One day during my lunch hour in downtown Cincinnati—I lived and worked there in the 80’s—as I walked toward Fountain Square, two gals came at me, arm in arm.
The younger woman’s grin was the spitting image of her mom’s.
When I stepped in front of them, they stopped walking and talking, their limbs suddenly stiff, their eyes wide.
The mother gathered her girl close. “Yes?”
“You all don’t know how lucky you are,” I said. I swept my hand in front of their togetherness.
“I wish— I wish me and my mom were like you two.”
A burn of sudden tears made my eyelashes flutter.
In that moment they seemed to melt, like chocolate on a summer day. The mother reached out tentatively, rested her manicured hand on my forearm.
“Why, you should tell her that, honey. Surely she wants the same.”
I shook my head. “Nah, we’ll never be like you two. Enjoy what you have.” Before they could say more, I ducked inside Lazarus Department Store.
A couple years back, I got to thinking about the Ten Commandments, the one that says honor your mother and father.
I did okay with Dad, but things were different with Mom. We were never close. But that afternoon as I puttered around the house, I thought maybe, just maybe, things’d be better if I came up with a list of good stuff I remember, instead of…
I arranged myself, my journal, and fountain pen at the dining room table, cradled a mug of coffee and drew its hazelnut steam into my nostrils. Seconds then minutes passed as I tapped my pen on my front teeth, crinkled my forehead, and waited for good stuff to arrive.
Then all of a sudden, there it was: good stuff.
I like scallops, but Mom loved them first. My mother adores stories. I do too.
Mom used to take me shopping and in between Stone and Thomas and Nassar’s, at McCrory’s five-and-dime, we’d order club sandwiches, wavy Lay’s potato chips, and made-in-front-of-you cherry Cokes.
“This’ll pick us up,” Mom always said.
In the evenings, during The Sonny & Cher Show or The Carol Burnett Show, we sat side by side on the sofa and she’d teach me how to embroider.
My French knots never got as good as Mom’s.
My mother was a nurse. I never told her, but I thought that was pretty cool. Since she almost always freaked out when my brothers beat up each other (and me), it was hard to believe she could stomach blood and guts.
From the hallway outside her bedroom, I used to watch her bobby-pin her stiff and quirky nurse’s cap into her dark curls.
No one told me how much I resembled her, not until years later.
Sometimes we’d dress up and drive to downtown Huntington to The Elephant Room in the Hotel Frederick for lunch. I clutched the armrests as the sweet, super old waiter with shiny mahogany skin scooted in my chair. Beneath the snowy table cloth my patent leather Mary Jane shoes dangled above the plush, crimson carpet.
When the waiter asked for our drink orders I crossed my gloved hands in my lap and peered up at him. “May I have a Shirley Temple, please? With two maraschino cherries on a pink plastic sword?”
Every year out in our backyard when the weather warmed, Mom showed me how to grow lilies of the valley, zinnias, and Shasta daisies.
“Poke your finger inside there,” she said as we crouched beside a clump of snapdragons. “It’s like a tiny mouth, don’t you think?”
On summer mornings our Keds sneakers left green trails in the silver dew as we made our way to the pussy willow bush on our property’s edge. Mom’s Avon-lipsticked mouth would turn up at the corners as she stroked the furry catkins. “Don’t they feel like kitten paws?”
For the past few years, from time to time, I’ve sent Mom my stories, some of them real, some not.
I fold then crease them, tuck the pages into the stamped and addressed envelopes, and hand them to the mailman.
It’s wonderful to receive real mail these days, not just bills. I wonder if Mom feels like she’s getting a present when she opens her mailbox and sees a letter from me?
Afterward, when the phone rings, I squint at the caller I.D. screen. Is it her? What’d she think of my last piece?
“I liked your latest story,” she told me just the other day. “You’re getting better, you know.”
Now here I sit with this one. And a stamped addressed envelope. It’s almost Mother’s Day. To send or not to…
My mother passed away September 21, 2018 at 9:48 a.m., gently, peacefully. And a few days later, for the first time in my life, I kissed the cheek of a dead person.