Where is home for you? Some people live in the same place for many years or for most of their lives. Others have had a nomadic existence. Regardless of how many places we’ve lived there is usually one place we think of us home.
I have such a house. It is like the one Dorothy was so glad to return to from her trip to Oz. I think of it often, especially on Mother’s Day, because when I remember Mama I see her in that house. I lived there between the ages of eight and eighteen. Many of the firsts in my life happened there. I got my first bike; had my first date that included my first kiss that didn’t need confessing. It is where I learned to drive a car with a stick shift, graduated from high school, got my first job at an A&P. And Mama made it a home. But she didn’t always make it easy.
She was Mom, Gramma, Big Aunt Ro, Rose, or Mrs. G. But she was Mama to me. She could be infuriating and irrepressible; irritating and irresistible. She could be as sharp as a tack, or as tactless as an Eyewitness News Reporter sticking a microphone in your face. She was the Queen of Hugs, squeezing the breath from her grandchildren, yet she could leave me breathless with a psychological body punch that could have put Mike Tyson down for the count.
She instilled her love of literature in me at an early age. I knew Shakespeare before I knew nursery rhymes. From Portia’s soliloquy from “The Merchant of Venice,” I knew that the quality of mercy was not strained, except for Mama’s mercy, which was often strained through guilt.
She loved old songs and sang them to anyone who would listen. “A good old fashioned girl with heart so true …” described her perfectly. But so did “you’ve got to please mama every night or you won’t please mama at all.” Pleasing Mama could be difficult. Ask a son. Or a daughter-in-law. Her standards were high. Even shopping for a Mother’s Day card put pressure on me since it had better be the best one I could find.
She began painting in her sixties. No lessons, yet with a minimum of brush strokes she could stop a wave in mid-break or make a ballerina pirouette out of the frame. She was the best cook in the world. On meatless Fridays she served Fettuccine Alfredo, before there was an Alfredo. Cookies? Compared to Mama, Mrs. Field is a bricklayer. If Giada De Laurentiis tasted Mama’s meat sauce she would quit her television show and seek anonymity in the Witness Protection Program.
Bartlett’s Quotations never printed anything she said. Yet some of the things she laid on her children could stand with the greats of literature and philosophy.
Mama on hygiene: “Since when isn’t your face part of your body?” Followed by a scrubbing with a cloth that had the texture of a Saguaro cactus.
Mama on Interpersonal Relationships: “How can you and that girl be doing nothing until 1:30 in the morning?”
Mama on the propagation of the human race: “I can’t wait until you have children of your own!” This was followed by a series of facial expressions and gestures that would confound a third base coach.
Mama’s personal motivational speech: “If you want any dinner tonight you better get up and go to work, you lazy galoot.”
Mama on cloning: “You’re just like your father.”
No, she didn’t always make things easy, but life with Mama was never dull. We become realists as we grow older, preparing ourselves for the day we will attend a parent’s funeral. However, we never prepare ourselves for attending a stroke. At her bedside our role reversal was complete: me, the concerned parent; she, the helpless child, afraid and seeking the future in my eyes. We needed understanding more than ever, but she couldn’t speak and I didn’t know what to say.
She slipped away as silently as the tide in one of her seascapes leaving me an orphan on the shore. The world blinked at her passing and said I am too old to be an orphan. Oh? See Webster: parentless child. Age notwithstanding, alone is alone. If she were around today I’d buy a card just to hear her say: “Is this the best you can do?”
If your mama is still alive, don’t wait. Call her now.