My mother’s birthday is today. A few years ago, for her 80th birthday, I had planned to write a post of shared memories of Mom to publish on this date. I made notes, talked to each of my children and Mr. Garner. We actually all had a lot of fun thinking about it. But like a lot of my writing, it languished in my draft folder, a victim of my perfection paralysis.
For a while the loss of my mother would sneak up on me at the most unexpected times and I would be completely unprepared for the emotional upheaval. But it’s been 9 years since she passed away. The Daughter will soon have tripled in age, and #1 Son is a senior in college. Now the sensation is decidedly gentler. Time heals all wounds. If you let it.
The sight or the scent of roses, real roses, garden roses, calls forth a flood of images; Mom, pruning roses in the back yard, she is wearing her garden hat, and is slightly flushed; Mom arranging fluffy yellow and peach garden roses for the dining room table; Mom at my front door, grinning, with a glass vase full of roses with a bit of fern, and trailing ivy; Mom, hugging me and she smells of Tea Rose…
Now a days, I look in the mirror, and see my mother. I look at my hands, and I see my mother’s hands. I hear myself talking to my children, and I hear my mother’s voice. It is, I think, the way of things. The Daughter is utterly unphased at the idea that she might one day look or sound like me, which makes me absurdly grateful because I don’t think I felt that way at her age.
The Daughter is swinging in the holly tree out back, and unbidden I hear my mother’s cheerful voice reciting:
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
“The Swing,” by Robert Louis Stevenson…
My children loved my mother’s warm hugs and remember her best for her stories. When they were younger, Mr. Garner and I were quite busy with choral singing, at church and with a small ensemble. The Grandparents would come over and keep the kids for us fairly regularly and bedtime stories were her specialty. She would perch on the side of #1 Son’s bed and spin a yarn to send him off to sleep. For her grandchildren there was abundant affection and boundless grace. The Daughter confides that her firmest memory is of Grandma Honey convincing Papa Gene to let her have a bit of ice cream for dessert after all, even though she had been “a little bit bad.”
The table is gleaming walnut, and each corner of the table is clipped, supported by two elegantly carved legs. Four leaves mean the table could conceivably welcome 12 to 14 people. All of us together is only six, seven, if far-flung-brother is here, so I store the leaves, with hope for the future. It is a broad table, no matter the length, standard store-bought tablecloths barely cover it’s width.
Decades of family dinners, Sunday gatherings, birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas, have taken place around this table. The memories blur, conversation and laughter a gentle echo. The people change – children get bigger, parents grow rounder, hair thins, grays. The table settings and favorite dishes appearing on the table don’t change. I can smell Mom’s famous roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, her holiday corn pudding, and almost taste the tart sweetness of lemon chess pie. Spinach salad with strawberries, and a German chocolate pound cake signal my birthday. And Mom’s roses are there in the center of the table, with a bit of fern, and trailing ivy.
The shining finish is a touch cloudy in a few places, and there is a nick here and a scratch there which certainly occurred at my house in a few relatively short years rather than the decades it graced Mom’s dining room. At my house, her table is more likely to have a bowl of shells in the summer, pine cones, acorns, and seed pods in autumn, and lilies in spring. Our dishes are a little different, Brussels sprouts have replaced the corn pudding. What will never change, is the joy of family, gathered around her table, eating, talking, laughing, loving. I can’t think of a better legacy.