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My mother – beautiful at 58 years old

Today is a day to think about mothers. I think of my mother’s courage and that instinctual drive to keep her family together when, as a widow, she trudged to a Fredericton courthouse to testify that her children should remain with her even as she cast her lot with my stepfather who would take her (and the five of us) 4000 miles away from everything she had ever known. A country girl made good by the city and the miles between herself and the wagging tongues of those “back home.” As a child I remember my mother crying only once – in 1958, pregnant with my baby sister and reading a wrinkled yellow piece of paper  – a telegram of the death of Nanny – her grandmother. Surprisingly, I can’t remember the times I made her cry. But the salve of good years and the sovereignty of hindsight became my apologies.

Mom died in 2004. No heroic measures she wanted, “just bury me face down and all my enemies can kiss my ass.”  This attitude didn’t last long – after witnessing the deaths of her oldest and her youngest she knew the wages of grief. “On second thought, cremate me and sprinkle my ashes over any J.C. Penney’s store for all the time and money I’ve spent there.”  Mom was never far from her signature humor.

In 2012 I consider what my mother has missed: our first African-American President. I am certain she would have taken time from her usual apolitical understandings of life to consider President Obama’s impact.  But I wonder if she would have thought of her decision to leave Canada as the signifying verso of our collective destiny? The single cup coffee maker is something she would have hated. My mother was as social drinker – that is, any act of sociability on her part had to include coffee. Facebook – hmm, I’m sure I could have induced a certain curiosity in my mother if I could have shown her what little I know about the massive internet communications highway. She was, after all, the same woman who so desperately wanted to get clear of the downtown Los Angeles sweat shops (the price she paid for her mother taking her out of school after fifth grade) that she borrowed my high school English grammar text and an old Underwood typewriter and taught herself how to write and type so she could become a secretary in an optometrist’s office. By the time she retired she could read prescriptions, adjust glasses and make the choices of what frames to stock based on the like and dislikes of the clientele at the Los Angles College of Optometry. There’s more that she missed, to be sure. Painful as her death was, life did go on. I am hoping she now knows everything – especially how much I miss her – of this I am certain.

A fine coda:

“Honey, if you want something done – do it yourself. If it’s not done right you have no one else to blame.”

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