Warning: this post gets worse before it gets better. I PROMISE a laugh at the end, even if you might cry with me in the beginning.
Sally and I were born on the same day, 26 years apart. As I was not with my mother last year on our birthday, my wish when blowing out the candles on my birthday cake was that I would get to spend another birthday together. She had THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER. Queen for the Day! Me, not so much. Mine included a full moon and a trip to the ER for Mr. Understanding.
For our 40th and 66th birthdays, my parents came to Brazil. I had a blow out party, complete with caipirinha bar, 1964 themed attire, and a marvelous DJ. At a group lunch on our birthday, one woman commented, “Oh, I’d hate to share a birthday with my mother. When one would die, the other would be sad forever.” I had never had that thought before. I recall wanting to reach down across the table and slap her face. I can remember exactly where I was when this woman blurted out this truism. Fortunately, I cannot remember who it was. Thank you, Jesus.
Ever since, though, some reptilian part of my brain has been preparing for this future day, approaching in 2017, exactly nine months after my mother’s death, the full gestational life of a baby. What new thing will be born then? What was a thoughtless comment has actually made me pay sufficient attention to our mutual birthdays, particularly the ones spent together. Of these, there were many. Perhaps I should thank that nameless face for the opportunities we had to REJOICE together whenever possible?
When I said at the beginning of my Homage to The Radish that there was no baggage between me and my mother, I might have been fibbing. For example:
My mother and I had WILDLY different notions about gift giving.
Here is a conversation I had in my head prior to my 4th birthday:
Me: Why is Mommy locked in a bedroom sewing all day?
Myself: She is making you a little leather dirndl, edged with fancy German ribbon at the top. She is having a real issue with the plastic loops for the shoulder straps. I know ’cause I snooped and I can her her swearing inside.
I: But I don’t want a leather dress! How about a doll???
Let’s fast forward to my 17th birthday.
Me: Wow! A Merriam-Webster Dictionary!
Myself: And a red London Fog rain coat?! Just what every 17 year old wants!
I: Seriously? How about the new Michael Jackson album??? A pair of Famolares?
Fast forward again to my 30th birthday.
Me: A commemorative copper pot! Engraved even!
Myself: Is this a message about my cooking??? I have a nine month old baby!
I: REALLY???? I WOULD JUST LIKE A MASSAGE.
It sort of became a joke. Sally believed that the gift was more about what the giver wanted to give. I am more about pleasing the recipient. Both of us were thoughtful in our approach. My mother had as many hits as misses. Me, I mostly hit it out of the park in the gift department: French jacquard tea towels, fancy aprons, Jo Malone body cream. If I didn’t, I’d find the item the next summer in her church garage sale bin.
Last year, I could not think of anything I wanted or truly needed. So I told her to buy me a knife, because I knew she was coming to visit me in Arkansas and would enjoy using it. Sally had great knives and I knew it would please her to give me one, even though she always traveled with her own knives, wrapping them in dishtowels and sandwiching them between her underpants, sweaters, and books inside her checked luggage.
Here is a list of gifts I gave my mother that pleased her greatly, not all of them material.
- suede go go boots and green eyeshadow – my dad and I picked them out at a store called The Gas Company (?) on the Arcata Plaza. Age 5.
- wearing a German dirndl she made for me. Age 18. University of Oregon campus. ARE YOU DYING FOR ME YET???? This memory is so painful I am saving it for an actual book.
- cutting my hair in a style Sally found short and attractive for my round face. Age 45.
Finally, every year there was a debate about the cake. What to have? Who wants to make a cake on their birthday? Not my mother. Sometimes we had pie. Did I mention that my mother, while an excellent cook, did not like to bake anything but bread until her late 60s?
Here, a photo of one of her cake baking efforts.
Fantastic on color theory, a little sloppy on the piping. This would only cause her to shrug her shoulders – oh well!
I still have a copper pot I use all the time, a well used dictionary, some fancy knives, and a quilt under which to hide my oh so weary head or with which to make a tent. As I look at the quilt, she must have had an inkling of how often I’d move.
But the best gift she ever gave me was time spent with her. How I wish I had more of it! This year I will make a wish that she will be with me and my father in spirit, helping me to blow out the candles, putting her hand on my dad’s shoulder to lean in and assure us we’ll see her in the blink of an eye.