Lullaby.

Dear friends,

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I’ve been quiet for some time now, leaving this space empty of my reflections even as I’ve missed the solitude offered by writing and the friendships nurtured in this forum.

I had surgery two days before Christmas. It was nothing very serious, an ailment common to women my age, but it sucked the wind out of my sails in a surprisingly fierce way and I’m only now beginning to lengthen my stride.

While recovering at home for two and a half weeks, I did little more than sleep, watch television and read. Mr. Mom kindly fussed over me and many friends sent greetings (and flowers and chocolates!), but I’m exiting the experience with a new appreciation for the fortitude required of aging. No wonder, I thought to myself many times, that old folks fail after surgery. The isolation is real and discouragement easily sets in when both mobility and workaday distractions are in short supply. To be honest, I had a bit of a frightening glimpse of my future. (And while it may be, God willing, two decades my future, it’s still sobering to have tasted the bitter pill of senescence.)

Once my doc gave me the thumbs up, I rushed back into the world at something very close to full speed. I’m running again, a lick faster than I was before surgery just because I’m determined to beat back the crone that seeks to claim me. I’m traveling quite a bit for my job (three weeks in a row this month). I’m filling my weekends with quilting and classes and dinner parties and decorating projects, all in an effort, I think, to deny my age.

But I’ve also sat in the stillness quite a bit, too. And the most surprising revelation of my quietude is that my parents weren’t crazy after all. I think of my mother in the last 10 years of her life and, for the first time, I understand her.

I understand her heightened indecision and her anxieties and her sudden tears and her longing for more time with loved ones. I understand her careful step and her anxious questions and sleepless nights and seemingly endless need for reassurance. I understand the lines of her face, pulled downward by gravity but also by apprehension as the uncertainty of her adult children’s futures weighed heavily on her. I understand her heart, so eager, so full, so ready to give its all even as her energy lapsed.

And I wonder what it would have been like to have had this understanding in her presence? To have held her hand as one who knows, rather than as one whose love is strong but whose discernment is impaired by the ego and impatience of middle age?

I don’t dare ask why because that is a fool’s errand, but I do wonder, and then hope my ponderings lead to at least a snippet of hard-earned wisdom I might share.

In the mean time, I sit with her. In my meditations. In my dreams. In the quiet of my mind. I hold her hand. I tell her I love her and miss her. I tell her how wise she was. I marvel at her courage and generosity. I ask her about my children in the hope she’ll reassure me as she did when they were babies and I was the most tentative of mothers.

I write her name, Colleen, in every corner of my heart and sing the song of her devotion as my lullaby, trusting her love to lull me through this night.

With gratitude {for understanding that is better late than never},

Joan, who’s looking forward to Spring and every form of rebirth that goes with it

 

 

 

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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

An unexpected Easter blessing.

Dear friends,

So many of you reached out to me yesterday, both on this blog and my Facebook page, with kind words and expressions of sympathy for our family’s loss. I can’t thank you enough. Your loving messages buoyed me so much, especially those of you who knew and remembered Frito and shared your memories with me. I deeply appreciate  your support.

Many of our neighbors are as shocked as saddened as we are. The beautiful plant is from a young family a few doors down. I adore gerber daisies and pink is my favorite color, so I am cheered by this very thoughtful gesture. The warm embrace from those near us and from all of you has been an unexpected Easter blessing for which I am most grateful.

Easter is a tough holiday for me in the best of times because it is the last holiday I spent with my mother. So even before Frito passed, I was feeling more than a little melancholy. Our last Easter together was in 2010. Mom was frail, but happy as could be to share the day with us.

I’ll never forget the incredible meal I made — salmon en croute with lemon cream sauce, steamed asparagus, and lemon meringue pie. Mom always thought I was a good cook (that’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black, but in a good way), but on what ended up being our last Easter together, she was  absolutely wowed. I had made the pie — her favorite — just for her and she called it “outrageous,” as in outrageously good. I thought I had let the meringue get a little too brown, but Mom thought it was perfect.

I am reminded of something my friend Deb said in a comment on this post a few days ago. She talked about “living in the warm reflection of (her mother’s) loving gaze,” and I never felt it more strongly than on that precious Easter with my mother.

I searched through my computer archive and couldn’t find a photo of Mom from that day, but I found the pie that knocked her socks off and it surely made me smile.

So, dear readers, happy Easter. And thank you. I hope you have something wonderfully, marvelously outrageous to enjoy on your Easter Sunday.

With gratitude {for all those who have lifted some of the weight from my heavy heart},

Joan, who gathered up her family and dined out today as both a distraction and a much-needed day off

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