As I type this, my parents are driving from Kansas to Los Angeles to see me. My Mom won’t see this for a few days, perhaps not until after she gets home to Kansas in a couple of weeks. I love the fact that my Mom reads my blog, it keeps me from writing about things I probably shouldn’t write about.
A few days ago, I was swimming my laps and there was a woman, probably in her 30’s, who was attempting to swim in the lane next to me. She’d splash, flap her arms against the water, kick mightily. She had no sense that the water was there to buoy her, propel her even. She’d never had swim lessons, clearly. And I give her credit for being out there, with goggles and swim cap, no less, trying to figure it out. She made me think of my mother, who also never learned to swim. I think the reason I became a swimmer was because she wanted me to take swimming lessons every summer, she wanted me to have something she longed for as a child.
When you find out the story of people’s childhoods, sometimes you wonder how they ever made it to adulthood. If they’ve grown into a person who thrives, it’s even more of a miracle.
My Mother is the fourth of five children. Her Father died when she was two and she was raised by her Mother and three older brothers, Sam, Rocco and Mike. There was never very much money. Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying about money and (as far as I know) I don’t have 5 children to feed. I marvel that my Grandma, singlehandedly, could have raised 5 children to be 5 big-hearted, funny, smart, loyal adults, but she did.
There are things that my Mom missed out on by not growing up with a Father. Swimming lessons was the least of it. There were no Father-Daughter banquets, no one to make a Father’s Day card for, her brothers were the ones who taught her to drive.
And because my Grandmother worked so much and because she was one of 5, I think my Mother was always hungry for her love. At my Grandmother’s funeral, my Mother was so bereft she tried to crawl into her Mother’s casket as the family was saying their final goodbyes. Her brothers had to pull her away. I remember standing there, wondering if I should go to her or hang back. I was 20 at the time, not the best years in our particular Mother-Son relationship. I was a little embarrassed, but also I wondered if I might one day do the same thing with her one day. (My Mom and I have both probably seen the end of Imitation of Life one too many times, to be honest.)
I’m still haunted by the matriarchal character Violet Weston from August: Osage County, played onscreen by Meryl Streep. Her adulthood is so embittered because her childhood was so difficult and cruel. It made me think of my Mother, whose hardscrabble youth must have been similar, and yet she grew into my Mother, a woman who is loved by all who cross her path. A woman who always makes my favorite pork and potato burritos when I come home, a woman who is deeply sentimental about Lifetime Christmas movies, a woman who bakes butter pecan cookies for Eric every Christmas, a woman whose first words after her son came out to her were, “Nothing will change my love for you.”
My Mom’s favorite song is The Rose. Whenever it comes on the radio, she reminds me that this is the song she wants sung at her funeral. I won’t forget. I love the song almost as much as she does and though I’ve never told her, it always makes me think of her, too. If I had a dollar for every tear I’ve shed while listening to this song, I could buy my Mama a solid gold casket.
So, this song is for my Sweet Mama, I love her so.