve had enough of my mother, by now.
But I am still making up for those first six weeks I lost. And the times I spent overseas away and around the country working. If you can’t spend the time with the ones you love, perhaps we all ought to check on how we have been squandering our precious moment here — a moment that at 91 can seem to have gone by like a summer breeze.
Happy 91st birthday, Mother, no matter what day it really is. Just remember, birthdays are good for you — the more you have, the longer you live.
And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony.