As my mother’s 90th birthday arrives, I realize that in the nearly 57 years our lives have overlapped, we’ve never really TALKED.
Sure, in the quarter-century since I moved out and got married, we’ve conversed either in person or on the phone every day; but our family dynamic has never encouraged the sort of mushy intimacy that some families take for granted.
Conversations tend to be geared toward superficial discussions of the weather, Dr. Phil’s guests or the things we kid each other about, such as the fact that until just a few years ago, she thought a “strip mall” was a place where women get dollar bills stuffed into their panties after performing a pole dance.
I have attentively listened to her stories of growing up as part of a sharecropping family during the Great Depression, about various injustices heaped upon her over the years, about her courtship days and memorable vacations and long-deceased ancestors; but I haven’t taken on the therapist’s role of prodding, “And how did that make you FEEL?”
I’ve never really given my mother credit for her influence on my life. I definitely got my love of reading from my father, but she gave me my compulsion to be a collector. She gave me my soft-heartedness toward rescue pets (although I’ve never replicated her act of trying to resuscitate a DROWNED WASP). My anxieties that I’m not writing enough sympathy cards have roots in the way she still apologizes for not getting out to the nursing home more often to visit “the old folks.”
Neither my mother nor I have ever uttered the words, “I’m proud of you”; but she prominently displays graduation photos of me and my brother and asks people she meets if they read my column in our hometown paper. And I AM proud of her for marrying a good man like my father, handling widowhood these past 17 years and managing her money so wisely her entire life. I’m proud of her for being able to maintain her independence (driving, shopping, mowing, and bill paying for herself). I’m proud of her for being the first person at church every Sunday morning.
We don’t trumpet things we do for one another. She saw me through all the childhood illnesses and injuries. She never pried into my romantic disappointments, but she provided meals and a roof. I slept (?) in a catastrophically uncomfortable hospital chair after she had her mastectomy. Actions speak louder than words.
We don’t verbalize regrets or shattered dreams, unless it’s her lamenting, “I wish I had bought TWO cans of Folgers coffee when it was on sale.” But I do regret the times I sassed her as a teen, and the occasion I sneaked off to the grocery store while she was talking to Aunt Marie.
Discussions of mortality? I nag her about eating more and hydrating properly. She jokes about outliving all the auctioneers who would love to handle her estate auction. She off-handedly mentioned where all her important documents are stored; but in general, we tend to whistle past the graveyard quite nicely.
And that works for us. I blinked, and the 70-year milestone turned to 80 years and now 90. So I’m just going to prop my eyelids wide open and enjoy every day I can with this special woman.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.
Danny welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”