Today, May 8, 2012, if my mother were alive, she would be 87, and if someone were to ask me the same question, I have no doubt I would answer in exactly the same words.
It’s true the memories aren’t as sharp or as painful as the first year or so after she died when I often woke up from vivid, disturbing dreams of her or my childhood home, but not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of her in some way.
Maybe it will be a strain of Ravel on the radio or the smell of popcorn in a movie theater.
Or, as happened the other day, I opened a cookbook and a recipe for lemon meringue pie in my mother’s handwriting fell out.
I don’t want to idealize her. She was human and had her flaws and even the best mother-daughter relationships can be complicated.
But in retrospect, I realize my mother was not just a good mother, she was a wonderful mother.
She was a far better mother to me than I was a daughter to her, and I wish there were things I could change, years when my rebellious nature brought her worry and grief.
But I suspect, somehow, she knows that.
My mother is certainly responsible for my love of literature.
As a child,she read me not only Dr. Seuss and fairy tales but Shakespeare, Keats and Shelly.
When I came home drunk as a teenager she admonished me by quoting Othello: “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.”
She introduced me to classical music and took me to hear the Cleveland symphony every year. She had a beautiful voice and on Saturday mornings listened to the opera broadcast on NPR.
While we cleaned house she would sing along with Joan Sutherland or Lucine Amara. I loved to hear her sing and to this day, La Bohème makes me cry.
But there are other, more important, lessons I learned from her.
When I came home hurting and angry from taunts at school, she told me that character assassinations don’t deserve a response and those kind of actions usually come from a place of great pain and I should pity those people rather than hate them back.
When I felt sorry for myself, she taught me to appreciate the gifts life had given me.
Although she tended to have a liberal outlook on things, she married my father, a staunch Republican, and one of the most conservative and big-hearted men I’ve ever known.
From their example I learned to listen to opinions different from my own and to respect our diverse outlooks as part of what makes us unique.
“How boring if we all thought alike,” she used to quip. I also learned to not let politics get in the way of love or friendship.
Today, I can see her in my brother and sister who are two of the kindest people I know.
When she died two years after our father passed, and the three of us had to settle our parents’ estate, I remember the lawyer told us how rare it was to see three siblings who didn’t fight, but were close and showed so much love to each other. That, too, was a legacy to our mother.
I miss my mother. Sometimes the missing is so strong it’s like a physical pain. But I’m also grateful for all she gave me. The best of who I am came from her nurturing and her wisdom.
Because her birthday fell so close to Mother’s Day, in fact, some years they were the same day, we always celebrated them together in our family.
Although she used to say she felt cheated, I don’t think she really minded. She was never one to be petty or complaining.
So in honor of her birthday, I’d like to say, happy birthday, mama.
And in honor of mothers everywhere, have a happy Mother’s Day.
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