dear mama, for all of this…
day after tomorrow, it’s the day when the globe pauses in its spinning so toast can be sprung from the toaster, violets can be clutched by little hands, and college kids can shoot a quick text: “luv u mom.”
otherwise known as children-remember-your-mom day, a wholly artificial slow-down in the whirl so cinnamon-raisin crumbs can be hansel-and-greteled between the bedsheets, violets can suffer strangulation, and mothers can get bleary-eyed at being remembered. or not.
sometimes, though, the day affords much more. it allows us to dig down to where our memories lie, and pull a few good ones out by the roots. that’s the notion at the heart of a breathtaking essay written by a friend i met a few weeks back. my friend is laura lynn brown, and before i met her at a crowded noisy dinner table, i’d read her essay, the one the iowa review printed in its esteemed pages, and the one slated to run on slate, the uber cool website, today.
her essay, “fifty things about my mother,” started out as an experiment in crafting pure-gold sentences, one at a time, in no particular order.
laura, then and now a daily newspaper editor in little rock, arkansas, was getting close to 50, the age at which her mama had died, and she found herself aswirl in rememberings. around that very time, twitter, that 140-character writer’s challenge, was gliding onto the horizon. rather than scoff at such syllabary confines, laura was intrigued by the notion of power-packing a sentence.
you’ll read, as you scroll through her sentences, how magnificently she mastered that challenge. and why no less than susan orlean picked the whole lot of them to win the 2013 iowa review nonfiction award.
what happened next was that laura’s essay caught an editor’s eye, and, lo and behold, a book was born, everything that makes you mom: a bouquet of memories. only five of the original 50 sentences are tucked in the book, and rather than making it a book in which you’d read only laura’s memories of laura’s heavenly-sounding mom, she’s made it a book that tickles the reader’s heart and uproots some of your own most delicious mama memories.
laura wondered if maybe a gaggle of her writerly friends might open the pages of the book and see what happened. i got to page 108, and found my assignment, under the heading “essay question”: “remember when Mom taught you how to write a thank-you note (promptly, saying thank you, naming the gift given, and telling how you will use it or why you appreciate it or why it was a just-right choice)? write your mother a thank-you note now.”
here at the chair, i’ve written over the years what amount to thank-you notes to my mama. the original mother nature is one, and so is grammy tuesday.
but borrowing from my writerly friend laura, i’ll take a crack at crafting a few thank-you sentences to my very own mama, who, at 83.5 and ticking strong, still parks her sleek silver SUV at the curb of our old house every tuesday, ambles up the walk with her blue-plastic cooler of whatever groceries she needs to cook and lay on the table one of her ever-revolving repertoire of the dinners i grew up with: chicken rice grammy, 3-4-5 stew, meatloaf crusted with catsup, and bags and bags of frozen carrots and peas.
for tucking me by your side on the hardwood stairs the summer’s afternoon the hive of yellow jackets shimmied up my skinny little legs, trapped inside my jeans, and stung me mercilessly straight up to my bum. for making like julie andrews and singing into my ear, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when i’m feeling sad, i simply remember my favorite things, and then i don’t feel so bad,” the tune from “the sound of music” that still clicks on auto-play when i find myself inside-out, upside-down or just plain afraid.
for flipping open my bedroom window shades on especially sunlit mornings with robert browning’s song from pippa passes, “the lark’s on the wing/the snail’s on the thorn/God’s in His heaven/all’s right with the world!”
for the image of you in the rainy cemetery i’ll never forget: you with your sturdy sole to the cusp of the garden shovel, slicing into the oozy earth, at the mound of your beloved’s — my papa’s — grave — right above his heart, you whispered to me — digging the hole for the mahogany jewelry box that held our stringbean-sized baby girl, the one stillborn in the hollow of night, the one you helped us lay to rest, tucked snug against her grandpa’s stilled heart “where they’ll both always be safe,” you promised me.
for the 1,048 grammy tuesdays since boy 1 was born, and the 572 grammy thursdays you tacked on once boy 2 arrived. for forging connections to those two boys that are at the bedrock of who they are and always will be. for knowing the instant you met my “old shoe” of a newsroom friend, the one with the holes in his penny loafers and the hanging-down hem on his seersucker shorts, that despite the fact that i was a lifelong catholic and he was a devoted jew, i’d met my soul’s desire.
an abbreviated list of what you taught me: love like there’s no tomorrow; don’t ever stop; poetry is prayer; 101 things to do with frozen peas; and if you want julie andrews, plop her on the record player.
for all of this, and so very much more, dear mama, thank you and thank you and happy blessed mama’s day. please come for 3-4-5 stew, washed down with slippery buttery baby frozen peas.
what would you write in your thank you note to your mama?
photo above is my mama playing chess just this past tuesday with boy 2, aka teddy. and here is one more thing she taught me to love…
korean spice viburnum, blooming just this morning outside my kitchen door, a bouquet for my mama..
and for all my beautiful friends whose mamas are no longer here, a bundle of extra deep hugs. it’s a bottomless loss, stirred all the more painfully on this day when it seems everyone else is bathing in the very thing that brings you heartache.
