I know that I didn’t give my mother a proper hug when I saw her on Tuesday and Wednesday, because if I had, I’d still be hugging her.
Tears are welling in my eyes as I think of her. They began when I said “Fare Well” as they have for the past few years whenever we take leave of each other.
How ironic that I, the child that couldn’t wait to get away, the child who went back to St. Louis once as an adult and left again, am in deep mourning that we live so far apart. Each time we see each other – twice a year most years – I come to appreciate her more and more. My mother. My foundation. My past and my future at once. She is 19 years older than me (having had me two months shy of her 20th birthday). When I look at her, I see my future. And it looks good.
My mother isa striking woman. She is physically beautiful, has a classic Black woman’s hourglass shape, cat-like hazel eyes, and style; even in her flat gold sandals (traded from the heels and wedges she once wore) she is fashionable. She had to use a cane on this trip because of a new foot condition. Her face is looking more like my grandmother’s face than it used to (another strikingly beautiful woman). And my face has taken on more of her characteristics. I’ve noticed it and my husband mentioned that he noticed it yesterday.
Yesterday, Mom gave me a pair of her gold earrings I had admired some time ago. She also thrust bank papers upon me, telling me that whatever is left when she passes, she wants her three children to split it evenly. “Awww, Ma,” I said. “You’ll be around for a long time. You have a will, don’t you?” “Yeah, I do,” she replies. “I just want to make sure you have a copy like your sister and brother do.” (They both live in St. Louis.) She’s also taken care of her headstone and burial arrangements and made clear her wishes. We’d had this conversation a few years ago and she swung into action to put her affairs in order. It was easier to talk about these things years ago. Now that time is galloping, it is more difficult.
I notice her changing. I see the change in how she talks and what she talks about. I see the change in things that she doesn’t do so much any more. She doesn’t attend as many social events. She attends more funerals than weddings. The shopping partners, reading buddies, and party friends have dwindled. I see her fragility since having to have two surgeries recently. Even the St. Louis family has changed. Since my grandmother’s death, the extended family doesn’t gather for dinner every Wednesday evening although they do see each other for holidays other special occasions.
I used to cry whenever I said “au revoir” because I thought something would happen to one of us before we’d see each other again. While this is still a looming possibility, the worry is exacerbated by the craziness of the world and travel today. When the bombings happened on September 11, 2001 – there was a point when the phones didn’t work – so we couldn’t contact each other. Airplanes weren’t flying. I worried that we wouldn’t ever see each other again. Being able to travel to get to my Mom (and children) is no longer something I take for granted.
I wish I could buy back the past. That I could relive all these years I’ve been away from her, near her. I regret…my mother would stop me right now. She’d say, “Even God can’t change the past, sweetheart, so no regrets.”
I’m ready to pack up and move right now. But then I’m torn, I’d also like to live near my daughter and granddaughter and they live in North Carolina. Not to mention that my husband will probably never move from his home city. Curses to all this living in different cities, so far apart except in our hearts. I want to live around all my people. Perhaps I can figure out how to get us all in the same city…
I’ll get better. When I finally reach her tonight, I will hear her voice and feel better. In a few days, we’ll be back into our old rhythm of calls. Meanwhile, I will copy the recipes for the dishes I served her and my stepfather while they were here. I will plan my trip to St. Louis for the Christmas and Kwanzaa holidays (we celebrate both). I’ll await the kitchen curtains she’s going to make for me. (She’s an excellent seamstress. I wrote about those skills in an earlier blog entry, “I wish I could sew like my mother.”) I will pray and pray that God grants us both a lot more years together.
When I was around 30, I wrote an essay, “I Want my Mother’s Lap.” It was published in the Boston Globe as “Oh, to sit on Ma’s Lap.” I know I can’t be a baby, again. Now I wish to see my mother’s face and hold my mother’s hand and cook her favorite food and learn to make a strong cup of coffee like she likes, and rub her feet when they ache. I want to be in her presence as much as possible.
I love you, Mom.