Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wearing Mom's Shoes

"I think Beggar sort of 'adopted me' after his mother passed away," my late aunt said. It was a warmish autumn Sunday afternoon and my female cousins composed her audience. I was in the living room and they were in the kitchen, where my family has always congregated whenever they're together. Only when you can't move without bumping a glass and baptizing it's owner, do we slowly sift, one or two at a time, out the door onto the patio. But not for long. The vacant kitchen is a vacuum, sucking us back inside, unaware we're like pieces of driftwood, floating out to sea, drifting up the shore, riding the tides onto a Maine beach, floating out again.

When I overheard her, I smiled, thinking she was the one who'd adopted me after my father, her younger brother, passed away. Maybe it went both ways, each of us trying to fill an empty space no one else could.
Marion the Librarian, my uncle, her youngest brother, christened her because she literally was the librarian for a small, northwestern Colorado town. Though not it's founder, she was certainly it's builder, and it grew steadily, like children, as long as she held her post.

My aunt was a large woman. I don't mean obese, just big. Tall. Buxom. A woman born to be mother who was a good one to one and all. She loved how I lived near Maine's "stern and rocky coast," (The Last Gasp of Summer) though she never saw it for herself. When I think of her, I can't help but see her tall, dark-haired, matronly frame with a gingham apron knotted at the waist. I remember visiting the library once, when I was younger, and being startled when she walked out of her office without that apron. Most days, she tied it on in the morning the same way some women put on makeup -- she didn't quite feel dressed without it.

The truth is, my father's passing was hard on her. To him, she was "Sis," and she missed hearing it. His last years, spent fighting off the disease that could only lay claim to him in his final second at the very end, they spoke regularly by phone. I was never privy to those calls but the way she described them, they were the kind we have when we're acutely aware time is short, and we dare not waste the briefest of breaths speaking words expressing nothing. The kind we have when we fear we'll never have another and what we say will have to last us for eternity. The kind we have when we don't want to leave anything unsaid and regret what we do.

I did try to step into my father's shoes, to the extent I could, since at last we lived close and a visit was so easy you'd be embarrassed to call it a drive down the road. We were both glued to the tube on 9/11 when I began punching in her number. You remember how it was, how you reached for the phone, ringing up mom or dad to tell them you loved them because it was the moment drawn close when tomorrow may not come. You didn't know for sure and couldn't take the risk. She was wearing mom's shoes then and was a comfort I still feel.

As you can tell, I'm thinking about Mother's Day and have been all week, how it was for the women I've known and how different it will be for the women I've intimately met in the birthing room. I saw them the very instant each became "mom." The same instant some lucky slug of a guy became dad. Until this weekend, the first-timers, at least, experienced the day as a daughter, wishing their mothers happiness. Now, I imagine those mothers calling their daughter-mothers, offering them the same wish. It's really quite something.

Happy Mother's Day.

(Creative Commons image by JoshBerglund19 via Flickr)
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