I'll start with this one -- my smart-looking mother in her suit and hat, patiently tolerating her fool-for-love husband and the daughter that never smiled for the camera as she wished.
Today is your birthday, Mama; you would be 96. And you died 10 years ago next month. I miss you more than ever, you know. How you would love this place that I've landed in my journey! Actually, I believe you do see and love this place, and that you're so happy that I'm here; but I wish you were here to share it with me. How you would love being "The Rector's Mother," the Queen Mother of this parish!
The longer you are gone, Mama, the easier it is to remember this mother, the one in this picture, who often treated me, as you always said, "like a hen with one chick," who tenderly nurtured this girl that you didn't really understand much at all. You see, you were an extrovert, and I was always an introvert (Doesn't this picture show it? I cared not at all for what the photographer and you wanted me to do) -- and became even more so after my daddy died, and then as I entered moody adolescence. My withdrawn interiority left you baffled, I know. And you didn't know much about raising girls. Though you were a tomboy, grew up with four brothers, raised three boys before me (and I think you secretly preferred boys), you somehow expected me to be a "girly-girl." But instead you got the same dirty little rough-houser that I'm sure you were. But I do know that you continued to love me fiercely, and even admire me, yes I do know this now, more than you could ever say.
Here's another picture; I'm not sure you'd like this one of yourself, but I love it as a family shot (I've posted it before, but I can't resist):
I'm seeing for the first time that, despite your extroversion, you really did not like to have your picture taken. I know you never felt very good about your own looks, often called yourself "big and horsey," and always felt clumsy and overweight. And yes, sure enough, you handed down those body image issues to me! But you also gave me so much more, so much good stuff. I can't even begin to say it all, won't even try, but we both know all the good stuff, and maybe someday I'll be able to sum it all up.
What I'm thinking of tonight, Mama, are a couple of things in particular. I'm thinking of your love for the outdoors, nature, and time spent in the open air, which you also passed on to me. I'm thinking in particular of my fire pit, which is ready for another burn:
I'm wishing that I had got it started tonight, in your honor. I can't count the number of campfires we sat around in our plastic web and aluminum tube lawn chairs, Coleman lanterns hissing in the background, staring into the fire, adding one log, then another, to keep it burning after dinner, toasting marshmallows on sticks, singing silly camp songs, with you telling stories about your own childhood, or the early years of your marriage, before I came along, or about my brothers' escapades when they were my age. Oh, those were good times, sitting around that fire. Thank you for that.
Another thing I'm thinking about, Mama, is what a gardener you were. Some of my earliest memories are of the African violets you nurtured in the windowsill on South Eighth Street, and how you carefully pinched off the brown leaves and watered only from below, so not to get water on the leaves. I remember your hydrangea outside the dining room window, which you fed with coffee grounds and eggshells, and how it bloomed pink, though you wanted it blue. I remember the armloads of tulips that you sent to school with me for my teacher, and the May baskets we made one year for me to hang on neighbors' doorknobs early in the morning. I know you would love these perennial gardens around my house (though you'd want me to care for them better, or hire someone to do it), and you would also love my veggie garden, and would take an intense interest in my tomatoes, coaching me about how to encourage maximum fruit. Some years I pinch out the suckers, Mama, just as you showed me, but I forgot to do it this year. It's too late now; the fruit is already setting. I know you'd laugh at the little herb bed I put in tonight against the potting shed:
Yeah, I know calling it a "herb bed" is a joke. I know you're wondering about the lids from the cat litter buckets. But I lost the little fence things that I used to have out by the garage, and I need something to warn the lawn people not to whack them down with the weed whacker. Maybe tomorrow I'll go get some more of those little fence border thingies. And I know it's only peppermint and dill. The other herbs are back with the veggies, and the oregano's under the ornamental dogwood. But the dill came up from last year in a small planter on the back porch (there's more!), and it re-seeds so nicely and smells so good. And you'd appreciate the peppermint in your iced tea, now wouldn't you? Mmmm, mmmm. And if it gets too overgrown, the worst that will happen is that it will grow out into the lawn and the lawn people will mow it down, and then it will smell beautiful.
So that's all I'm going to write tonight, Mama. Happy birthday. I'm not sure how much birthdays mean over there where you are now, but I know that remembering and good memories and being loved all mean something. I miss you. I love you. These two gifts, the outdoors and the gardening, are what I miss in particular tonight, though you know there is so much more. I know that you're happy that I'm happy here on this beautiful Plateau. And yes, I know you're proud of me, always were, even though you only learned to say that to me at the very end.
And now I'm going to bed. Another gift you gave me, though I've only learned it so very late in life, is to get to bed at a decent hour so I can enjoy the cool beauty of the morning. There's nothing like running with my dogs in the early morning, especially these next few days when the temperatures are gorgeous. It's wonderful to see the bunnies and the chipmunks, as well as cats and dogs going about their morning business. Everything is so fresh and new and holy. Thank you for the early morning, too. I hope your journey on the other side is going well, Mama. I'm sure it is, as you're a worker, just like me. G'night.