What version of Sally do you think is in Heaven? Something different but even more beautiful!
Right up there with Dr. Seuss is the author of “beginning to read” books, P.D. Eastman. Although not nearly as prolific as Seuss, Eastman’s books Are You My Mother? and Go, Dog, Go! are easy to read classics on par with The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Eastman’s story about a baby bird hatching while his mother is gone from the nest foraging for food, and his subsequent quest to find her, leave an indelible and anxious mark on many a four and five year old. The baby bird did not know what his mother looked like so he inquired of a kitten, hen, dog, cow, car, boat, jet, and SNORT, asking plaintively, “Are you my mother?”
I am fortunate that I did not have to ask this question as a child. However, both of my maternal grandparents lost their mothers in adolescence and my father-in-law, The Headmaster, lost both parents at a very tender age. This is why, although the waves of grief billow over me threatening to capsize my equilibrium, I try to have only the occasional pity party. I was blessed with knowing my mother Sally and liking her, to boot.
But even my mother threw me and my sisters out of the house.
“GO OUTSIDE!” she yelled with alarming frequency. Sometimes she’d even lock the doors so we couldn’t come in and bug her. Reading a book in my room was not an option. She needed the nest CLEARED.
When this happened, I would ramble in the neighborhood, visiting my “other mothers”. Estelle McDowell, a married, childfree woman who looked liked Mrs. Claus, read me her childhood books, books written in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Josephine Scribner Gates. She entertained me with stories of the pet monkey she once owned. Even if I couldn’t come inside to visit, she would hand me a piece of Almond Roca candy and kindly tell me to skedaddle.
Then there was my “Nana”, Lois Watson, to whom I was not related but who was present when my mother brought me home from the hospital, who knit my Christmas stocking, and taught me to bake.
Finally, there was Thelma Willard, who taught my mother to garden, kept a basket of polished beach agates on the hearth, and whose husband’s garage was filled with hundreds of clocks with which he’d tinker.
All of these women’s houses were their own special kind of Wonderland and the people who inhabited them were lavish lovers of children.
The absence of my mother Sally has obviously created a tremendous void. There is no upside in this. But is there, perhaps, more space for others to tuck themselves in? Skipping around my Florida neighborhood, I ask myself, “Are you my mother?”
There is Winnie, my mother-in-law, who has given me space and healing hugs. There is Carol, my next door neighbor, who gives me gardening and household tips, a friendly wave across the driveways. There is Sandy, who invited me to the Daytona Beach Symphony Fashion Show. There are the women of Sally’s bible study at Trinity Episcopal Church who welcomed me into their circle when I was forlorn. I gravitate to their experience, wisdom, and open hearts.
The baby bird at the end of the book Are You My Mother? cries out, “Where am I? I want to go home. I want my mother.”
Baby Bird gets his wish. And in my own way, I am too.
Photo credit: NiagraFallsLive. In 1901 Annie Taylor was the first person to go over Niagra Falls.
Recently I was reading Psalm 42, the subtitle of which is “Longing for God and His Help in Distress”. Overall, the psalm is a picture of inundation of grief and despair, water imagery flowing throughout the course of the psalm. What caught my eye was the use, in verse 7, of the word cataracts:
“Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.”
Catarata is the Spanish word for waterfall, which is the old fashioned use of the word in the psalm in the English NRSV translation.
When the river is full, the deluge is constant, pounding, a cloudy curtain of water pouring unimpeded into the pool below, spray rebounding forcefully. When there’s a drought, the falls slow to a trickle.
How this is like a veil of tears, obscuring one’s ability to see, the lens of the eye dry and gritty, forming a cataract of sorrow.
Today, I have gone over the edge, albeit in a barrel, bouncing around up and down. Psalm 42 ends with the refrain, “Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” I know this to be true.
Birthday Blessings to my baby sister MCVWasHere. May this be your best year yet!
The day I was supposed to drive from Northern California to Washington to study for the bar exam, I lost my car keys. It was the summer of 1991. The 1977 Buick Skylark that was my wheels (and perforce humility) only had one set of car keys when I bought it 5 years earlier from the elderly neighbor lady. One minute, I was loading my car and then the next I was searching frantically for the keys. Which were not found that day. By the time the locksmith came and cut me a new key, it was late in the afternoon. My mother convinced me to start my journey the next morning, rather than drive at night through the redwoods and isolated parts of Oregon to Eugene.
“Never drive when you are upset,” Sally proclaimed, an admonition I have endeavored to pass on to my children.
“Maybe,” she opined, “this is God’s way of telling you to spend another night.”
For every time I listened to my mother, there were probably ten that I did not. That time I did.
The keys were found almost a decade later, when my parents were moving from the house, my Cal Bear keychain a tad rusted, still grasping tightly to the keys of a car I no longer owned. They had fallen through a crack in the deck. How and why they were ever found remains a mystery.
A lot of things have fallen through the cracks of my life over that past two years. When Sh*t Happens, this is to be expected. There are peripheral casualties. It is impossible to hold the center at all times, just impossible. This is painful. Between the illnesses, a heart surgery, the death of a parent and the loss of a job, Thing 3’s nascent college career slipped through the cracks. This is partly her fault, partly her parents, and partly the natural order of things. Even when you are getting straight A’s, life sometimes just falls apart.
“Maybe, ” I opined, “This is God’s way of telling you to spend another year at home.”
I do not know what might have met me on that road on a dark summer night. I can only tell you that my mother was right. Never drive when you are upset; take the extra time.
So, the prodigal daughter is home. My arms are wide open, even if I don’t have a fancy dress and honking ring with which to welcome her but Big Mike is fixing her dinner. Perhaps she will do me one better and listen to her mother two out of ten times. Perhaps.
I would really appreciate it if someone could tell me why my mother saved an envelope of clothing labels. Is this something one Kon Mari’s? It is evident they were her mother’s. Some tell a tale of travel: Kay O’ Kauai and Rita Tillett of Las Brisas in Acapulco.
What Would Sally Do? I ask this question a lot. Sometimes there’s an answer but not today.
My mother Sally wore red shoes to my baptism and her mother’s funeral. Scroll to the end. All of my grandparents are featured in the link below. The beginning explains my thighs …. sigh …. but not my big head.
Brought to you by my father and iMemories.
Viva El Rabano!
You know that I could not go 40 days without a post about my mother which did not also include Mother Mary. Please indulge me.
Let me remind readers that I am not big C “Catholic”, just little “c”. So perhaps I am a bit misinformed, not having been indoctrinated in the Marian way. This makes it all the more fun for me! Vis a vis Mary, I have no preconceived notions. So please bear with me as I flesh out a recent triptych that unfolded in my grief journey.
As an aside on triptychs: One of my all time favorite museums is the Museu do Oratorio in Ouro Preto, Brazil. Back in the day, baby triptychs were crafted for praying while traveling. Portable, the panel doors swung open to display a central painting, sculpture or other ornate religious objet d’art.
Photo credit: Marie Solange O. via Tripadvisor.
Another famous example of a triptych is Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights, hanging in The Prado.
The Marian triptych you are going to open, however, is composed of words, photos, and music.
Left Hand Panel:
Throughout my life I have cultivated friendships with seemingly random people, people far flung from the normal parameters of my life. Many times I have encountered these people during shopping experiences. The Virgin Mary got an angel named Gabriel and I get a cortege of Nordstrom salespeople. Sanctified shopping!
Last year I wrote of dear Saba, my Jo Malone saleswoman. We have prayed for each other for several years and give each other little gifts. My gluttonous stash of “pashminas” from Shanghai made its way to Saba in February. Saba always wears black, with a beautiful scarf wrapped around both shoulders. I cannot express what joy it gave me to Kon Mari those gorgeous $5 scarves – they were just waiting to be given to Saba.
Then there was Viking Queen, my betattooed makeup counter girl. I have lost touch with her (she is moving up the Nordstrom corporate ladder) but I still think of her on her birthday.
Finally there is Bruce, who helped Thing 2 and Mr. Understanding in the Men’s Wear department. Neither of my men enjoy shopping for clothing. Long ago, I figured out that enlisting the professional help of others when shopping for clothes is the most cost and time effective. Bruce is in his early to mid seventies and married to a wonderful woman named Judy.
