I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel like celebrating today. Not only is it a dreary day in Cincinnati, but 5/5 was my mom’s birthday. As most of you know, she died when I was quite young. Three years old, to be exact. Leukemia stole her away from her husband and 4 young kids, at the age of 33 (a.k.a. the “Jesus year”).
Let’s get the easy answers out of the way first:
Sorry, I forgot this isn’t Jeopardy. The questions are:
- Do you remember her?
- Did your father ever remarry?
Those two questions are usually the ones I get when I tell someone about my mom’s untimely departure from this world. #1 is a lot tougher to wrap my head around. Trust me, I’ve tried my best to remember her, but to no avail. So how do you miss someone that you didn’t really know? It’s a weird feeling, for sure.
I know the time from birth to age three is a crucial period, and so my mom was my first/best teacher. But when I try to conjure up some sort of happy memory, a warm glow from those halcyon days… nothin’.
I’ll tell you what I do know. My mom was a first generation Italian-American.
She too lost her mom young… and a sister as well. She played basketball in high school. (We had her b-ball jersey at our house in Arkansas… long after we moved from Jersey City, where my mom and dad met and married. I studied that jersey like it was the Shroud of Turin.)
When she went into labor with her third child (yours truly), my dad took a route to the hospital that featured a few cobblestone streets… and my mom gave my dad some good-natured grief about that. (The extra bouncing might also help explain why I’m wired differently.) When she was trying to teach me how to tie my shoes, I got mad and kicked off one shoe, and it flew up and cracked one of the window panes in our front door… or at least that’s what my older siblings told me… or something like that. It’s been too long.
There’s a Superchunk song call “Void” that expresses my feelings very well:
Is a void
All I see, all I say
Is a void
No, don’t go Wait for me
Because I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see
No, I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see
Happy birthday to your mom, D2! For that alone, the day is worth celebrating.
My parents departed too soon, as you know. Still, I had much more time to enjoy them than did you with your mom. But is any amount of time really enough?
Losing a parent forces a person to grow up in a hurry. The process isn’t enviable, but the product is a more enlightened person who knows the value of life and the importance of keeping priorities in place. Maybe that’s the secret behind our friendship.
Every now and then I’ll run into someone I knew growing up. They’ll remark how I have a look, a tick, a word or something else that reminds them of my mom or dad. It’s always cool to be told that. To me, it’s evidence that there’s still some stardust from each of them living in me. I’m the medium that keeps them alive long after they’ve left.
So are you. Whether you have memories of her or not, you’ve been imprinted with some sort of characteristic, gesture or mannerism that was unique hers. You’re the medium (a rather tall medium, of course.) keeping her relevant in the 21st century.
You’re a good man, D2. That tells me you came from good stock. I’ll join you later tonight in raising a pint in celebration of your mom. Cheers!
Thanks so much for your kind words, Tim. Yes, we are bonded together in the orphan club. Love your comment about their “stardust” – what a beautiful way to think about it. Ray Bradbury, my all-time favorite author, has a short story about a mother/grandmother/great-grandmother dying, and it features a passage that I love: “Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family.”
Your mom must have been an amazing lady and your dad (whom I had a chance to meet once) as well – he made his wife proud by raising you to carry on her memory.
Thanks so much Damjana. I really appreciate it. My dad enjoyed meeting my pen pal from Slovenia.