This much is clear to me about being a mother. Age makes us better. Death makes us extraordinary.
My mother, gone now twelve years, has reached near sainthood. When the local paper solicited photos of mothers ‘no longer with us’ along with a short descriptive phrase for a Mother’s Day montage, I sent the editor my favorite picture of my mother, the one taken at Niagara Falls in 1938 on the honeymoon trip memorialized for decades by the little notebook of expenses my father kept tucked in the scrapbook. Gas – 37 cents.
I thought for a minute and wrote the words: beautiful, gentle, an enigma.
When she was alive, my mother was a constant puzzle and source of worry. I wondered every day what was the matter and would often ask her. She never admitted anything being the matter until I was a teenager and it became my job to drive her to see her psychiatrist. I don’t know why she didn’t drive herself, she had a beautiful black Thunderbird. Why was I driving? I don’t remember.
One fact is very telling. I’ve searched my memory time and again, going over every event, recalling our family dinners, remembering my mother working the register at our store, sitting in the front seat on our long road trips, wrapping a nickel in a handkerchief and sending me to the corner store for a popsicle, rolling up her jeans before getting in a rowboat, writing out the list of household chores, putting the last presents under the tree, telling me everything was fine and not to worry.
I never heard my mother laugh.
I don’t think she was unhappy every single day that I knew her. I just think that she kept herself wrapped as tight as a time capsule buried next to the town’s library. No one was ever going to get inside her head.
Well, maybe someone did, but it wasn’t me. I was just a spectator.
I loved my mother but she was a mystery that was exhausting. She could only be available to me so much and it wasn’t very much.
But that’s what it was.
It used to really bother me but now when I think of her, I describe her as beautiful, gentle, and an enigma. Those are the words that come to mind all these many years later after I learned to give up trying to understand her and to just accept her for the beautiful, gentle, enigmatic person that she was.
This is what we do. As they get older, we gradually let our mothers off the hook. When they die, we finally let everything puzzling and sorrow-making go. Their essence is left and it glows.
That’s why I believe that mothers improve with age and then explode with brilliance in death.
I’m banking on it because my turn is next.