“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.” —Maya Angelou
I don’t imagine my mother fancies herself as a hurricane.
But the driving power behind the flying water and cresting waves does sound a bit like the woman who raised me.
In a wonderful, awesome, force-to-be-reckoned-with sort of way.
Mom made things happen.
She got my dad to fall in love with her. To this day, my dad loves her so much that after 61 years of marriage, he still calls her Kitten. (Keep in mind that baby tigers are also called kittens.)
One of my mother’s salient character traits is determination.
Mom could turn my obstinate hair into perfect, smooth ringlets around my childish face by applying a fierce gale of hairspray. And she could make my Easter hats stay on by driving bobby pins into my scalp. (Or so it seemed.)
Then I became a teen, and my hair was my own. So, I believed, were my weekends. I had this crazy notion that Saturdays were meant for sleeping in. My mother adeptly pruned that idea from my mind with an electric hedge trimmer. As soon as her intrepid trimmer roared to life on a Saturday morning, sleep was over. For some reason, my parents had planted a jungle around our suburban house, and enlisted all citizens of said house in hacking the foliage into submission. Every. Single. Saturday.
Under my mother’s tutelage, I developed an intolerance for weeds. She could be standing in the yard chatting with a neighbor, and without warning she would reach down and yank some hapless weed from the lawn. She trained me so well that, as an adult, I was surprised to discover that my fetish for weed-pulling makes me unique. It also makes me nuts, because now I live in the country where a fresh crop of weeds sprouts every other day.
Mom made things beautiful.
I once thought all mothers loved to keep their houses neat and clean. I forget when I learned otherwise. By then, my mother’s careful tidiness and regular habits of cleaning had taught me that clean is simply what houses are. If a house slipped out of that category, I was fully equipped to rectify that problem.
Our home was not Mom’s only realm of beauty. Picture Jacqueline Kennedy. That’s how I saw my mother. My awareness of my mother awoke during the early sixties, when she looked lovely in the feminine styles of that era. Mom liked to look nice, and she succeeded. (She also tried to make me look nice. We won’t go into that.)
Even Mom’s dinner table was a thing of beauty. When Mom served meals, every item was presented in a serving dish. No fresh-from-the-store containers of potato salad on our table. That only happened at picnics. Meals were delicious and pretty to look at. And if we had company—prepare to be amazed. That’s when the gleaming, only-for-special-occasions dishes and utensils were reverently drawn like national treasures from the hallowed depths of The Buffet. The day Mom asked me to set the whole table—without telling me exactly what went where—I knew I had passed a milestone in my hospitality skills.
Then there were Mom’s banners.
Mom must have single-handedly kept butcher paper manufacturers in business. She decorated butcher-paper banners for every honorable event in our family: “Welcome Home” (from camp, or college, or travels), Happy Birthday, Have a Great School Year . . . Every event deserved a banner. These days, she has scaled her banner-making hobby down to computer-crafting 8 1/2 x 11-inch posters when guests—or far-flung family members—come to visit. Now I’m the one running out of butcher paper . . .
Mom made hard things softer.
Mom almost never cried. Except when she laughed so hard she couldn’t help it.
But once she cried when she told me that my grandfather was desperately ill in the hospital. And once we shared a few tears when she told me about my brother’s death in the same month as my first husband’s, back when she was a young mother.
There was something reassuring about seeing my mother open that staunch heart of hers and let a little sadness show. Somehow, it let me know that even strong women feel deeply, and can do so without breaking to bits.
She has brought balm to all kinds of pain. When I had a sore throat, Mom used to serve me cool, soothing tapioca pudding and let me watch Hobo Kelly on TV. When I was scared, Mom let me cuddle up next to her in bed. Even when I was all grown up, if I needed emotional support, it was always Mom I called.
At this stage of her long life, my hurricane-force mother with all the beauty of a rainbow is pressing forward into the storms of aging. I know there are days when her courage flags and her determination wavers, but she still climbs out of bed and puts one foot in front of the other, no matter how much it hurts. Some days she asks me for my advice, which lets me know I have passed another milestone in my development.
It is in being there for my mother that I recognize just how much she has always been there for me.
And it’s no wonder I love her still, just as she loves me.