My husband came in from work last night and said, “Why don’t you write your blog next week on appreciating family?” I was stunned because about an hour earlier I had the thought that perhaps this week I should write about my mother, who is almost 90, and who has been having some health issues. I love and appreciate my mother and lately I’ve been thinking of the many memories I have of my life with her.
I spent many of my earlier years angry with my mother because of some of the things she did or did not do while raising me. I was pissed because I thought she deprived me of a father and because I believed she didn’t love me enough. As I’ve gotten older and spent time healing many of my childhood issues, I’ve come to realize that though my mother didn’t give me what I thought I needed, she did love me and she gave me her best. No matter my judgment on what she did or didn’t do right, she always gave me everything she had. What more could she give?
As my vision of my mother changed, I came to see clearly that she was in the same position as any single woman struggling to raise children on her own. Her resources, both internal and external, were limited and I’ve no doubt today that she had to make many hard choices to keep our family (me, her, and my brother) intact. Had she not had two children to raise on her own, she probably would have made many different life choices for herself. But, because she was a devoted mother her choices all included me and my brother.
My mother was, and still is, a woman of many talents. She has a beautiful singing voice and is a very good artist. Back in the late forties, for two years in a row, my mother brought the minstrels to our small southeast Louisiana town. She directed, choreographed, and played the lead role, Mr. Interlocutor. She loved singing Jolson and I will always have fond memories of seeing my mother down on one knee, dressed in her black tuxedo with her arms outstretched, her face painted black, belting out “Mammy”. Her passion for life and good music came through in her melodious, and lyrical singing voice. Even today, when I visit my mother we’ll put “The Al Jolson Story” DVD on and she will sing along with Larry Parks through the entire movie. I will sit in the chair next to her and watch her emote and belt out those songs and I’m always moved to tears. When my mother hears the music of today she usually says the same thing, “These people certainly don’t know how to sing. They can’t hold a candle to Al Jolson or Dean Martin.” And because I know the kind of music she loves, I have to agree with her.
When my mother was younger she took a correspondence course in Learning How to Draw and because of her natural artistic ability she became a good painter. During her forties, when she remarried and became busy with a husband, friends, and a new life, she put away her artists’ palette and easel and took up other hobbies like golfing and bridge. About thirty years ago, my mother and step-dad sold their home, said good-bye to their Niagara Falls, NY friends, and moved back to Louisiana so my grandfather would not have to be alone after my grandmother died. Her life changed drastically and my brother and I realized that she had a lot more time on her hands. We decided she might be ready to pick up her paint brush again so we surprised her and bought her a new easel, palette, brushes, canvasses, and oil paint. She was delighted with our gift and immediately got back into her hobby. Before we knew it she was turning out oil paintings of street scenes of New Orleans, personal portraits drawn from photographs, and a few still life paintings. Most of our family have a wall of fame that is filled with my mother’s art work.
It’s interesting how emotional and psychological maturity can help to push back the cobwebs and empower us to see others more clearly. As I’ve grown and matured my mother and I have become good friends, playmates, and confidants. It’s hard for me to watch her age and see the zip and the vim and vigor of her life begin to wane. She still loves to laugh, can play poker for hours, plays bridge twice a week, and is always up for a good joke and a gusty belly laugh. When she, and my brother and I and our spouses get together, we play cards, drink martinis, and chew the fat every night. I can’t imagine that part of my mother’s life ever changing. But I cannot hide myself from the physical changes that are happening. Her steps are more shuffled, her vision is growing dim, her hearing is going, she is forgetful and she sometimes gets confused. However, even as old age creeps into her life, she still has the same love for laughter, good food, family, and playing cards.
Without consciously choosing to do so, my mother has created a myriad of memories for me that I’ll carry for as long as I live. I share with you now a few of my favorite memories:
- I’d stand next to my mother while she whipped up a pot of the best homemade peanut butter fudge you’d ever want to taste. I’d anxiously wait for her to pour the fudge onto a platter, knowing she was going to leave enough in the pot so I could “clean” it. I’d sit with a spoon and scrape the pot till it was devoid of any signs of fudge, happily enjoying that warm, smooth concoction.
- My mother would get up every night when she’d hear me cry, “Mommee, I’m wet,” sleepily drag herself into my bedroom, clean me up and change my nightgown, then put dry, clean sheets on my bed. Drifting off to sleep, I’d hear her feet shuffling across the floor as she went back to her bed. I don’t remember my mother ever fussing at me or being angry because her sleep was disturbed every night.
- The seamstress in town making my beautiful pastel dotted swiss organdy dresses with matching hats; all commissioned by my mother just for me.
- My mother taking me and my girlfriends to the Shrine Auditorium in New Orleans to see Elvis in concert. We were thrilled and she was frustrated because she couldn’t hear Elvis sing , due to the ear-splitting screams of the teenage girls in the audience, including me and my friends.
One of my favorite memories, and for some reason one that has fastened itself to my heart and my brain:
My mother came to visit me when I lived in Richmond, Va. Driving home after a fun-filled day in Williamsburg, Va., I put on an Al Jolson CD and turned up the volume. Of course my mother started singing and I decided to join in. I am truly a Johnny one note, I seem to be tone-deaf, and I cannot carry a tune. That didn’t bother my mother though, she just kept on belting out those songs while I tried to match her. All of a sudden, the magnitude of how special that moment was hit me and I started bawling. We were on a busy interstate so I carefully pulled over to the side of the road and cried. I remember the look of concern on my mother’s face as she said, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” All I could do was shake my head up and down and keep crying. Finally I got control of myself, leaned over, took her hand and said, “Oh mother. When we were singing I suddenly realized we were making another special memory, and I’m overwhelmed with the thought of how many memories we’ve made together.”
I’m grateful that I finally grew up enough to be able to move past the needy and angry child state, and gain an understanding and appreciation for who my mother is, rather than who I thought she should have been. I trust that my mother will be around for a long time and that she and I will continue to make memories together.