“You know,” Dad said grimly, “If you ever achieve half the talent, intelligence or kindness of your mother, you’ll be very, very lucky.”
He was right. I’m still working on it.
When he said that, I was maybe 13, in trouble again; most likely Dad had caught me arguing furiously with Mom and sprang to her defense. (My teenage years were not exactly smooth sailing–I think of them as one long and arduous fight against authority.) I suspected he was right, but boiling oil wouldn’t have gotten me to admit it.
Thank heavens we grow up and that, somewhere along the way, I learned just how right Dad was. My mom’s one of those Renaissance women who can do just about anything and (unlike me) she’s a pretty private person, so you don’t hear much about it. But I’m purely in awe of all her accomplishments.
- She’s an incredible pianist, is the accompanist of choice for dozens of musicians in church and instilled a great love of music in all her children.
- She’s a wonderful artist; I still remember one painting she did of sunlight on a fawn when I was a kid. I used to stroke the fawn’s head when she wasn’t looking. She drilled us with art flashcards when I was a kid, until we could tell a Brancusi from a Monet. Thanks to Mom, I grew up as comfortable with art as with science and regular baths (which, strangely, she also insisted on).
- She throws beautiful ceramic pots and platters and lanterns and one of these days we’re going to build her a studio at home (if we can ever figure out how to shoehorn it into a backyard the size of a postage stamp). Her forays into kilnformed glass are remarkably advanced. And she still owes me a WHOLE BUNCH of handmade tile for the stairs in my house.
- She sews–she made my famous coat, which even strangers rave about. She designed and made my favorite jacket (which also gets lots of compliments) from my old canopy bedcurtains. When I was a kid she bought a bunch of inexpensive printed muslin and totally made over the bedroom I shared with my sister; years later she resewed our bedspreads into the first quilt I brought into my newly married home.
- She dances; right now she’s teaching my youngest niece to tapdance and twirl a baton (she was a majorette in school).
- She’s a nurse, vet, whatever’s needed. She partnered with Dad when he was just starting out in private practice, doing whatever was necessary to keep the office running. When Dad was traveling and my cat ran afoul of the car’s fan belt (and the vets in our small town didn’t believe in coddling pets when they could be caring for cows), she staunchly found the ether and eased my poor kitty into a painless end.
- She cooks; her pumpkin pies and fruitcakes are legendary, and if you can ever get her to make it, her southern fried chicken is to die for. You definitely want to have Thanksgiving dinner at Mom and Dad’s house.
- She’s beautiful. When I was young I thought she looked exactly like a red-headed Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and I was in awe of her sparkly evening clothes and Chanel No. 5 perfume. Now that I’m older, I realize that she was doing all that on an impossibly tight budget (and that she was a heckuva lot better looking than that other Jackie)…and I’m even more in awe.
- She’s a great teacher; when it became clear she was marrying a med school student, she abandoned her music degree for a teaching credential to support them through his training. For years she taught Headstart children in desolate, rundown parts of town, making just about all the family income. She never complained…and she still found time to do those mother things.
- She gardens lyrically–the grounds around their house in Missouri were a fabulous blend of roses, iris and raspberry bushes. When they moved to the northwest to be with their kids, Mom insisted on a small yard because she didn’t want to spend hours gardening anymore. But she’s at it again; slowly, that little yard is filling with lilacs, lily of the valley and vegetables.
- She’s a logician; I’ve never met anyone who can so clearly get to the heart of a problem, tease it into its component parts, and solve it. As a kid I got used to hearing Mom calmly working her way through brainteasers that nobody else got.
- She has a velvet whim of iron. She won’t directly order you to do something you don’t want to do…but an hour later you’ll find yourself doing it anyway, so there’s no point in resisting. (This would be less infuriating if she weren’t right most of time)
- She’s a friend to just about everybody, it seems. Drop her into a strange place, and new Momfriends seem to pop out of the woodwork.
- She’s an inspiration. When my high school guidance counselor told me that engineering and journalism were both too rough for girls, she growled and told me to ignore him. A college counselor had told her the same thing about becoming a geologist, back in a time when that really was true, and she was determined to let her girls make their own choices. Come to think of it, she’s still that way.
And you know what? At the end of the day all that stuff doesn’t really matter, because Mom’s also my best friend and confidante. I would have died before admitting that as a teenager…but it’s my lifeline now. In rough times, she (and Dad) are the wall at my back, supporting me and never, ever, ever letting me fall.
I don’t tell her often enough how much I appreciate it. So..I appreciate it, Mom.
And Happy Mother’s Day.