FROM JUNE 23, 2014
I guess, if we’ve done stuff right, we hold within ourselves meaningful memories. The most meaningful ones come from the folks who have graced our lives over time.
I have shared with you many memories that came from folks like that. They were about a grandmother who said to me, “Please don’t go!” About a grandfather who trusted me with his tool shed. An aunt who brought me a birthday cake. An uncle who took me fishing.
They were about my dad who made me laugh. My brother who remembered a fallen war hero. My sister who cared for my ailing mom. There was one about a cousin who sent a timely message of encouragement.
There have been many of my son and his wife, and their children. They once filled my empty cupboard with fresh food. My grandsons laughed at me and called me by my new name, “Paw-Paw.” My granddaughter cooked eggs with me.
And my friends – there are many stories of those who lifted me when there was no other direction I could go alone.
It’s funny. When I look at all of those moments objectively, I mostly think of just the stories and of the folks who created them. The stories each, seemingly, intertwine with nothing. They are each merely segments. Segments of time.
Maybe they don’t need to intertwine. Maybe they need to simply exist. But how do I reconcile the simple existence of mere portions of life after what I was given by a woman who embodied the emotional ties that bind all such moments?
She has some segments, too. I’ve shared her moments quite a bit over the years. I look at those times as I do all of the others. At first. But when I remember hers, and when I try to classify them, she clouds things a bit for me. When I think of her, all of my segments lose their definition. And her moments magically fall into place behind all of them.
Her moments have driven all of my life’s portions.
It was her mother who pleaded with me. It was her dad who showed a young child how to use a hammer. Her sister did the baking and delivering. Her favorite brother-in-law baited my hook. Her husband was the clown. Her oldest son remembered. Her daughter cared. Her niece was the timely one. Her grandchild and his family filled my cupboard, laughed and changed my name – and cooked eggs. And the friends? Without what I was given by her, I would never have been able to put a true value on those folks who lifted me all those times.
The woman seemed to bring order to things in my life. She still does. She has, for the past sixty years, taken all of those segments – all of them – and through emotion and love scrambled them into the one solid memory that I need. It’s the only memory that allows me to trace, to a single moment, my very own history and the origin of all of the elements that comprise my life.
That single moment happened when I met my mother.
And the moments following? With her? There were laughs. There were smiles. There were tears. There was some genuine stuff going on. But the definitions of her segments were always clouded by her ability to intertwine those moments in such an inclusive manner.
The one where she stayed up all night to save the life of her son’s goldfish. It was a sweet and singular moment much like all of those from each of the other folks in my life. But when she saved that little swimmer’s life, she didn’t stop there. She brought life to fatherhood – mine. She brought life to my son. And to his children. The days and hours and moments that have passed from that night in 1960, when she stayed hunched over that bathtub in her goldfish emergency room until well after daybreak the next day, clouded that one moment in time into lives – real ones – mine, my son’s and those of his children and into the lives of every child we each touch these days.
The woman seemed relentless in including more into simple moments that were, until she stepped in, easily and clearly defined. Like the time I fell from a tree and hurt my back so badly that the neighborhood dads rushed me to the hospital. All she had to do was to let me heal and move on. That would have been enough to give me a simple segment and a story to tell one day. But on the day I was hurt, she remembered what I said of a purple and flowered dress she wore not long before that accident. I said to her, “I love that dress, Mama.” She looked beautiful in that dress.
That afternoon at the hospital, she arrived wearing purple and flowers. She knew she could do nothing to help heal me that day. But she did what she could. She wore that dress. And she knew. Words and thoughts that come from other folks mean things. So do deeds that come from mothers in purple dresses.
If I was the only one who understood what she did that day, this, too, might just be another sweet moment – just another segment. But Mama clouded this, too, and included in my life deeds and words that I see and hear and feel from my very own son and his wife. I have seen the very same stuff from my brother and sister. Even from my young grandchildren.
They all wear purple and flowered dresses from time to time. They each bring goldfish back to life. And those friends? When they see purple dresses and rescued gold fish, they understand. They understand Mama, and they wear and rescue, too. My survival is proof of that.
The woman gave me life. She loved me. She showed me how to use her kind of love to survive and prosper in such ways – beautiful and clouded ways that take my regimented sort of segments, blend them into things that are difficult to define but that include all of the loving and funny and sweet and endearing moments her son has been allowed to live.
All of them.
No one but Mama could do such a thing.
Ninety-four years ago, on June 23, way before she gave me life, the woman graced me with the promise of some meaningful stuff. That was the day Mama was born.
I cannot say how much right stuff I have done all these years. I would argue that I haven’t done nearly enough. But by clouding segments into six decades of meaning that intertwine perfectly with every moment her son has lived, well…
I’d say Mama did some stuff right.