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Happy Mother's Day, and Happy Birthday to my mom, who would have been 84 years old today.

Yes, my mom, the master manipulator and queen of cliches--and I mean that in the most loving and reverent way. She had her stock responses which, to this day, my siblings and I can recite by rote:

Whenever we messed with something we shouldn’t have messed with: “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?”

When we cried longer than deemed absolutely necessary: “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”

When we asked what unidentifiable food was sitting on our plate: “Arsenic. Eat it.” If we declined she'd remind us of all the "starving kids in Europe." Always Europe. Never China. (Warning: Do not offer to send it them...)

When responding to noises in another room: “Whatever you’re doing in there, cut it out!” (Warning: Do not say "snip, snip!")

When things didn’t work out because we didn’t follow directions: “Well, that’s what you get!”

When we tried to do X and she didn’t agree: “If you think you’re doing X, you’ve got another think coming!” If we argued about it, she'd demand to know if we were “out of skull” and then suggest, “You need to get your head examined.” If we continued to persist, she'd throw up her hand and say "Fine! Do what you want!" which meant we sure as hell better NOT do what we wanted if we planned to live long enough to celebrate our next birthdays.

When my sister and I got a bit too big for our britches: “Who do you think you are, the Queen of England?” (Word to the wise: Do NOT answer "yes" to this question, nor infer that you're merely Princess Anne...)

When we said “So what?” she’d snark back: “Sew buttons on your pants.”

When something in general simply didn't work out: "Well, that's the end of that."

When we misbehaved she'd threaten to “send you to Jones Home.” Yes, there really was a Jones Home for wayward children. Once she went far enough to pack my suitcase. I was traumatized into my best behavior for weeks. Years, actually.

When we fought we were warned to “Keep you mitts to yourselves.” Always mitts. Never hands.

When we refused to do something, she'd say “All right for you” in a very hurt tone, which usually made us give in. Of course her ultimate guilt trip was “One of these days I’ll be dead and THEN you’ll be sorry."

Yeah, she was right about that one.

Funny how the things that annoyed you most about a person, you look back on with fondness once they’re no longer with you. The way she freely called females “broads” and “dames” in the midst of the women’s lib revolution. How, when we asked for funds for something special, she insisted she wasn’t “made of money”; then, when we protested that all our friends were going, she’d then ask if we’d planned to join them on their trip off the bridge.

Yes, she was tight with a dollar; as adults, if we encouraged her buy something for herself or take a vacation, she’d insist she needed that “like I need another hole in my head.”

She loved Sam Hill, whoever he was, and often invoked his name, as in “What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?”

She loved Ricardo Montalban, coyly confiding that he was free to “put his shoes under my bed any day of the week” and Shirley Temple--"They sure don't make 'em like that anymore."

She loved animals; our house was never without at least one cat and one dog, and often more than one of each. She’d build bird and squirrel feeders (along with shrines to St. Francis in every backyard she owned) to ensure that no critter went hungry over the winter. She rescued baby birds and nursed them back to health, and fostered dogs; one of my earlier memories is of Daisy, an Old English sheepdog, licking my face. I probably wasn’t more than three years old at the time.

It was my mom who introduced to me to the magic of the public library, starting with the Little House series when I was seven. She loved to write; I think, in another time, under different circumstances, she might’ve become a writer herself. She loved music and played the piano. Blessed with a beautiful singing voice, she once recorded the song “Always” for my dad. If something struck her as funny, she'd laugh and laugh and laugh till, quite literally out of air, she actually wheezed--which of course made everyone around her laugh harder.

She wasn't a perfect mother by a long shot. Then again, she didn't have perfect parents herself. She did not have a perfect husband. She didn't have perfect children. My home life was often an unbearable train wreck; as a depressed, introverted kid I'd agonize over this, convinced that NO one had a family more F'ed up than mine. Only as an adult did I realize how far from the truth that was.

My mom was never one to discuss personal feelings. Once, not long before she died, I tried to talk out some of the issues of my childhood. I'd wanted to understand, to explore, blah, blah--or so I'd convinced myself at the time. Maybe, being selfish and self-centered and dealing my own load of baggage, I'd simply wanted to confront her. When I questioned her parenting skills, my mother grew rigid, looked me straight in the eye, and said, tearfully, "I did the best I could."

I was so ashamed.

Though my mom didn't live long enough for my own children to know her, they "heard" her every day whenever I opened my mouth: "Are you outta your skull?" "Get your mitts off that!" "You just couldn't leave it alone, could you?" "Sew buttons on your pants!" And, best of all, "Arsenic--EAT IT," an expression even my husband occasionally blurts out.

What is my mother's first greatest gift to me? My children. I see her whenever I look into my son's eyes. I hear her whenever my daughter exclaims over an animal in need.

Her next best gift is the gift of serenity. With every year that passes, my appreciation for my mother grows and flourishes. I understand her now. Though I need her less, it's like I want her back more if only for more time to get to know her better. Love is a tenuous thread that can either be broken or knotted. Mothers tie the knots. Children, even as adults, try to jerk them free. With her strained words--"I did the best I could"--she instantly stopped me from ripping that thread.

Manipulation? Maybe.

Well, thank God it worked. No, I am not defined by my past. I can see beyond the bad and continue to be grateful, eternally grateful, for all of the good things that fill my life. My mother was part of it.

All these years later, when I gather with my family and we talk about my mom, about her expressions and goofy habits and idiosyncrasies, and how my sister and I are so much like her ("No, you are!" "No, you are!")...it's absolutely true:

I laugh and laugh and laugh till I wheeze.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
barbarabaker
May. 14th, 2013 12:15 am (UTC)
Wow, it's amazing how much she sounds like my mother, who was about the same age. I mean, really! I wonder if they would have recognized each other if they met.
onegrapeshy
May. 14th, 2013 12:52 pm (UTC)
I bet they would've sat and had coffee and wheezed together! :)
swhisted
May. 14th, 2013 12:55 am (UTC)
My mom said so many of these things to my sister and I when we were growing up, too. It's funny that for the longest time we made a pact that if either of us started acting like Mom in our adulthood we'd let the other know and put a stop to it immediately, but small things have already started to seep into us, like humming to nothing constantly the way Mom does even when that humming was the butt of our jokes and an annoyance to us as children. Whenever I catch my sister doing it, she pretends it's not happening. I'm sure whenever Mom passes she'll stop pretending and own this trait in Mom's memory. I'm sure we'll be happy to break our pact to not be like Mom when that day comes.
onegrapeshy
May. 14th, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
"I'm sure whenever Mom passes she'll stop pretending and own this trait in Mom's memory."

I guarantee it! :)
ext_1800835
May. 14th, 2013 12:22 pm (UTC)
:)
I really enjoyed reading this! I saved the picture from FB this week and the story to our family tree on Ancestry. Hope you don't mind.

Samantha
onegrapeshy
May. 14th, 2013 12:55 pm (UTC)
Re: :)
You're very welcome to it! There are a couple others on FB as well, in my album "Looking Way Back"--one is of you dad with her! Help yourself. xox
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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