14 May 2006

judy collins - "amazing grace" (from the very best of judy collins, available for purchase here.)

whenever anyone asks about my relationship w/ my mother, i describe it as being healthier than that between norman bates & norma, but less healthy than the relationship between paul morel & gertrude.

i am at a loss to explain why this is so. my mother & i are not best friends; i tell her v. little a/b what goes on in my life; i don't often inquire as to what's happening in hers. when i've lived away from home, i didn't call her every day--indeed, she would often have to call me. despite a capacity for self-expression, i buy my mother hallmark cards for her birthday and mother's day. a written "love, fred" aside, i rarely ever say to her, "i love you, mom." i can tell you the last time it happened : it was august.

it all must of happened in a silent way, in those too early days from which i can extract v. few memories. my sisters have always let me know that my mother spoiled, that she loves me out of all proportion, that there's no question as to whose unhappiness brings her the greatest grief.

you see, even as i reflect on this, my face begins to crumple up and my eyes begin to glaze over, recalling many dear memories, fearing how it all will end, knowing that it must. it is, as freud said, a "foretaste of mourning for the deceased"--and i've been doing it since i was 11. my paternal grandmother had died not too long before then; i had terrible nightmares a/b all of my family members dying. my mother came in one evening and reassured me that she'd be around for a long time, she was a tough old broad that came from good stock. as i write this, she's visting her mother, who's now eighty-seven and still living on her own.

if mother is like daughter, i've a minimum of twenty-six years before i have to worry about burying my mother. but, in many ways, daughter is not like mother : i've always thought my mother's mother was reserved, icy, severe--w/o ever questioning her love for her family. two strokes have only forced her to become further withdrawn, her speech all but indecipherable. (still, she calls her daughter every day, six o'clock on the dot.) of her eight siblings, my mother is second in terms of birth order--or so i always thought. my grandmother's second child was her first son, named after his father. he died, of what was called "crib death" at the time, but what we'd probably call s.i.d.s. today. my grandfather seriously wondered if there was a way back for her from her grief. there was : she'd have seven more children--my mother next--but at a significant cost.

some sixty years later, she still weeps for him on his birthday; some thirty years later, my mother gave birth to her first son. like daughter, like mother, her son too fell ill; once again, doctors told her there was nothing wrong, but she knew something was. found having difficulty breathing in his crib, the child was rushed to the hospital by his parents where he was diagnosed w/ the croup. this boy, though, lived; this boy was me.

besides saving the life she gave to me in the first place, my mother's most notable contributions to me are her sentimentality and her eyes, both so blue as to be thought unnatural. this may explain why so many of the interactions that one enjoys w/ their mother have been limited in my case, b/c they mean too much. the last time, apropos of nothing, i told her i loved her, her face crumpled up and her eyes glazed over. i have tried, then, to define myself by being as different from her as possible, by looking for women who are as different from her as possible--and, for all that, i've tried to behave in such a way that she would not be ashamed and the last girl i loved turned out to have much in common w/ her.

i see my mother and her life and sometimes i don't know who she is, or else i fear i know just who she is, that there's no mystery to it at all. she has a charm bracelet and each year my sisters give her something new to add to it. often i feel that that would be the only thing one would need to understand her completely. she loves elvis, las vegas, american idol, ladybugs, God, her family, nora roberts romances, slot machines, stuffed animals, the beach, old country music, christmas. she is who and what she loves; but she loves so wholeheartedly and genuinely. she is as happy as anyone i know.

at times, she still surprises, though; what i don't know about my parents would make a fascinating book, far more fascinating than my own life story (but maybe i'll have a child who'll someday say the same of me). when she was sixteen, she was as i mentioned the second oldest in a family of eight children, a number of whom she raised as if they were her own; it was a family that was always moving around, from one small house to a seemingly smaller house. she belonged to the last generation whom could honestly say that they walked to school five miles in a blizzard in shoes w/ holes in them that once belonged to her older sister. she had dreams--and i wonder how many of us think a/b the dreams our parents had that didn't involve us. she'd hear the whistle of the train headed for new york city each morning; she wanted nothing more than to get a job in the city and commute there every day.

it never happened. not long after graduation she was married and pregnant w/ her first child. the man likely loved her at some point but eventually he did little more than beat her. my (half) sister, once she heard the fighting begin, would calmly go to her dresser and methodically place her belongings in brown shopping bags, knowing that they were bound once more for her grandmother's. one day, that move became permanent. my mother was a divorced single mother in her early 20's in the late 60's. her parents were regulars at my father's bar; my mother would go there dancing w/ her husband. she caught my father's eye; he found out she was "shorty's daughter." a few years later, she went there alone--and that was the last time she was alone.

her story reminded me of a picture i had seen several years earlier. my parents were in arkansas, building a house for my father's best friend. in the picture, she's inside the frame of the house, looking out of what would be the window of the master bedroom. she was my age now. it was the first picture i'd ever seen of my mother w/o her being surrounded by someone i knew in a place i was familiar w/. in five years, she'd give birth to me, but if the eyes of the woman in that picture could look out at the person looking back at her, i wonder--a strong resemblance, esp. around the eyes, notwithstanding--if she'd recognize me.

i think she would, i think there would be some sort of tacit understanding, just as how when i was an infant i somehow transmitted to her, enough so that she could intuit, the fact that i was ill when no doctor thought there was anything wrong w/ me. kierkegaard opens works of love by writing
if it were true--as conceit shrewdness, proud of not being deceived, thinks--that one should believe nothing which he cannot see by means of his physical eyes, then first and foremost one ought to give up believing in love.
my mother doesn't know kierkegaard from adam but she knows of what he speaks. by writing today on a website she has never laid eyes on, to the strains of her favorite song, "amazing grace" (which always makes her cry, for reasons unknown to me), i let my mother know that i love her. and though blind to what i’ve written here, i’ve no doubt that she sees.

happy mother's day, mom.

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