Tonight I celebrate my mother’s would be 90th birthday. Yes, I know she’s gone, although a force like hers can’t be contained in a simple afterlife, right? Of course I’m sad not to have her physically with us, but wow, did we have spectacular fun these last many decades. Holidays and vacations and just spur of the minute plans that would always turn into something fabulous.
There is no denying that at the center of memoir is an unreliable narrator. As I wrote yesterday,”Working with memory is even less faithful than fiction. There is nothing to google or investigate. Sure I can ask a brother or two, but I don’t remember any of them standing with me in that short hallway between the kitchen and my father’s den.” In memoir you stand alone, even if the subject of your work is the whole lot of you, you have only yourself to corroborate with.
As I plunge further into my own murky and dark past I have only my instinct to rely on; here the tenants of fiction and non-fiction collide, for they are both born of the creative spark that ignites my fingers across the keyboard. Beyond that they deviate.
This photo was captured on my last afternoon with both my mother and my godmother, and it will be a precious memento for years to come. We stood on a balcony in the Palm Beach sunshine and did nothing but smile in that embrace. Now, they are both gone, but I count myself the luckiest of girls to have been with them for six decades, for their love is an epic tale.
After a long work week, a very long day, and a longer drive, we arrive just before 11 to the dark house. My sister is still in her car when we pull in the driveway behind her. Too sad to open the front door and face the emptiness. But together we go in, and together we begin to sort through all that’s still there.
Our mother made an inviting home for all who visited. A god-daughter stopping by for a luncheon. Her sister up from Philadelphia for the weekend. Dinner parties with old friends and new. Holiday meals and birthdays. All reasons for her to arrange flowers and light candles along her dining room table. My daughter was a summer-long guest while she took on a NYC internship; my youngest son stayed for the whole year after college as he found a job, himself, direction. And always her six coming and going, stopping by to enjoy her hospitality. This, her last home, is imbued with bright sunshine, streaming in all afternoon, as well as reflecting from the yellow walls and warm-toned furnishing.
She was, however, a rolling stone, often on one of her trips. Only in “her pad” (as she referred to her home) here and there. She visited us in Vermont, other children and grandchildren in California, her siblings in Florida, traveled across Europe, exploring the National Parks, Alaska, Egypt, even the Panama Canal. Kept moving that one.
On Saturday we wake early, dash about, reeling like at a garage sale of memories; we pack up the last of her, even though I still see her reflection in the mirror over her dresser as she pulls out a well-worn cashmere sweater from the third drawer. Funny how I can still remember where she kept what, even though her clothes are folded in piles across her bed now, and it’s been decades since I even looked in those drawers.
But now we empty kitchen cupboards and cabinets, drawers and closets, making piles for what goes where, the whole of her boxed and sealed, made ready to be transported elsewhere. How can one laugh while undertaking such a sorrowful task? In my mother’s joyful home, how could one not? So we do. At the end of the weekend, we each drive away with carloads of her, off to our separate homes, carting simple objects made priceless by memory.
What follows this paragraph was posted in November of 2012. For those who were lucky enough to have visited my mother’s home or for those of you who read this blog way back then, I hope this post is a sweet remembrance. For the rest, I invite you in for a glimpse of her home as it was, before, yes, before she was divided into neat piles; for, as we have come to say, mom is everywhere. Indeed.
No one knows exactly how it happens, but it does. We spend an easy two decades just bopping around, flitting from idea to idea, from that self to this, sort of, kindly put, finding ourselves. Then we hit 30. That magical decade when we are found: Career, Spouse, Homeland. You know the drill. By your 30’s one is expected to know it all. By 30 I had three underfoot, a divorce pending, a new relationship and career underway, and a burning desire to write, write, and write some more; and so, while children grew, outgrew, and moved over and out, I kept at it. All of it. Before I knew it my 30 years had doubled.
Please don’t start this post unless you are willing to finish it. It is a twisting ramble that may seem to be heading straight down into a black darkness; but I promise to get somewhere lighter, together, by the end. So trust, and read on…