An Easter story.

Dear Friends,

It’s Easter morning and I am up early, drinking coffee and contemplating the day ahead of me. At my age, Easter isn’t what it used to be when I dressed my children in pastels and we hunted for eggs and ate chocolate until our tongues turned a creamy shade of brown. I’m a mother who no longer marks her life in the change of the seasons but in the change of family gatherings and rituals. Now that both Kate and Parker have flown the nest, they can’t always make it home for every holiday, major or minor, so I’m recalibrating what it means to celebrate Easter without my chicks ’round the table. Instead of dying eggs or preparing an elaborate family meal, I spent Easter Eve cooking for a new family that moved nearby. They’re vegans and, having transitioned to a vegetarian diet several months ago, I know how difficult it can be for a family on-the-go to find healthy, meatless meal options in our community. Cooking for others is a small act of neighborliness that perked up what has otherwise been a melancholy weekend.

For me, for now, Easter represents the last holiday I spent with my mother before she died. I still miss her so much it sometimes takes my breath away, and this time of year my mind often turns to our last Easter together. In April 2010, Mom was frail and I knew it, but as I contemplated the spring and summer ahead of me, I had no idea she’d succumb to her final illness on Independence Day and die before Labor Day. I remember in vivid detail the meal I prepared (of course I do!) and her utter delight in my menu and my table. She talked about how talented she thought I was and she said my lemon meringue pie was so good it was “outrageous.”

Mom had asked me earlier in that week if I would consider inviting my sister to my Easter meal. Without much consideration, I quickly declined. Mom came to my house anyway — she wanted so badly to spend Easter with Kate and Parker even if I couldn’t find it in my heart to include my sister, P. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I was so thoughtless. It’s a regret I’ll carry with me forever.

The one thing that cheers me from being too plaintive on what is arguably the most optimistic of all holidays is that I recently had lunch with P. I traveled to Oklahoma to celebrate Kate’s birthday last month and, while there, visited my sister. When Momastery published this post that I wrote about my relationship with my sister, a few commenters asked what became of Kate’s planned visit to P’s house. (P cancelled, saying she wasn’t feeling well.) Another asked about the nature of my relationship with P now. (It’s still complicated but improving.)

I had texted P a few days before my trip to ask if she would join Kate and me for lunch. She gladly accepted but then called a few hours before to beg off, saying she felt bad because she didn’t have a birthday gift for Kate and she didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. I encouraged her to come anyway. I told  her Kate didn’t care about gifts and neither of us cared how she looks. For the life of me I can’t now explain why I possessed benevolence on that day and so few others.

P decided to join us and surprised both Kate and me. She looked well, relatively speaking. (I had braced for the worst after hearing her say she looked terrible.) She was upbeat and funny and generous. Often, her conversation can be hard to follow but, on that day, she was mostly cogent. She was kind and I responded in turn. I can only think Mom had something to do with that. And I can only wish Mom had been present, but then in so many ways she was, moving our hearts even if she couldn’t sit at our table.

P gave Kate a small grocery bag filled with trinkets from her home, a sweet if makeshift birthday gift from a woman who has little to share these days. Because we were going to see my father later, she pulled an old photo from her purse to show us. The photo was of my father and me on a hotel patio. I didn’t recognize the occasion but my father later explained we were on a trip to New Orleans, his favorite destination. I also didn’t much recognize the long-haired young girl dressed in purple. Sometimes when I see old photos, or hear my family tell stories about us, it’s as if I am a victim of amnesia and while I can clearly see I’m the girl in the photo, I don’t know her.  So much of my childhood is lost to memory — a result, I think, of trying to forget the people and their addictions that threatened to swallow me.

When I think of the Easter story, though, I can’t help but contemplate the notion of redemption as it’s played out in my life. I can’t help but think of the resilience of families, even as circumstances threaten to shred any semblance of kinship. I think about how fragile the ties are that bind, and yet still bind. I think about two “half” sisters with different fathers whose mother desperately sought to knit them together and who must have died thinking she had failed at the task dearest to her heart. I think about deliverance, not from evil, but from dissolution, from each other and from God, which is surely as injurious to the soul.

I think about P. And me. And our next lunch.

With gratitude {for sisters and second chances},

Joan, who wishes you Easter blessings in abundance

photo

Oh Tannenbaum.

Dear friends,

I bought a Christmas tree on Sunday. For most people this would not be remarkable; for me, however, it represents my first tree purchase in more than a decade.

I’m notoriously cheap when it comes to some things. Food is not one of them. Certain other necessary items such as fashionable clothing and shoes and purses are also not among the things I scrimp on. Nor are Christmas gifts.

But holiday decorations — I’m always looking for 80% off or better. Which explains why I only buy lights and wrapping paper and such on the day after Christmas and why our family used the same faux Christmas tree for as long as everybody can remember.

