Counting my Riches – Mother’s Day 2015

angel's wingDespite thousands of commercials and signs everywhere I still somehow managed to let Mother’s Day sneak up on me.

Hubby and I were vacationing in Florida last week and while there I met a white woman who happened to be from my home town. She didn’t live in my neighborhood but she worked there. When I told her the name of the street I grew up on she stated very matter-of-factly, “Oh, youse lived over there, your people had money!” Funny, I don’t remember it that way.

What I remember is growing up with a woman who had strong morals and work ethic and with a heart so big I have nothing to compare it to. I remember a single mother who worked every day to take care of her children and very often one if not all of her five brothers. I remember standing in food lines to get our bag of groceries – you know the one that had that good Government cheese in it. I briefly remember food stamps.

We were, however, “rich” in other ways.

I can remember mom pulling out her sewing machine to make clothes for my Barbie doll and kneeling with her beside the bed to say my prayers. I remember how she twisted her left hand on paper turned sideways when she taught me how to write right-handed. I remember when she was the cook who could make a meal out of anything and I was the baker, making cookies and cakes from scratch, beating the batter by hand. I remember the etiquette lessons as a teenager, how to stand tall, sit like a lady, walk with head held high. I remember how often she told me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be whomever I wanted to be and she made sure I had the education and skillset to accomplish just that.

It’s true my brother and I did attend 12 years in tuition-paid parochial schools. I never remember being hungry. There were always presents under the Christmas tree and always cake and gifts for our birthdays. But what I remember most, money didn’t buy.

My mother was my biggest supporter and my loudest cheering section. I remember all the times she told me, “It’s ok, everything will be all right,” and “You can do it.”

She was my toughest opponent. I remember when I couldn’t take her anymore and I just had to get out, be on my own.

She was my greatest ally. I remember coming home again and again and again… until it was her turn to come and live with me.

It’s been 7 months since mom passed and this will be my first Mother’s Day without her. I haven’t even thought about the gift I would have given her if she were here. Probably something silly since we are long past fancy and elaborate. She wasn’t a fan of flowers in the house so potted plants was the “go to” gift after homemade gifts had run their course. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have been able to give her diamonds and furs before returning to homemade when she received original paintings from me, but we’ve since both reached the age where a simple phone call would lift our spirits and warm our hearts because the other stuff wasn’t important anymore.

So, this is it. In the last 7 months I’ve survived Thanksgiving, Christmas and her birthday – November, December, January – all in a row. Then there was Valentine’s Day in February, my birthday in March (thank God for a reprieve in April). But here it is May and yes, I’m a little snot-nosed and red-eyed as I write this but my momma left me rich beyond even my dreams, so I know I’m going to get through this as well. No, my people didn’t have money. We had momma.

Paragon (poem for mom)

I go there often.

To visit.

I enjoy the after hour quiet when night falls and the crowds leave.

On some visits I laugh hysterically – On others I go to cry.

But with each visit I’ve come away comforted when I was hurt,

Hopeful when I have been doubtful,

Encouraged whenever I chanced to dream.

She has always been an icon of strength, chiseled from fine marble.

She stands erect, polished and poised upon a pedestal.

For years I have stood in the security of her shadow

Admiring her form,

Aspiring to be like her.

I have visited during the daylight hours—

Watched others ogle her, listened to their whispers.

There were many who admired her passion and beauty, and Her spirit,

But they moved on.

Lately, I look at her and wonder. –

Did the stress of the throngs, Pawing and staring

Produce the minute cracks around her eyes?

Are her critics to blame for the fractures across her brow?

Or is it my pains that weigh too heavily on shoulders

I thought were unbreakable?

Perhaps it is simply the minute hand in motion

That chips away at the base of the pedestal I built for her.

I want to cushion her and pack her away before she topples and breaks.

But such actions would only extinguish her smile.

I am inclined to encase her in glass, Distance her from the masses,

But that would merely dim the light that glimmers in her eyes

And prevent her from touching others

As she touched me.

No, I think I’ll let her stand

—removed from her pedestal.

Perhaps I’ll notice that she is only human.

None the less, I’ll always love her.

for Marlene Handy, January 1936-October 2014