The drawers, closets, and cabinets in the bedrooms of my parents’ house were sprinkled with spiral notebooks, calendars, agendas and journals, each filled with entries in my mother’s handwriting. After Mom’s death, I gathered them all and put them in a closet of a spare bedroom, thinking I’d get back to them later, when I had more time. It’s been nearly a year and a half now, and I miss my mother’s laugh, advice, and wisdom. Remembering the journals, I recently asked my sister, who was visiting Dad, to bring back as many as she could carry. Upon returning to San Antonio, she deposited a large shopping bag of them at my front door. I’ve been going through them, laptop nearby, ready to transcribe all Mom’s thoughts, wishes, desires, and compile them into a new, single keepsake journal for my brother and sister. I was hoping to have an experience similar to Diane Keaton, who wrote a book about her mother, who, after departing this world, left eighty-five journals filled with recollections and thoughts about her children and herself. Alas, I’ve pored over several of Mom’s spiral notebooks and agendas, and have found nothing more riveting than, “Cold today.” “Constance called.” “Hair done. Color and cut.” And, notations of Dad’s city council meetings and first Friday Masses. Growing weary, reading weather reports and mundane details, I decided to jump to August 11, 1984, my wedding day. The entry? “Big day! Very nice. Wedding went well.” Period. Seriously, is that all my mother had to say about the wedding of her eldest child? No “Constance looked beautiful,” or, “Bill is so handsome and debonair.” Nope! That was it. After reading that entry, I questioned why Mom held on to all these….CALENDARS. That’s what they are; nothing of substance, just dates with notations of what went on that particular day. It didn’t matter if it was a Monday in September, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even a wedding day. Just the facts, ma’am. I was feeling let down. My dream of collecting my mother’s inner musings and profound ruminations was dashed. No matter which “journal” I picked up, it was all the same. Then, I came across Mom’s 1996 “Daily aide, The Silent Secretary,” and a neatly clipped, well-preserved newspaper article fell out. It was a 1971 “At Wit’s End” column by Erma Bombeck, (one of my mother’s favorite people), re-printed by the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, April 28, 1996, in memory of the author who had died the previous week. After seeing the title, I began to smile and read the following:
“Her 3 children were best gifts life could offer”
“It is normal for children to want assurance that they are loved. Having all the warmth of the former Berlin Wall, I have always admired women who can reach out to pat their children and not have them flinch. Feeling more comfortable on paper, I wrote this for each of my children.
To the firstborn…
I’ve always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage, the fulfillment of young love, the promise of our infinity. You sustained us through the hamburger years. The first apartment furnished in Early Poverty…our first mode of transportation (1955 feet)…the 7-inch TV set we paid on for 36 months. You wore new, had unused grandparents, and more clothes than a Barbie doll. You were the ‘original model’ for unsure parents trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb, open pins and three-hour naps. You were the beginning.
To the middle child…
I’ve always loved you the best because you drew a dumb spot in the family and it made you stronger for it. You cried less, had more patience, wore faded and never in your life did anything ‘first,’ but it only made you more special. You are the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married, and the world wouldn’t come to an end if you went to bed with dirty feet. You were the continuance.
To the baby…
I’ve always loved you the best because endings generally are sad and you are such a joy. You readily accepted the milked-stained bibs. The lower bunk. The cracked baseball bat. The baby book, barren but for a recipe for graham pie crust that someone jammed between the pages. You are the one we held onto so tightly. For, you see, you are the link with the past that gives a reason to tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision, and give us humor that security and maturity can’t give us. When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Erie and your children tower over you, you will still be ‘the baby.’ You were the culmination.” (Universal Press Syndicate)
At the top of the column was a single word, written in ink in my mother’s familiar cursive, “Amen!” It’s not enough for a memoir, but it’s all I needed to be reminded of Mom’s feelings for all three of us, my brother, the middle child, our sister, the baby, and me, the firstborn.
Today, May 22, 2014, would have been her 94th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! And thanks for the gift.