Several years ago, before I even really knew them, Bruce told me that his mother-in-law had passed away and his wife was grief stricken. He mentioned that her parents lived in Florida. It turns out, it is the same town where my parents and in law Understandings live. Bruce and Judy were traveling from the Buckeye state to visit her father for his 90th birthday. I offered up my little cottage in Florida for accommodations. They accepted and enjoyed the birthday party, leaving my house cleaner than it had ever been before. They have used it a few times since, each time leaving a little gift.
One of those gifts is a little sign made of wood, an optical illusion puzzle, that says JESUS, made by Judy’s father. During one of their visits, my parents invited Bruce and Judy over to their house for cocktails and Bruce and Judy brought them one too. It sits on my mother’s roll top desk.
My father and I saw one of those little signs at the dermatologist’s on Valentine’s Day, the one month anniversary of my mother’s passing. It was what my grandmother would call a “love pat” from the Universe, a Godwink, a cosmic kiss. It had to have come from Judy’s father but no one could really tell me. (I did recall making a referral for him a few years ago.) When MCVWasHere was in Florida for my mother’s funeral, she commented on how she would like to have one. Voila! Bruce delivered one for each sister to my house in Ohio. Ask and you shall receive.
On Friday night I made Burmese Easy Grilled Chicken. As I was leafing through the Burma cookbook for a rice recipe, I came across a blurb about Sister Mary living in an obscure region of Myanmar as part of a Maryknoll Sisters mission, treating HIV/AIDs. (The Maryknoll Sisters were started by Sr. Mary Joseph (a.k.a. Mollie) Rogers from Boston.) Naomi Duguid’s books are as much history as they are travelogues and recipes. A Marian apparition under the tutelage of Sally.
This week my father Big Mike received a card from Bruce and Judy. My Nordstrom salesman and his wife were sending my father condolences. Mary-nate on this for yourself. Is anyone in your universe this thoughtful? Bruce no longer works at Nordstrom so there is nothing to gain for him – no commission, nada – just angel wings. Here is the card:
Bruce and Judy had honored my parents with a donation to The Servants of Mary who will say mass for them daily at the Vatican. The Servants of Mary, I discovered, have a national ministry called GriefWork. Bruce and Judy were greatly saddened to hear of Sally’s passing. Oh, and they are coming to visit in May – could they take my father out for a meal?
This is how we are meant to engage with the world. Inviting others out, setting aside ourselves, devoting attention. Mihaly (“Mike”) Csikszenthihalyi writes in his epic book Flow:
“Whether we are in the company of other people or not makes a great difference to the quality of experience. We are biologically programmed to find other human beings the most important objects in the world. Because they can make life either very interesting and fulfilling or utterly miserable, how we manage relations with them makes an enormous difference to our happiness. If we learn to make our relations with others more like flow experiences, our quality of life as a whole is going to be much improved.”
You do not have to be a yogi to go with the flow, my friends.
Right Hand Panel:
This brings me to my final Marian experience of the last two weeks:
Last week I was with Big Mike, Mr. Understanding, and Thing 3 in Gainesville, Florida to visit the Natural History Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest. Afterwards, we went on a hunt for an easily accessible restaurant. Hangry, we finally stopped by Leonardo’s Pizza by the Slice. Although the interior can only be described as grungy (hence off-putting) the food was good. My father declined to eat, sneering at the pizza on display (they warm it up).
At each table was a newsletter called “The Coffee News”. Mainly advertisements for bail bonds, quickie divorces, lawn care, and funeral arrangements, it had a trivia section. In it was the following fun fact: the Mother Mary in Paul McCartney’s song Let It Be was written about his deceased mother, Mary.
According to Thoughtco.com “[I]nspired by a dream the singer had of his deceased mother, Mary, assuring him, amongst the turmoil of the Beatles’ slow breakup, that everything would be all right. ”
I cannot tell you how many times in the past ten days I have heard Let It Be playing in a public place or on the radio. I am still waiting for Mother Sally to appear in my dreams and whisper words of wisdom but perhaps this is not her preferred method of contact.
With this in mind, I will close the triptych up and pack it away for future use.
So please, Nordies, continue to put the Really Beautiful People in a sturdy paper shopping bag and walk around the cash register to hand them to me. Leave your politics on the counter with the triple points; let it be. These kind souls are my take away, no returns necessary. I can see the shape of their hearts – overflowing.