Begonias before Sunset
(written May 10th, 2009)
The brilliance of Mother’s Day is that it happens every year with such predictability that you can prepare for it – send that card well in advance, design an extra special tribute to the woman who gave you life. Instead, you find yourself lost in a card isle searching for the perfect card among what remains, and convincing yourself that the generic card you’re now clutching and that massage gift certificate you’ve yet to purchase will suffice. I’m sure this scenario resonates with many. I wish I could say I was more punctual and more creative. I wish I did so much more in hindsight.
This year, I found myself lost in the card aisle staring at Mother’s Day cards the moment they were made available – months in advance. I stood frozen, slowly taking in the cards I would not send, the event I’ll miss this year and all years to come. It was as if someone took a board to my gut. Those gestures I once took for granted, seemingly common and often last minute, seemed personal and unique almost like an epitaph on a grave. I spent time in that aisle thumbing through cards, wishing I had the opportunity to send a cheesy cellophane wrapped card to Mom. Tears welled as I allowed myself to envision what I would write, what I would do, and what she would say when she would receive it. A lifetime of this is a long, long time and part of me wanted to tell passersby to “make it count” before the opportunity passes and you’re found crying in an aisle clutching a card your mom will never read.
Despite hoping that milestones like Mother’s Day are skipped over, they somehow stand proudly from the crowd and deliver with maddening punctuality. Last month, Mother’s Day was merely a spoken placeholder for a hard day to come – another anticipated milestone to wade through in the grieving process. As days ticked off, that distant ship light on the horizon drew painful distinction. Mother’s day commercials replaced regular advertisement with startling speed; watching testimonials and gift ideas for that special mother was nothing short of agony. To imagine a life time of not being able to participate, to actively celebrate Mom and tell her how much she means to me takes the breath from my lungs. Though I can tell her now in the breeze and the trees, it’s not the same and it’s a painful permanence that is rubbed in every time there’s a commercial break.
Yesterday, as I was standing in line to pay for next week’s groceries, I spotted the familiar green packaging of Trident gum and instinctively grabbed a pack and placed it between my bell peppers and strawberries. Back in the car, I clutched the package hoping the taste hadn’t changed with the packaging. I closed my eyes and popped a piece. It was the same and just like that I could see Mom in real time rifling through her purse for a short stack of Trident gum; she’d offer a piece to us before selecting one for herself. For years, Trident was the only gum Mom would chew and would inevitably pull a piece while waiting for Dr. Hollingsworth (our pediatrician) or any other appointment dotting the years. She’d pop her gum without ever really blowing a bubble. I remember her teaching me how to catch air by rolling the gum – thank god I never learned! It’s ironic that I sought out that memory when it sometimes was an irritant. Annoyances today, treasured moments tomorrow. What I’d give to hear her pop her gum.
So began my tributes to Mom, evoking any and all memories to bring her close to me. It would be our day – mom and mine – even if in memory. As difficult as it was anticipating what Mother’s Day might be like, when the ship docked, I boarded. I awoke today after dreaming of mom. We were in a frenzy to reach an unknown destination and even rode dolphins (stay with me here) to get there on time. There was a familiar sense of desperation to reach “base” but this time we wouldn’t yell olly olly oxen free; I think my subconscious wouldn’t allow her to reach it.
Once awake, I decided to pot mom’s favorite flowers in planters on my balcony (“favorite” meaning the flowers she would always plant). I soon realized she chose the begonias, pansies and daffodils not for their extraordinary grace and distinctive color but because they are low maintenance. Atta girl! She was with me with each handful of potting soil. I could recall her taking us to Quality Plants to pick out the perennials and annuals; I could remember her teaching me how to garden, how to tap the sides of the containers to loosen the roots before pulling them out. I could hear her compliment me on my green thumb just as she did when I was in college.
After “giving the flowers a good soak” as she would say, I sat with mom on the balcony as the sun grew soft before changing and leaving for the next tribute. I took myself out to the last restaurant Mom and I went to in DC – a Spanish tapas place she loved. We talked and laughed for hours over small plates and decent drinks. Tonight, I ordered a light wine for her as a placeholder and could see her sitting across from me just as clear as that night. She was dressed in all black with turquoise jewelry, and was absolutely beautiful. I ate in silence, however, sniffling back the tears as I welcomed the memories. I hope the memories are as vivid next year as they were tonight.
As a last tribute, I re-read the cellophane wrapped Mother’s Day card I purchased for her, though did not send. The message is just as poignant for her in life and now in memory; buying it brought her close to me.
The cover reads, “Mom, you leave a little bit of wonderful everywhere you go…”
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