This month my family has been celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday. As you might expect, the milestone has occasioned a festival of storytelling and the ritual of reflecting on the importance of Mom in each of our lives.
The storytelling is my favorite part. One of my sisters reminded us how Mom would insist on pulling out rows and rows of crocheted blanket once a mistake was discovered near the beginning. Frustrating as a child, a welcome memory now for the lessons in doing a job right. My brother likes to tell how, when he was a teenager Mom always told him he was not too big to go over her knee. He would laugh at her and Mom would reach up and tap him on the side of the head. None of us has a memory of Mom putting anyone over her knee.
Mom started telling stories too. She told about meeting my Dad at the Rex Roller Skating Rink. And how they broke up when Dad wanted to see if the grass was greener in another girl’s yard. It took him about three weeks to discover it wasn’t. She told affectionate stories about her father, even though he was so mad at her for marrying a man against his wishes she didn’t know until the wedding march started whether he would walk her down the aisle. I learned that the night they moved into the brick house where I grew up there was a snow storm so my Dad had to spend the night plowing, leaving her in a new place with four children, the youngest of them only three months old.
At her birthday party, we left out paper and pen for guests to write birthday wishes or memories of time spent with my mother. My cousin thanked her for always welcoming him to her house, providing an escape from his less-than-perfect living conditions. My nephew told her she was the best roommate he ever had. I wrote the word “Mom” on my paper then stopped. I could not find words to express the value of having her as my mother. I could not find the one memory that summed up her importance in my life.
I have memories of my mother beating me at cards, advising me about marriage, sitting by my hospital bed, laughing at the kitchen table with her brother, holding my father’s hand, dancing with her great-grandchild, telling me my Nana had died, yelling at me to pick up my shoes, bragging about her grandson in the Navy, working on a sewing pattern strewn across the kitchen table, beaming when I named my daughter for her. Lessons can be attached to every memory; the morals at the end of the stories are there, if I want to parse them out. But I find that I don’t, not now anyway. I left that paper with that one simple word, “Mom.” I think that is enough.