Sunday, July 01, 2007

Stories and Moving Forward

Do I know how to party? Let me tell you, I do.

While Zachary is camping in Nova Scotia, eating green dinosaur ice cream and utterly high on time with his dad and… uh… sugar, and while Jake is driving mini Volvos at Legoland in San Diego (yup, still working on my free one) and dining on In- N-Out Burgers for dinner, Ben is with me.

At a funeral.

Yes, I needed to go to a funeral for my friend’s mom. I brought Ben with me.

Because I know how to part-aaaaayyyy.

Actually, the food was excellent and he did manage three sodas, two pieces of chocolate cake and several pieces of bacon, sans the scallop.

They had great cheese, he said to me on the ride back up to Maine.

My friend… I love her deeply. I’ve known her almost as long as any of my friends and she is my best friend.

Twenty years ago we would sit and watch our then girlfriends play soccer and argue about how many children to have.

None, she’d say. Environmentally unsound.

Fine, then I’ll have four, I’d say, just to be difficult.

I came close with three and she managed two of her own. We’ve changed a lot over the twenty years.

As did our mothers.

That was another huge part of our connection. Our moms. We loved our mothers and fought with them all the time.

My mother was always right and when you contradicted her, she simply wrote you off in a quiet but powerful manner.

Her mother was always right and let you know how right she was, dammit, sit down and listen right now.

Our mothers were similar and yet complete opposites. My mother savored being alone. Her mother gathered friends around her at every opportunity. My mother would follow the rules, never wearing shorts in the city. Her mother wore flip-flops up the Mattterhorn.

My mother insisted on a brief service, some beautiful music played, no long stories.

So many people, all with tears, laughter and at times, song, eulogized her mother.

When I walked out with Ben, I felt ripped off. Cheated. I know my mother’s friends could sit around and tell the same kind of stories. And yet her desperate need for privacy stole the opportunity in the end.

Too many funerals, too many stories, she said. No one wants to hear children go on and on about their parents…

But I wanted to go on and on about her. I wanted to tell the story about her sitting by the dock at my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill’s cottage on Canandaigua Lake. My friend Carrie and I arrived and immediately dove into the lake, having traveled in miserable heat in a car with no air conditioner and broken vents that funneled heat at us relentlessly. How as Carrie, a gifted swimmer, went out so far her head was a tiny speck on the lake’s horizon, My mother stood, one hand waving her back in, the other holding an ice-cold cocktail.

My mother could not swim. And it wasn’t her first cocktail of the day.

Carrie did finally come back in and my mother was stern, I cannot save you, she said.

I’m a lifeguard, Carrie answered dryly, I’ll save you.

It was one of those moments where you hold your breath because your friend was just sassy with your parent and what would happen… my mother laughed her deep laugh and it kicked off a playful, fun weekend

I wanted to tell the story of the time my mother sent me to Europe for 6 weeks with a school group from another school. I was terrified and called her the night before we were to leave Washington, DC, having finished our training in the student ambassador program.

I cried. Please let me come home. I’m sick..

She calmly talked me down from my panic. Well… if you still feel bad in a week, you can come home.

In a week, I had been to Amsterdam, and rode a bus across Germany to Copenhagen.

I couldn’t imagine anything more fun, more amazing.

I wanted to be able to tell those stories. Everyone was afraid I’d tell the other stories. The ones of drunken rage and humiliation.

Not at her funeral. Those same people tend to forget how much I loved her.

No one questioned my friend’s devotion to her mother. It was beautiful to see people pouring out their love, through stories, today.

That’s what I wanted. It stuck in my gut. I wanted the stories.

Ben and I drove back up to Maine. I was so proud of him. He shook people’s hands, looked them in the eye and had conversations. The rest of the weekend is his to do as he pleases.

The beach, Flo’s hot dogs and a trip to Perkins Cove Candy are his requests. I’m on it.

I keep thinking, as much as our mothers were opposites, they were very similar. They had so many people who loved them. They had a huge impact on the world.

I can’t change the funeral but I can change how I move forward.

I’m going to start writing down all the stories I remember. It may be nine months after her death, but I am going to ask all her friends to send me a story or two. And at the year anniversary, I’m going to have a different kind of celebration.

One like yesterday.

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