I was reading a post the other day written by Candid Kay who shared her memory of her own mother, which was ushered by food: the preparation, scent, cooking and savoring of a sauce, into a wholesome meal. The sensorial combination evoked the tenderness of the past to transmute a challenging moment in the now.
I’ve also been reading Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, which is her first memoir, and a bestseller. Karr writes a lot about her mixed feelings about her mother, the fear and chaos she encountered as a child at the hand of her increasingly unstable mother, and her identification with her Nervous mother as she ages. Karr’s ability to be honest and yet nonviolent in her recollections is not only a gift to me as a writer to witness, but also a gift to me as a child of similar steps who also treads those hallowed spaces.
It’s Christmastime. My memories of Christmas as a child are what I call “uppy-downy”; we had some pleasant times which I can only describe as being sprinkled with Mom’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. Sometimes those moments were flurries or squalls.
One certain memory of Mom is her truly vexing requirement that we were to gently peel back the tape and never tear through the wrapping paper. Once we managed to extract the gift from the wrapping paper, akin to a “Hurt Locker” scene, she would request that we hand it back to her or gently fold it back up for her to use again.
There were also more than a handful of times when we also had to wait for her before Christmas could “begin.” One year, I said the hell with it. I tore into my wrapping paper and crushed it into a ball. I think she almost had a stroke. Her horrified gasps and frantic reaches to end my blind yuletide debauchery were cartoonish. Over the years, she managed to dial it back a bit. We also decided we weren’t always going to wait for her to get out of bed. Karma.
I found myself missing my mother, after reading Candid Kay’s post. Due to the urgency of the holiday season, Mom had a way with glibly waving off controversy or panic (yet she could stir it up without notice). Often these dismissals would materialize in a clever cartoon, a quote from Neil Simon, “Cool it, Mimsy!” something from Moliére, Shakespeare, or her own observations about the “virtues of being beige,” or her frequent recitation of Julie London’s “You’re Blasé” … “You’re deep just like a chasm / You’ve no enthusiasm / You’re tired and uninspired / You’re blasé / Your day is one of leisure in which you search for pleasure / You’re bored when you’re adored / You’re blasé.” I suppose in her own way she was venting off the nervousness she was fighting. I find myself doing that now, only my song is “Bohemian Rhapsody.” MaaaaMaaaaa OooooOooooo… I didn’t mean to make you cry…
She had tons of energy when she was spun up into a cause she admired. I’m involved these days in the crafts for my youngest son’s winter holiday edutainment party. I
missed skipped the meeting about how to run these parties because I’ve been at this for 13 years. Because I abstained from the inanity, I missed the running commentary about how our craft was not only too ambitious, but also likely to be poo-poo’d by these erudite 12-year-olds. (This from the primary grade moms.)
There is a reason I don’t attend many of these meetings. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to appease Other Mothers. When I’m volunteering at school, I’m there to work with, for and on behalf of kids. I hear Mom reminding me to be beige when serving the kids, it’s for them… If the Other Mothers can do it better, they may be my guest.
The moms in our class are thrilled with the level of intensity and ambition being applied to this craft. What is the craft? Snow globes.
“SNOW GLOBES?! WHAT?! WITH SIXTH GRADERS?! A CRAFT?! JUST GIVE THEM COOKIES AND A GAME FOR PETE’S SAKE…” a couple of them apparently snort-laughed and nod-chanted a lá “Am I right or am I right?” Should I get them cigarettes and a couple beers while I’m at it? How about some power tools or some Dylan Thomas? These kids are so advanced and jaded. I’m so glad I blew off the coven meeting. (I’ll write about making the snow globes later.)
I GET IT.
I get our craft is sweet and fun and a little complicated. In that way, it’s a lot like I am. I also get that our “choosing” something “for the kids” also requires that we put aside our needs and wants, and consider their fancies. I don’t have 28 iPod Touches to bring to the classroom. I don’t have 28 Hover Boards for them all. I don’t have to. I have an idea which I think the kids will enjoy and it’s a keepsake, should they decide as much.
Could it end up in glittery shards, sparkling the macadam on the pathway home? Totally. Might they end up on the floor of the bus? The little fir trees and snowmen crushed and sullied? Completely possible. But I don’t really care about that. Once we give up the craft, it’s up to them.
