I’m trying to commit to at least one post a month. This may result in some slightly generic titles.
Today is my mother’s birthday. If she were alive she’d be ninety-eight.
My mom was a serious, responsible person. She treated people with respect, and she kept her promises. As a result, she was well-liked, and enjoyed friendships that lasted decades.
But she had other sides, many of which were so private that few of us ever saw them. When she passed away, I wondered for days about the parts of her I’ll never know. I still do.
When I was a teenager I was home alone with her when I was startled by the sound of someone playing the piano. As far as Iknew my mom was not a player. Stepping into the living room, I found her at the piano with a mischievous grin on her face.
“I didn’t know you played the piano!”
She shrugged, “I can pick out a tune.”
I laughed, and asked her to play some more. She did, but stopped after a few minutes. I had taught myself to play the piano and kept it from everyone for several months. I tried to keep her playing a secret, but it wasn’t easy.
My mom had beautiful hair, deep reddish brown, that fell in large curls. But she always wanted to be a full-on redhead, and her brother’s name for her, “Red” was a true nickname in being both affectionate and a nudge.
When I was very young, my mom would stand in the back yard and whistle to the cardinal that lived there. Her whistles were clear and loud and I always thought that she and the bird were having some sort of conversation, which may have been true. Mom loved cardinals for their bright red colors.
When she was in her early twenties, she took flying lessons, something I didn’t learn until after my father passed away. She told me that she got up to the point of getting her license but never took the test.
Mom grew up in rural West Virginia in a time when horses were used almost as much as cars. Her father, a medical doctor, was hired by the local mining company to provide medical aid to their employees. As a result he spent long hours sitting in his office, waiting for someone to need his help.
Mom would sometimes go to visit him after school. They would have long rambling talks about whatever was on their minds. Mom went on to become a pharmacist, so I’ve often imagined that those conversations sparked her interest in medicine. I suspect that she would have liked to become a doctor herself and, had she been born in more enlightened times, she might have done it.
She would have been a fantastic doctor.
I can still see her explaining biochemistry to me. She would tuck her chin and drop her voice to a deep, almost gravelly, register. She had a collection of hand gestures that accompanied these talks that I never saw her use elsewhere. You might say she was “shifting modalities” and I wonder if she as echoing her father in these moments.
When my dad’s brother was nearing the end of his life, I drove Mom and Dad up for a visit, and we spent the day trading stories and reminiscing. Well, they did, mostly I just listened. Mom caught me alone in the kitchen and thanked me. She said she’d never realized how patient I could be.
“Well”, I said, “I had a good teacher.” Our eyes met and she was momentarily speechless. I smiled, and she hugged me.
My mother was a good person. I hope that some of that has rubbed off on me. Certainly I try to hold her values and live up to them as best I can. Her life has left me with a poignant sense that knowing another person always carries a haunting sense of what might have been.
Thanks Mom. I love you.