Ahh November, we meet again. This is my swell season. My heart, my memory, my longing for all the “what could have beens” swell and seep out my soul as the last leaves leap and the Butterballs are thawed.
Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of my mom’s death. It is preceded by her birthday on the 21st (she would have been 58 this year) and then followed by the 6-year anniversary of my dad’s death on the 28th. Thanksgiving always falls somewhere in between these grief posts, scrambling my gratitude with heavy nostalgia.
It’s strange how a largely artificial marker like a unit of time can both cement an absence and yield a renewed sentimentality. The decade is a big one. It’s a long enough passage of life to develop its own identity. One needs only to mention “the 50s” to conjure up images of poodle skirts, sock hops, and black and white television. Yet how is it defined when it is a passage of death?
“10 years” feels monumental when I say it out loud, but I’m struggling to connect this crisp, rounded unit of my mom’s absence with the fluid and amorphous emotions that characterize my remembrances. Her early death was tragic as were many aspects of her life. My reflections on our relationship are not easy to classify; we were inexplicably close yet terminally divided and distanced by the circumstances. Recalling memories of the time we spent together is like mining for gems–after brushing away the debris and dissolving all the dirt, there are many solid stones that are absolutely precious.
So to commemorate this noteworthy, even, rounded chunk of time, I have jotted a down a random and arguably chaotic list of images, instances, and quirks that characterize my mom and make me smile. It is not a polished eulogy or “anniversary grade” tribute, but it melds with the complexities and contradictions of my swell season.
After 10 years I remember…
That you called my blue and white plaid comforter a “checkerboard farm” when you tucked me in each night; your silliness still rings in my own interaction with my sons.
That you once offered me a “licorice peace treaty,” after we fought, arriving at my bedroom door with a single shoestring of red candy and a hopeful smile.
That you used to tap my nose playfully and say “Binkie”. I’m not sure where this odd tradition came from, but I always cherished this expression of affection even when I was a teenager.
Our special dates when dad was out of town. We would go out to dinner, go shopping, buy penny candy at Ben Franklin, and I would sleep in your bed.
Our adventures in Hawaii on our family vacations. While dad worked, we would have breakfast at The Sheraton, buy tanning oil and souvenirs at the ABC store (who even heard of sunscreen then?!), and bargain with the vendors at the open air market you named “Ticky Tacky Town.”
Watching “Bozo the Clown” with you before I walked to the bus stop on school mornings. You would stand up and dramatically wave your arms and bellow “It’s Time for the Grand Prize Game,” which signaled that the show was over and it was time to head to school.
The Pillsbury canister cinnamon rolls you would make for breakfast. You would leave the icing off for me, since I didn’t like it and we would always call our neighbor friend Molly over to help us finish off the goods before heading to school.
The lunches you packed for me everyday from Kindergarten through early high school. There was no PBJ in my sacks. I had gourmet leftovers of cut-up steak, soup in a thermos, or red pistachios wrapped in a neat foil pack. My lunches were the envy of my classmates (and sometimes the source of odd glares.)
Your candy obsession: Red Vines licorice, green Chiclets, Skor bars, and Slo-Pokes. Isn’t it funny that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth?
Our games of Boggle and backgammon on the living room floor. You would never let me win and I appreciate that now.
Cooking what you and I deemed “The dreaded pork chops” for dinner because it was dad’s favorite meal. I don’t think we really minded them all that much, but we had fun exaggerating our pretended distaste.
Your concentrated look as you worked on a Crossword puzzle. You never met one that you couldn’t master… I still can hardly put a dent in the NY Times puzzles even though I try in your honor. One time you called something a “terrapin fork” and swore it was a term you learned from a Crossword.
The Classic Rock hits you would loudly sing when my friends were in the car. “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” “Hotel California,” and anything by Rod Stewart.
The care packages you would send to me and all my high school friends when we left for college. You mailed boxes all over the nation that year to make sure that we all remembered that we had a fan rooting us on from home. In one of those packages, you included a board book called “I Love You As Much.” I saved that book and now I read it to Everett and Louie. The last line: “Said the mother to her baby as the stars shine above, I love you as much as a mother can love.”
Despite all the ups and downs, twists and tragedies that riddled our time together, I ALWAYS felt loved. It is this feeling I hold on to most after ten years.
Me and Mom- I am probably about 14 here. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most recent good photographs of the two of us that I have. She looks youthful and healthy and well–like I want to remember her.