I've been thinking about my mom a lot lately, and today, on what would have been her 75th birthday (and an aptly gray and rainy day here in Denver), it seems fitting to pay her tribute.
I was 19 when my mom died. It was a pretty bad point on our relationship timeline to insert an abrupt end: I was in one of my more obnoxious, know-it-all periods—a time when I had a lot to learn from this brilliant, hilarious, and seasoned woman, but when I was too sure of myself to receive it. I was a freshman in college. She was 62. I remember the fall before she died, as she packed up the car to send me off to school, she looked at me and said, "How I wish I were 18 again and heading off to college." She seemed so wistful for lost opportunity. I didn't know at the time that she was dying of melanoma, but I suspect she did.
My mom never went off to college, but I often think what a different world we could live in if she and the other women of her time had. In her generation, women who had careers were either teachers, nurses, or secretaries, none of which was quite up her alley. She did work at various companies over the years, but over and over she would see the men she trained get promoted and become her boss. She stopped working when she had kids, but the injustices she faced as a woman in the workforce eventually led her to become a fierce advocate for women's rights—and for her three daughters.
She was almost 38 when her first daughter, Meaghan, was born. Caity came when she was almost 41. I was her final surprise, arriving when she was pushing 44 and certainly ready to get on with her life. Still, she was the most patient and loving mother I could have asked for. I often look at myself these days—ragged, frustrated, incapacitated after a day alone with the two kids, and I wonder how on earth my mother managed three kids ages 5 and under when she was in her mid 40s. And more pointedly, how she managed with grace.
Now that I'm actually going through the process of parenting, I realize just how much I still miss my mother, even after 12 and a half years. There's so much I wish I could learn from her, ask her, whine to her about. And it's just so hard to know that she'll never be a part of this phase of my life—that she won't meet my kids, that she never even met Greg. Even harder is the fact that they haven't known her. So I'll share with them my memories.
About the delicious meals she used to cook—her standbys: roast chicken with stuffing and gravy, her killer spaghetti sauce, her eggplant parmesan; seafood Newberg, rack of lamb, crown roasts on special occasions; and the best grilled cheese and chocolate milk for summer lunch.
About the time she called in to a political talk show to offer her opinion on the British occupation of Northern Ireland—a topic she could rant (intelligently) about for hours on end—only to completely freeze up and go silent when she got on the air.
About the time she sent a telegraph, instead of a letter, to the president (probably to complain about American complicity in the British occupation of Northern Ireland) so she could be sure he read it.
About the time I found in her drawer a letter she had written and sent to the principal of my school, insisting to know why her daughter hadn't been invited to join the National Honors Society and outlining all my unique skills, personality traits, and qualifications. I was livid—beyond livid—that she did this behind my back, largely because I hadn't told her the real reason I wasn't chosen: I had been caught cheating earlier in the year. Looking back, though, I'm flattered by the fact that she was so sure it was a flagrant injustice and sad that I took out my embarrassment on her.
About the time, when Caity and I were teenagers and we were making fun of her for something or other at the dinner table, that she poured a full (and cold) St. Paulie Girl over my head—with a self-satisfied smile on her face that made me think I'd probably had it coming for years.
About how, after I had been crowned high school homecoming queen (I know, big shocker), I was being interviewed by the school's news crew and she walked over, grabbed the microphone away from the newsguy, and told my entire high school that she had stuffed the ballot box. Who knows, maybe she did.
About how, when she was dying, she and I would sit together for hours praying the rosary—years after she had lost her religion but while I still had mine.
Of course the memories can't paint the whole picture of the person, but they're something I can pass down from this wonderful woman I was lucky enough to spend 19 years with.
The sun just came out in Denver, and Nora woke up flashing me the most brilliant smile. I'm going to go spend the rest of the afternoon cuddling with my kids and aspiring to love them half as well as my mother loved me.