What I won’t submit to, however, is the supposition offered by Other Mothers that the kids won’t enjoy a craft or being creative. Might this project get shot down by the snarky sarcastic kids? That’s entirely realistic. However, I also warm, very sincerely to the smiles and kindnesses offered by both of my older children when they say they wish they were making snow globes. (Read: I blew it with them when they were in sixth grade.)
But I miss Mom right now, because she would absolutely cheer this on. She would absolutely make fun of the Other Mothers with me; she would absolutely lap from the saucer, and sharpen her claws and wit on their banal brains and their pitiful propositions and likely envious eviscerations. She would make cartoons and puns and tell me, “The hell with ’em, Maal. You know what’s right. They’re just piffle.”
And she’d be right.
She’d also tell me to have a PB&J sandwich, reminding me that I’m at my worst when I’m hungry and feeling misunderstood.
I’d attempted to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly the way she used to: starting with the end of a loaf, a smear of butter, then peanut butter on that joined in holy deliciousness with a spread of raspberry jam on the other slice of rustic whole wheat bread. A fresh glass of cold milk on standby.
The sandwich filled my belly, but left my heart yearning for her wit.
What I also realized while enjoying this sammie, is that I understand her better now. It’s one of the worst traps of losing someone you love: when you’re with her, she drives you batty. Now that she is gone, and safe, I find myself commiserating with her. I find myself saying to my kids, “PLEASE ASK BEFORE (or return when) YOU TAKE THE SCISSORS!” or “WHERE IS THE ELMER’S GLUE-ALL?” I find myself on the brink of panic: WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? — truth be told, I’m not sure she ever sweated dinner…
I find myself not wanting to come down at the break of dawn for Christmas. I find myself wavering on that one most of all: the space between giving them all they want after buying them what they want… can’t they just be a little more patient? Where are my glasses? Where’s the coffee? Why won’t someone at least put a K-cup in the machine, find a clean mug and press the damned button while I put on my robe? IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!
Am I being greedy? It’s such a delicate balance. I know, I know… Santa came last night. It’s a big deal this morning… ooooooooh look at the presents!…. Coffee….
I find myself lowering my glasses, looking for better lighting and leaning in to objects to see them better. I find myself taking my time, a little more, “WHERE’S THE FIRE?” which she never asked, she simply just didn’t walk too quickly.
I fear that my best time with my mother wasn’t supposed to be during my youth, which was fraught with so much chaos. Apparently I was made to deftly handle those times. But it’s my older years, these years, when I could call her and say, “HOLY SHIT, MOM, I’M SAYING THINGS YOU SAID TO ME!” and she would gently laugh or sigh or rattle on about Katie Couric (I know).
My kids got my mother’s best years. I was too bitter to see that then. To them, she remains a silly and sort of wispy older woman, a kind person and a gentle soul. They saw her as she likely wished to be. It wasn’t meant for me though; the water was too turbid and the filter was clogged with my memories. Just a recently as a couple years ago though, I would tell her something about how I found myself being like her, and she’d say some entirely random thing to me, and I’d lose the fugacious grasp I had on her.
So I have my PB&J. And the memories of her midnight puttanesca sauces clinging to al dente fettuccine, their aroma would waft up the back of the house, to my room above the kitchen. And I’d wake, like a starving cartoon mouse rousing on the vapors from a wedge of cheese. And I’d get out of bed, following the scent like that mouse, but knowing I needed to stay low. I’d hide in the back staircase and smell and listen for her to walk by to the front room. Then I’d leave that staircase and go to the main one, and sit on those dark green wool carpet steps, and rest my face between the thick, white-painted, hand-turned spindles. I’d wait for her to her power up the TV and retire to the green club chair to watch whatever was on Canadian television, likely Columbo. The picture would sometimes be static, but her silhouette would eclipse its blueish glow. And I’d just sit there, while everyone else was sleeping, and just be with her, in the quiet of the night. Even though she didn’t know I was there.
Maybe she’s like that now, with me. Visiting us overnight, checking in on her families. I like to think she’s hovering, watching me cook fajitas, or whispering “more garlic, more oil” during my own attempts at home made Italian sauces, or even helping me to glue the little snowman onto the painted cork pedestal on the center of the lid…