Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hey Mom

So my curiosity about things led me to finally look up a little history regarding Mother’s Day.  A West Virginia woman named Anna Jarvis is credited with the first one in 1908.  She campaigned to make it an official day recognizing one’s mother and President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday in 1914.  Jarvis eventually came to dislike the commercialization of Mother’s Day and I can’t blame her; it is definitely a ‘Hallmark holiday’ now.

BUT does that really matter?  The relentless television ads and retail sales do serve to remind us to set aside a day just for Mom.

My mother died almost eight years ago and I hate to admit this … sometimes I forget about her.  I don’t always think about her on her birthday, or her death day, both of which were the first days of their respective months.  I only visited her back home once or twice a year during her last few years and one of the few regrets I have in life is that I didn’t spend more time with her.  The last time I saw her, ten months before she died, dementia had begun and she didn’t realize who I was till my third or fourth visit to the nursing home that week.  Before that year, however, she had no problem recognizing me, she remembered what I was doing for a living, where I lived, who I was married to.  She still expressed regret that I didn’t give her grandchildren.  She still told stories about my youth and revealed more details about hers with each visit.

It is impossible to avoid thinking about her when the Mother’s Day ads start each year but it is during that time I often realize that she is with me every day of my life.  I went through a twenty-year phase of my life in which I tried to reject a lot of my parents’ beliefs and attitudes but as I got older I realized that their ‘processes’ are a major part of who I am.  The approach I take toward thinking things through is very much like that of my Mother and my Father, even though the conclusions are often very different.

Mom was a story-teller.  Any little comment by anyone in her vicinity could launch her into a story about something.  I do that too … pausing for a moment here while readers who know me in real life laugh at what I just said.  Mom was curious about people, what they thought, what made them behave as they did, who they knew and what they did in their youth.  Mom was a stay-at-home mom from six months into her pregnancy with me till the day she died, and that was her choice as well as the custom of her generation, but she was very independent.  Dad seemed to be king of the house, as was also their generational custom, but it was apparent to me in my adulthood that she had an equal stake in the family; she was just more subtle and background about it.

She seemed to be a conformist but she also defied many standards and expectations of her day.  For example, she worked from post high school till the middle of her first year of marriage, got married at the end of her 30s, had kids in her 40s in an era when her peers were becoming grandparents at that age.  She was outwardly judgmental about many things but often eventually changed her attitude in the face of new information obtained as a result of her ongoing curiosity.  She didn’t return to work after my sister and I were out of the house but she did begin to pursue some of her interests, including taking art lessons in her early 60s.

My Mother loved to travel and I suspect she was behind the annual family road trips we took.  She would pick the destination and choose many of the attractions we would visit.  She was more adventurous than Dad but also quite cautious.  Dad would figure out the details of making trips happen; things like daily travel distance, hotel reservations, budgeting.  They had an incredible yet subtle compatibility in which they shared things they were in sync on (which were many) and they had plenty of give-and-take on their differences.

I am certain that Mom influenced my taste in women.  I am attracted to women who are independent but no so much that they don’t need me, a mix of conventional and unconventional, opinionated yet open-minded, with a balance of adventure and caution and a mix of extrovert/introvert, spontinaety and predictability.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Geez.  No wonder I’m single again.  OK, enough Dr. Phil.

As I was unpacking unlabelled boxes after my recent move, I found a stack of cards and letters from Mom that I hadn’t seen since the 1980s.  She still had her beautiful handwriting and her somewhat formal writing style and I was surprised by the level of detail and emotion she expressed in her letters.  I either forgot about that side of her or had never noticed it.  Maybe I’ll dig those out on Mother’s Day and read them while sipping on a glass of her favorite wine … Chablis … which she pronounced chah-BLISS not chah-BLEE, despite the fact that her native language was French.  Quirky Mom … quirky son.

Happy Mother’s Day.