Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, mothers to be, people who want to be mothers and anyone who has ever had a mother. ( Did I miss anyone?)
I once knew a guy who bought his wife a present for Mother’s Day.
“I am not your mother,” she snapped and stomped out of the room.
I get my wife a Mother’s Day present every year. She is not my mother either, but getting presents makes her happy, and when she’s happy, I’m happy. Or more correctly, when she’s not happy, very soon I’m not happy, also. I joke about my wife often on this blog, but she’s actually done the best job she could of raising our kids considering the huge handicap she has–here of course, I’m referring to me.
People often say I take after my father. Physically I have to agree. He was a slender good-looking, extremely intelligent man who literally oozed modesty, and I would say that description fits me, except the modesty oozing out of me prevents me from doing so. My mother, on the other hand, was a heavy set Slavic woman who constantly struggled with a weight problem. She didn’t wear shoes most of the time. The souls of her feet were calloused and thick as … well, shoe leather. I once saw her step on a nail. It stuck in her foot but never drew blood because the callous on her foot was so thick. Barefoot, she could still outrun most of my sisters’ boyfriends—they timed me in the hundred yard dash with a calendar, so I’m not sure which of my brothers or sisters got the speed gene, but it wasn’t me.
When Mom got excited or angry, a Bohemian lilt came out in her voice. Sometimes she would throw in a few Bohemian words or phrases, although she didn’t speak Bohemian. It always made me smile, which wasn’t a good thing when I was the one getting yelled at. To this day I’m not sure what she was calling me. I like to think it was: My precious little modesty oozer.
My mother loved to sing and could play the piano by ear. (Again I’m not sure where that gene went.) She was a great cook, seamstress and card player. She loved to laugh, a big full laugh that often left her breathless. The only flaw I can remember is she loved polka music, but I guess nobody is perfect.
For most of her adult life, my mother was an old fashioned, stay-at-home housewife who cooked, cleaned and waited hand and foot on her husband. (With a few changes, I take after her in that respect.) One day she went into the work force and was promptly elected chief steward of her union. She enjoyed it. This obedient housewife was suddenly sitting in on contract negotiations and standing up to The Man for workers’ rights. It was something she’d accomplished outside the home, and it made her happy. I think being happy was my mother’s one goal in life, and often, mostly through no fault of her own, she failed at it. I will confess that as a teenager I bore some responsibility for that.
Mom died way too young from the cancer that curses her family. She never saw our youngest daughter or any of her great-grandchildren. When I was young, she was often the only one who I would let read the stories I had written. She believed I could write, but never lived to see me published. The last two years of her life, I watched that large robust woman shrink to little more than a hundred pounds. She was unable to get out of bed on her own, let alone outrun her daughter’s boyfriends. For a long time, when we knew a cure wasn’t coming and it was just a matter of time, I worried that I would remember my mother as that frail, sick creature racked with pain and struggling for each breath as she lie in the hospital bed. I didn’t want that. It wasn’t who she was. She’s been gone for decades now, and what I remember are her laugh, her singing and the Bohemian lilt … and it still makes me smile.