Mother, May I?

HPIM7503 Not long ago I was gifted with the pleasure of hearing Billy Collins wryly read his poem about fashioning a plastic lanyard to present to his mother:

“No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips 
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother. . . .

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.”

At camp and at elementary school my brothers and I were instructed to use our fingers to form lumpy low-grade clay into ashtrays for parents who did not smoke.  Had that particular craft project persisted into my children’s generation, as a mom I no doubt would have held on to the ashtrays, too.

At school we dutifully used our Crayola crayons to make Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards.

I wondered even then how these exercises made children feel if they had no mother or father.

“You could make one for your grandmother,” I heard Miss Marsh tell one small classmate who had approached her desk.  I mentally filled in the rest of the conversation.

Billy Collins’ poem noted “the worn truth that you can never repay your mother,” but of course it’s never truly a question of repayment: whatever the connection that makes true mothering possible, it doesn’t create a debt–though we moms treasure those tokens because of the hearts which created them.

Magically, though, mothering as it is meant to be done creates bottomless love.   It’s the classic win-win.

Three of my friends, all mothers themselves now, have lost their mothers in the last two weeks.  I believe with all my heart that they are not motherless, that their mothers will continue to be with them as surely as my children will always have their father.



A Vale of Valentines

2011 Valentines

This morning I had to stop at a drug store in which all the pharmacists know and likely pity me by sight.

To look at the cheerful carnation pink and red of Valentine’s Day displays is almost as sobering as it was to walk into a stationery store last June and come face-to-face with the Father’s Day cards.  I wheeled around and hastened back out the door as if the cards might swoop down and attack like Alfred Hitchcock fowl–a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, a sedge of bitterns.  (I am quite the fan of “terms of venery.”)

I do realize this “woe-is-me” me is not my most attractive self, but there you have it.

Last Valentine’s Day, Jim handed me a box wrapped in shiny Boston Celtics green.  It matched the boxes I had seen and knew contained necklaces he carefully had chosen as birthday gifts for our two daughters during his last winter with us.

First, I had presented him with humble and transient treasures: a heart-shaped cookie and some soap he had requested.  He gave me a diamond necklace.  We gave each other cards in which we had both included variations on the phrase that we did not know where to begin.  Of course we both meant that we did not know how to end.

He had printed out a picture of the two of us on our last family vacation.  Because he chose it, it will forever be my favorite of us.  It remains propped up against the reading lamp next to where I try to sleep, and usually instead take in a great deal of good literature (and some so-so books).

Jim was frugal only with money.  Perhaps that was an artifact of his family’s reaction to the swift dissipation of the first substantial sum he, the oldest of five children, ever possessed—the amount with which he had been entrusted for both necessities and incidentals during his first year in college.  He was neither a traditionally demonstrative nor a lavishly-spending person.

Since his freshman year, when he blew two entire semesters’ allotted fortune ($500 in 1977 money) on a stereo system (kids: ask your parents), Jim had not spent large sums of money on himself or others–except on the exceedingly rare occasions when he would buy a house, which he excused as more of an investment (even though our timing, market-wise, was notoriously bad).  Our growing family did, after all, require a place to put all of those books, and all of my fabric.

It was a rarity when my husband would spend enough money that it was worth mentioning to me . . . although there was the time I was startled that a man showed up on the doorstep of our new home, asking me for a check because he had “my tractor.”  Jim forgot to mention the purchase.  He had always wanted to be a gentleman farmer in his spare time. Continue reading “A Vale of Valentines”

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