Love and Life

Happy Birthday to my Mama!

Since I don’t know how to say it any better than this, I am reposting a blog I wrote on the occasion of my mother’s birthday the last time I was abroad and too far away to see her for the occasion:

The One Where I Write About My Mother

As it is my mother’s birthday today:

The earliest memories of my mother are only shadows now, barely visible through years of forgetting, but they start somewhere like, “Good morning, Mommy,” and crawling in her bed, it still dark outside. She was always welcoming. Never once do I remember being turned away – mostly I remember crawling in beside her, and how warm she always seemed in the morning. I remember I would put my small hand on her cheeks just to feel how smooth they were, and run my hands along her arms; she was my first vision of what it was to be a woman, to be feminine and soft, my first vision of what I would one day miraculously grow to be. And she was(is) so beautiful and perfect.

I remember other things. That she used to, I haven’t seen her do this in years, pour salt into the palm of her hand to dip her carrots in. My earliest earliest memory is of this: I remember being very young, with her on bed rest from being pregnant with Joey, and her asking me to go fetch the salt and carrots from the kitchen and me being delighted at the task and scampering through the house to complete it.

I remember creek walks at my aunt’s farm: both her and my aunt, my two mothers, teaching me the wonder of the world – the small minnows hiding out in the deeper waters underneath tree roots, the small snails clinging feebly to slimy rocks, and the water crest, that my mother taught me to eat, and which we did eat, the taste somewhat like a radish but so much better because there it was – a free salad perched in the middle of the stream.

I remember water colors – silly drawings, sweet drawings, the millions of games that she created. Games that instructed and entertained. Some that merely terrified, like playing hide-and-seek in the house with all the lights out. (My favorite! Still!) I remember her playing guitar – my first real introduction to music – the beautiful song that she and my Uncle Donnie wrote “California” (or is it called “Gold Rush”?) being the first song I ever learned to play.

There is the way she mothered Joey and I both; the support she and my father always showed us in all of our endeavors – paying for whatever lessons we wanted to take – never pressuring us – always complimenting us probably more than was merited. There is Joey’s painting that hangs above the mantle piece, my book of poetry on the coffee table, the musical instruments and equipment Joey and I are both allowed to leave everywhere, the practices, loud and inescapable in the living room. There is the fact that we were always allowed and encouraged to talk to our parents about anything and everything – and the fact that we were almost never reprimanded for our confidences. These are the privileges of having exceptional parents that Joey and I have enjoyed our entire lives without much taking the time to consider how lucky we are. But I will say it now: no one has parents better than mine. (As good as, perhaps, but it would be impossible to surpass them).

There is our perch, her perch, in the living room on the love seat, and the bird feeders visible from either window- the little stone bird that sits on the coffee table laden with books about birds, and the binoculars to better watch their little world. There is the coffee always sitting just beside her – half&half and sweet&low and frothed milk. And the whole of her perch covered with the Tennessean all scattered about in the morning – the Sports and Business section laying dejected in the corner and my mother pouring over the Classifieds – hunting for sail boats and house boats and tear drop campers.

There is cooking: tiramisu, baklava – my sixteenth birthday when we spent the whole afternoon preparing chocolates, divine chocolates, that caused in us a jubilant euphoria we later read was from breathing in too much chocolate, inducing a marijuana-like high. There is the way she dances – wild and emotional – a true child of the seventies. And there is the way music moves her, and makes her cry – the way she feels it until it is a part of her.

And then there is the wilderness that is my mother. There is Black Mountain and its views and hundreds of thousands of year old rocks. And Stillhouse Hollow Falls – the morning we met the photographer there at six in the morning, set up a sleeping bag and read and napped and passed one of the most peaceful mornings of my life. There is Devil Step Hollow, the holy place, where my mother crawled on her belly into the hollows of the earth. There is all the land that she has saved.

There is poetry: Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard and Sam Keen and so many others. The poetry that gets to the soul of her, that inspires her religion and mine. And there is her writing – the articles she writes for her annual reports are beautiful vignettes and she has written some very beautiful poems and songs.

There are my grandparents – Nana and Pa Don – that both live in her. She is every bit my grandmother, who understands and marvels at the beauty of the world and understands in an inspired way the goodness of God, and though I never met him, I know that she is my grandfather too – mischievous and stubborn and confident and powerful. There are her siblings- her best friends and some of mine too – who she respects, confides in, adores, admires – and for all of them I know the feeling is mutual, despite their differences. There is the way that all five of them seem absolutely determined that they will not grow up – and I do believe that thus far they are still winning this battle. Despite their 50+ years.

There is my father, and the way they are still in love, the way they are still at times too much in love too much in front of Joey and I or whoever else is around and kiss each other and make eyes and act like teenagers. My father, one of the sweetest men alive, one of the best father’s alive, supports her in everything she does, and she in turn respects him for everything he is – for the excellent man he is. Their marriage is one to aspire to have.

And in short, I cannot say how much I love her. How much I am grateful that I was raised by her and my father, grateful too that I am so like them both. In short: I love you, Mama! No one’s like you the whole world over, and I’m so glad its me who gets to be your very own favorite daughter!

As an update: since writing this, my mother has saved Cummins Falls, had the Tennessee Real Estate Transfer Tax reinstated, and helped to plan the best wedding ever. Couldn’t be prouder of her!

Mama when she was around my age…
My mama and daddy on their wedding day!
Mama on my wedding day!
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4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to my Mama!

  1. Thank you honey for such a sweet tribute. (And thank you for leaving out all the parts that are not very flattering.) You learned the lesson about “not airing dirty laundry” well. 🙂 I love you so much and am proud of you and sweet Jonathan. Be happy. Peace and love, Mama

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