Thank you Barbie,
I lost my mom just about 10 years ago, so mothers days is always a little difficult. Your words brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my lips
oh, dear jane, i have a deep inkling of how achingly hard this day can be (i get my turn at father’s day). laura lost her mom too, and she never got to give her mama her list of 50 things. the older we get, the more heartache we are filled with. sending a big big hug.
Thank you,I’m the lucky one…
p.s. just so you all know: that’s my mama (the barbara mahany above). in other matters of confusion, she named me after herself. her real name is mary barbara, but she only likes her middle name so she gave it to me, and thus she differentiates herself by calling herself, “barbara the wiser,” leaving me to assume i am “barbara the less wise.” hmmm.
So lovely – Happy Mother’s Day! Yes, I too have a Korean Spice Viburnum right by my front door. Divine, isn’t it?! Love to you and Teddy too!! Laurie (:
sweet laurie! so so lovely to find you — and your viburnum — here at the table. sending big giant mama love to you, too. xoxo
Oh, the photo! Love the hand, just the hand — the hand that comforts, wipes tears, makes meals, holds the shovel (my heart twisted at that) holds hands, keeps safe. You and your siblings are blessed, as is your dear mama. Lots of love to you both on your day of days. xo
you always see straight to the heart of the matter….xoxo
Oh, how I love this. What a gorgeous writer you are! Your mama has taught you well – not just with words, but by example. How beautiful. I’m particularly captivated to hear that she recited Robert Browning for you; I loved reading this same poem to my children. When I was small, my momma recited all the lovely poems of childhood for me. It’s a blessing when mothers surround their children with beautiful words and love. Thank you for sharing this lovely post. Mother’s Day blessings to you and your lovely mama~ xoxo
both brownings, dickinson, wordsworth, frost, i knew them before i think i knew how to read. all five of my mama’s babies knew tanagers from indigo buntings too. and in the springtime when the woods erupted, we knew the trillium from the dog-tooth violets, knew never ever to touch the ones that were marked “endangered species.” i used to bemoan the fact that unlike many of my friends’ mamas, mine almost never took me to lunch or shopping. funny how now those are the last two things i’d ever want to do. and i could spend forever in the woods, watching birds, unspooling poetry. funny how we become parts of our mothers.
you are so so lovely to come pull up a chair. chair folk, do meander over to amy’s beautiful blog, mypathwithstarsbestrewn.com/ how lovely a name for a place to curl up with poetry and pictures….
Oh yes, the poets! Just reading their names listed here is a transport of delight. At Momma’s knee, I learned to love music, language, wildflowers, all creatures great and small, was taught the quiet joys of embroidery. I, too, am a child of the woods. I inherited so much of what I love from my momma. I’ve got a jazz gene from my daddy, which I think balances me out nicely. I do love to wax poetic, but I’m just as likely to belt out every line to “Chatanooga Choo Choo” in unison with my dad!
I think we absorb everything around us, as in Whitman’s “There was a child went forth. . .”
Your writing is so lovely! I hope you’re penning a memoir – if you are, I’ll be first in line to purchase it! Just delighted to have found you! Thank you for the mention! xoxo
Touching, inspiring, awe-ing, and a great reminder to us all to take time and reflect on mother!! Thank you for writing this – I just had to “share” it all over the place!!!
bless your heart, dear louise. what i love about the 50 things — one of the things i love about it — is that even for those without their mamas nearby anymore, the conjuring up of the sentences, the digging deep into the interstices of who we are, and all the moments that have moved us to here, it’s a way of wrapping ourselves in the holy shawl of comforts remembered.
it’s the power of the imagination to transport us to the arms that once held us and rocked us…..
your post was a third reminder….thank you….i wrote the needed letter…
a bit of the beautiful for this morning of mamas…happy blessed.
love, the chair lady
What I Learned From My Mother
BY JULIA KASDORF
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
Reprinted from Sleeping Preacher, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992, by permission of the publisher. First printed in West Branch, Vol. 30, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Julia Kasdorf.
I love this post, and all the ensuing conversation. Thank you for singlehandedly writing this. My favorite thing here: that she comes and cooks for you once a week.
it’s pretty darn wonderful. (especially if you like frozen peas!!!)
just found this, passed along by katrina kenison, who wrote “magical journey,” “the gift of one ordinary day,” and “mitten strings for God.”
she included this in her latest e-mailing. i think you will love…
From The Parent’s Tao te Ching by William Martin
Words of Life
You can speak to your children of life,
but your words are not life itself.
You can show them what you see,
but your showing and their seeing
are forever different things.
You cannot speak to them of Divinity itself.
But you can share with them
the millions of manifestations of this Reality
arrayed before them every moment.
Since these manifestations have their origin
in the Tao,
the visible will reveal the invisible to them.
Don’t mistake your desire to talk for their
readiness to listen.
Far more important are the wordless truths they
learn from you.
If you take delight in the ordinary wonders of life,
they will feel the depth of your pleasure
and learn to experience joy.
If you walk with them in the darkness of life’s mysteries,
you will open the gate of understanding.
They will learn to see in the darkness
and not be afraid.
Go for a slow and mindful walk.
Show them every little thing that catches your eye.
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for great lessons or seek to teach great things.
The lesson will teach itself.