When we left Oklahoma 18 months ago, our not-so-gently-used Christmas tree had long passed its expiration date so we tossed it rather than pack it. The problem was, once we settled into our new home I couldn’t find a tree I considered suitable for our thoroughly modern home.

Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I was too sentimental to unpack all my careworn ornaments and hang them on a new tree in a place that didn’t yet feel like home. Or, maybe, as I claimed, a traditional tree would look silly in my contemporary living area. Whatever the reason, I decided to make my own “modern” tree. (It was a cinch. Mr. Mom cut a tree branch and I spray painted it, strung a bit of tinsel and lights, and hung a few tree-themed ornaments.)

At the time, I thought it was Charlie-Brown cool and funky, my own little art installation. Holiday visitors to our home said they liked it, but I secretly wondered if they were just being polite.

See what you think:

Anyway, this year I just couldn’t get revved up to create another funky tree. Even though Kate is off to college and there’s no way I could ever talk Parker or Mr. Mom into helping me decorate a traditional tree, I was itching to pull out all my beloved ornaments collected since my childhood and throughout my kids’ school years.

For me, Christmas is about cherished memories and my memories, for better or worse, are inexplicably tied to my ornaments. There’s the ones I made in grade school and gave to my mother. There’s the ones I sold to raise money for my high school cheerleading squad. There’s the ones given to me in college by my sorority sisters. There’s the ones hand-painted and given to me by a family friend. There’s several given to me by coworkers over the years. There’s the ones collected for my children, who were allowed to select their favorite Disney characters and Barbie dolls.  There’s a slew of “Baby’s First Christmas” and 2nd, and 3rd, and so on, for both Kate and Parker. And then there’s the ones Kate and Parker made in grade school out of dough or Popsicle sticks and beads. There’s far too many to fit on a single tree, but that’s part of the fun, rotating the display each year.

So I broke down and bought a new tree. I decided to give it a run in the den, where the furniture and colors are far more traditional and where a tree overloaded with homespun ornaments won’t look so out of place. I think I’ll spend Saturday decorating the new tree and playing Christmas carols and walking down memory lane and probably even getting weepy, but what’s the Christmas season without a few tears, nostalgic or otherwise?

With gratitude {for a lifetime of Christmas memories packed away in tissue paper},

Joan, who invites you to tell me about your Christmas tree and favorite ornaments because she’s convinced she can’t be the only woman who knows and treasures the origin of every single ornament in her stash

Communion.

Dear friends,

As I was falling asleep Friday night, Mr. Mom rubbed my back and asked me what I was thinking about.

“About tomorrow,” I said. “About how excited I am to try my new recipes.”

“That’s funny,” he said, trailing off for a moment “ . . . how happy it makes you to cook.”

“Not really,” I replied. “I’m just like my mom. The funny thing is I never even saw it coming.”

Colleen was a cook by necessity. A mother of four with nary a reliable man in her life, she had plenty of mouths to feed, including her parents, who she took in during their later years, as well as cousins and uncles and neighbors and anybody who needed a place to stay and a home-cooked meal.

When I was very young, she owned a diner named for her only son. Not long before she died, she told me how much she enjoyed her work there. Creating daily specials like chicken and noodles were a particular pleasure she said, even though the hours were long and the work was exhausting for a sole proprietor.

Other than when she made cheesecake and baklava, I never saw her use a recipe. She left behind no cookbooks, no recipe box, no trace of the unadorned but nourishing meals she cooked over the years.

For most of the years I can recall, she cooked in a tiny apartment kitchen – about 8’ X 8’, with every square inch of countertop and wall space filled. I never thought about it at the time, but I suppose her petite domain was efficient, if crowded. She never complained, never longed out loud for something more spacious or better equipped. And plenty a day she cooked for 20 or 30 or more people from that sliver of a kitchen – then carried cardboard box after cardboard box of food to the nearby “community building” for the large gatherings she always seemed to be hosting there.

Nobody left Colleen’s table hungry. If she thought four would be on hand for supper, she’d cook for eight.  You never know when a fellow might want an extra pork chop, she’d say.  And holiday meals – well, those were occasions that demanded extensive menus and days worth of effort. In addition to the cooking, there was always loads of dishes to be washed by hand since she didn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher (electric or otherwise).

Besides, she wasn’t about to trust her “good china” to anyone but her own hands. Her Noritake service for 12 had been shipped all the way from Japan, a gift from her son who visited there while on leave during a tour of duty in Vietnam.  In all the years I saw her cook – and all the special meals I saw her serve on her treasured china – she never chipped or broke a single piece.

I can remember seeing her stand in the kitchen, hands on hips, paused between steps, thinking, as she moved from the stove to the refrigerator and back. Her cooking was instinctive more than trained. But she knew she wasn’t an innovator. She stuck to the meals she knew best – hearty, simple, typically Southern-style dishes that would stick to your ribs and make tasty leftovers. (Fried potato cakes made for breakfast from leftover mashed potatoes were my favorite.)

