Today would have been my mother’s 92nd birthday. She died when she was 80 but it feels like yesterday. I miss her. I find myself wondering what she would look like at 92 and wonder how she would be getting around if she were still alive on this earth.
Today I think of things she loved. I think of red tulips, purple irises, colorful petunias, red geraniums. Her favorites. I think of Chantilly perfume, juicy red tomatoes, crossword puzzles and colorful Berets. I think of those silly bird houses that gave her so much pleasure and brought us all laughter in her final days at home. I remember thinking at first that a bird house was such a goofy Mother’s Day present, but what else do you get an elderly woman who has everything, wants for nothing, doesn’t leave the house much and who has multiple cancers?
I thank God for those bird houses now. How she loved them!
I think I miss her smile most of all. How it could light up a room. How she could make people laugh with her quick wit– a trait I wish I had inherited from her. I miss hearing stories from her younger days.
I miss watching her stand in her 70s style kitchen complete with Avocado green stove and avocado green refrigerator. Even the tiled linoleum was avocado green. I never understood why she always told everybody her favorite color was yellow but everything she seemed to purchase for the house was green. Green couches, green chairs, and even the dryer was avocado green. Then there was the green Plymouth my father had adorned with a big red bow and surprised her with one Christmas morning. She unselfishly turned that car over to me when I went off to veterinary school. Even though she really needed that car, she knew I needed it more.
I remember when I went off to college, my mother decided to remodel her kitchen in a chicken theme. She had collected chickens for years. She got a chicken border and wallpaper, new cabinets, new flooring, a new refrigerator and dish washer and a new pantry, but she hung on to that double oven avocado green stove that she loved. I miss seeing her standing at that green stove and lovingly making meals for her family. How she loved to cook. I did inherit her love of cooking.
When her days were winding down and she was under hospice care, the time came when she was starting to accept that she was indeed going to die soon. It was hard. She wasn’t ready to go and she told me over and over that she didn’t want to die alone. I remember I was sitting with her in the den one day watching TV (probably Judge Judy) and I caught her staring off into the adjoining kitchen. Her eyes scanned the walls. Then she looked over at me, and she said softly and with sadness and pleading in her voice, “You girls please don’t throw all my chicken pictures and figurines away when I die.” I assured her we wouldn’t. And then she smiled. We divided the chickens up, my two sisters and I, even though none of us needed them, and we each have them in our own kitchens. They sit in my kitchen peppered among the pig figurines I collect.
After my mom’s death, I remember how painful it was for my sisters and me to go through our parents’ things and empty that house– a house we’d known for 47 years. There were a lot of happy memories there. I remember finding pictures of her dog, Buddy, who I gave to her right before she was diagnosed with cancer. Buddy was a big old mixed breed brown and black dog (I wish I could show you a photo but my darn scanner isn’t working). He had belonged to a veterinarian friend of mine and he was as sweet as could be. My mother fenced in her big backyard for that dog. But he scaled that chain link fence like it was nothing. I watched him one day and saw with my own eyes how he did it. He jumped belly first and clung to that fence with all fours like a Velcro doll, then he’d climb right over. I remember the day my mother called me on the phone and in all seriousness, she said, “Gail, I think Buddy’s a homosexual.” I fell on the floor laughing. Yes, I did. I composed myself and then said, “Okay mother, why do you think Buddy’s a homosexual?” “Because he keeps climbing the fence and going over across the street to Mr. Hamilton’s house and he cuddles with his dog. Sometimes they even get in the same dog house together and his dog is a male too!” I assured her it was okay and that male dogs could indeed be “just friends.” I still laugh when I think about that phone call.
One day my sisters and I all met at my mom’s house. On this particular day we were going through jewelry, shoes, and cleaning out her old purses. We must have found a dozen old vintage rain bonnets our mother used to wear. The old cheap plastic bonnets that tied under the neck. The ones my mother never left the house without. My sister put one on and we laughed hysterically.
I remember the day one of my sisters and I went to do some final cleaning prior to the closing and we were going room to room and wiping down walls and cleaning the light switch covers. My sister looked at me and said, “You know what we’re doing?” We’re washing our parents’ DNA from this house. Something about that was so incredibly painful and sad. I felt like my heart was being ripped right out of my chest.
I walked through that house and yard one last time and thought it would kill me. I remembered all the birthday and holiday celebrations we had under that roof, family meals, family pets we loved and had to say goodbye to. I remembered parents who paced the floor when their daughters had their first car dates with boys. I remembered fights over who had the bathroom next, how my sisters and I hated when we were little and our mother would lean us back in the bathtub to wash our hair and scrubbed our head with the hard plastic spiky cream-colored brush. Mother always said she was just trying to keep our heads clean. I couldn’t part with that old tortuous plastic brush when I came across it while clearing out the bathroom closet. When I found it I smiled, and then went running to show my sisters. “Look what I found,” I said, as I waved the horrid brush in their faces. “God we hated that thing,” they confessed. It’s in a box in my basement somewhere. I walked through every last room rehashing memories in that particular room. I’ve never cried so hard. I was losing my parents all over again.
My mother’s favorite cake was pineapple upside down cake. I wanted to make one in her memory today since that was always what she requested on her birthday. I haven’t eaten one since she died.
I always love when people who knew my mother well tell me I sound just like her on the phone and in person. My mother had a thick southern drawl. I talk with a southern accent but not as thick as hers was. She often called people dahlin’. I’m sure she got it from her mother, who also used that word a lot. My mother called just about everyone dahlin’– her three daughters, the neighborhood girls (and boys), the check out girl at the grocery stores, her nurses, her three son-in-laws, her friends at the Grand Ole Opry. Not darling or darlin’, but dahlin’. It was sincere and endearing and came so natural to her. It was who she was. Even in my dreams she calls me that. I miss hearing it.