I can remember seeing her at the table, enjoying the food as much as she enjoyed serving it. She never rushed through meals. She knew they were sacred. She liked to talk – to laugh – at the table. She communed, and perhaps that’s what stuck with me most.

Colleen never once put a bouquet of flowers on the table. There was never room anyway because she typically fed a table full of folks with an array of serving dishes full to the brim — fried potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, meatloaf, biscuits, food she could whip up on a dime.

The linens and flowers and elaborate place settings you see on my table delighted her, even though it wasn’t Colleen’s style. “Your tables are always so pretty,” she’d say every time she came to my house for a meal.

I wish I would have told her that china doesn’t make the table – love does, the joy of cooking does – and I got it all from her.

With gratitude {for love learned at the table},

Joan, who can’t remember a happier Saturday than yesterday

Traces.

Dear friends,

Not long ago I was helping Mr. Mom clean house and, as I dusted the family photos around my desk, I lingered on the tiniest one — a black and white photo not much bigger than a postage stamp in a pink frame.

The young woman in the photo is both achingly familiar and long lost to me. In my mind’s eye, she is who I am. In the mirror, only traces of her remain.

I thought about my mother — about how much I miss her, about how I have stacks of photos of her at about age 5 right up until her death a little more than a year ago. And, yet, when I think of my mother, I instantly visualize her as she looked in her early 40s. The photos I have of her from that era are the ones that most say “Mom” to me.

Perhaps it is because that’s the age she moved us “home.”  I was 10 and my mother was 43 and she moved us from the city in which she had always lived to the place I call my hometown. I lived there until I went away for college; she eventually left, too, a few years later. But the pull of the place was so strong I moved back to my hometown 25 years later — with a husband and two kids and a passel of pets in tow. And, somehow, I think the way my mother looked when she moved us to that town — that town that became my true north — is how my mother will always appear in my memory.

I wonder how my children will think of me when I’m gone. Surely, it won’t be as the young woman in the pink frame that they never knew. The photo was taken in my mid-20s. I was unmarried. Shy, but confident enough to smile at a photographer. Happy, at having just presided over a successful professional conference (thus, the banquet table). Full of hope for my relationship with Mr. Mom and all that I dreamed a future family would bring.

I wonder — will my children think of me as the young mother of toddlers, a brunette usually sporting a pony-tail and who was perpetually harried? Or will they think of the mother of their middle-school years, the thinner red-head who dressed a little more stylishly but was no less harried thanks to graduate school? Or will they think of the mother I am now, the one who uprooted them from the town they loved growing up in as much as I did, but who was in search of a distinctly unharried, integrated life and who insisted they come along for the ride? Or will they remember me as a mother I am yet to become, who neither of us really knows yet but is somewhere to be found within the woman in my mind’s eye?

What will they say is the essence of the mother they remember, the one they loved and hated, clung to and pushed away, idolized and vilified?

Perhaps it is a fool’s chore to ponder these questions, but I can’t help myself. Mothers must pine for immortality because we raise children and look longingly into their eyes for traces of ourselves.  Do we glimpse the best of ourselves or the worst? An amalgam of contradictions as confounding as our own?

Truly, I hope they remember a bit of my mother in me. After all, the woman in my mind’s eye is but a derivation of the mother I remember, the kind I strive to be, one so loved her absence is felt every day despite her frailties and failures, one whose heart spilled over with love for her children and the promise of their children.

One who reached toward every day with the knowledge the day is never enough and yet all there is to be a mother.

With gratitude {for today},

Joan, who knows missing her mother this much is a kind of a gift

Take me back to Tulsa.

Dear friends,

Source: Wikipedia

I’m spending 24 hours in the land of my birth.  (In the words of Leon Russell, I’m in home sweet Oklahoma). I’ve made a whirlwind trip to Tulsa to help a friend celebrate a new job.

I’m making the most of my 24 hours: first I made a stop to see one of my dearest friends. She was the Matron of Honor in my wedding and I wouldn’t think of coming to Tulsa without popping in to see A.  It was a short stop, but we had time for a long hug, a glass of wine, and an hour of conversation.

Then I spent a long dinner with a group of former colleagues celebrating the transition of a member of our group. Ten of us got to together to toast C’s new job (and new pregnancy) and tell our favorite war stories from our memorable years together as a team.

Next, I stayed up late talking to another friend, catching up on all that has happened in J’s universe since I left town.

Saturday morning, I’m having two breakfasts with more friends, one early and one late, then I’m off to lunch with another dear friend that I’ve known since 5th grade.

Are you catching a theme here? It may only be 24 hours, but I’m luxuriating in friendship with women I’ve known forever it seems. It’s a much-needed dose of hearty laughter, warm hugs, and shared memories with a cadre of women who mean the world to me.  I can’t think of a better way to kick off February.

With gratitude {for dear friends who welcomed me home with open arms},

Joan, who, no matter where she lives, will always think the Tulsa skyline is the prettiest

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