Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Good, The Bad and How to Hold Them Both

I sat with a friend this morning and told stories about my mother. The hardest part are the times she loved me and loved me with such kindness and generosity.

It would be much easier to make her a villain. Someone who was always cruel.

I remember my mother's rage. How deeply her words cut me.

I remember her deep laugh. How easily I could get her to laugh so hard tears would come from her eyes.

She taught me how to tell stories. She knew when to pause, when to draw out an image and when to hurry to the end. She would, if the story had a particularly racy theme, get a twinkle in her eye.

Like the time she told me about my Grandmother- a beyond proper southern belle who still wore white gloves to dinner, golfed at the country club in a proper skirt and never did a single household chore in her life- taught my mother the word "fart."

At the age of 75, my Grandmother had never heard the word before. My grandfather, who was dying of cancer, had just come out of the hospital. There were health aides coming to the house to help her with his care.

My mother went down to visit. as the two of them sat on the leather couch, discussing my Grandfather's care, my Grandmother let one slip.

Anne! she said excitedly, I farted!

My mother, second generation glove toting, proper skirt wearing, southern belle said, Excuse me?

That's what it's called. A fart! My Grandmother explained how one of hte health aides has told her this most useful word. She was so thrilled to have learned this new word, never having heard it before, she could not wait to share it with my mother.

Why, yes, my mother said. Yes it is.

At this point in the story, my mother's straight face would crumble and she would launch into gales of laughter. It was about class, educational background, and socioeconomic status. Not to mention the face that my mother was never a big fan of my Grandmother- who was in fact her step mother. The story was layered. As she got older, she let go of some of the rigid rules she was raised with but not until she managed to teach her children the same ones.

Last year, as I waited by the phone, I wrote stories about her. This is what I wrote on 10/3/06:

Story Time

I find myself, as the time draws nearer, wanting to tell funny stories about my mother. She had a great sense of humor.

Like the time she had the curator of the Georgia O’Keefe museum at her house, along with several other art experts. A huge, 18-wheel truck had been ordered to take my mother’s single picture to the museum in New Mexico, a loan for an exhibit. They carefully took the picture off the wall and laid it on the bed. A hush fell over the room.

And then my mother’s Sheltie, Julie, jumped up on the bed, and walked across the picture.

The art people recoiled in horror.

My mother laughed out loud.

Julie was shooed off the bed.

The picture made it across the country and back, completely unharmed. It was one of my mother’s favorite stories to tell.

Or the time her friend Ned rented a limousine, picked my mother up and went through the drive thru at McDonalds. They spent the afternoon driving around, eating French Fries. My mother never rode in limousines. Ever.

Or of the time when she took me to Toronto to see some shows and buy clothes. I was in college at the time. Toronto was a familiar destination for us but this time, she and I were staying at a very fancy hotel. It was a treat for me, as I grew up with the label of being the most expensive child on earth, needing to order lobster at restaurants and always wanting the shirts with the alligator on the outside.

It is one label I absolutely deserved- and still do.

We got to the hotel and my mother asked if I wanted to order room service. This was unheard of in my family- one, you went to dinner properly dressed and two, you never spent money foolishly on things such as room service.

My eyes lit up. YES.

So we picked our menu. At the time, I had just begun my love of wine and had learned very little but enough to make me dangerous with a wine list. This one, I pointed.

I don’t know how to say that, my mother said.

Uh… I don’t know how to say it either. Just say the number next to it.


My mother dials room service and with great dignity orders the food. And then mentions the wine, offhandedly, casually, as number 71.

Oh, the person on the other end said, you mean the Moo-Tan Ca-det? In as chunky and broken French as we would have managed.

We both laughed a long time.

I’m not ordering your wine anymore, she said playfully.

Which reminds me of another story she would tell. Her father gave her a choice of a trip to Europe or a car for her college graduation present. She picked a trip to Europe. Years later, she gave me the same choice, but that’s another story. She went with a few friends from school. One had majored in French. Her skill would be of great use, they all thought.

But she was a southerner. And her French, learned at a college in Maryland came off with such a thick southern accent, no one in France understood a word she was saying.

Moo-tan Ca-det, indeed.

There are so many more stories to tell. Fun stories. I’ve told so many stories about painful moments I feel the need to tell the playful ones. The times when my mother was real and laughed out loud, something I know was never encouraged in her childhood. Like the time she was honored with the title “General,” a title that she lived up to for years to come.

Or the night we all donned Mardi Gras beads and masks at a very expensive restaurant in Boston that shall remain unnamed and one of our party threw a plastic banana over his shoulder into the lower dining room. The owner of the restaurant came out and… served everyone complimentary port in antique glasses.

It wasn’t all horrible. My life with her had some great moments.

She is, after all, the one who taught me how to tell stories.

I hope I tell them well.


Anonymous Laura said...

its very hard to let go of someone so close to you....even though things werent always so wonderful - you stil carry deep love inside of you - thats the beauty it. You have a way of knowing what was but also seeing the positive and you are able cherish that.

I can glamorize my relationships all I want and WISH I had the "Hallmark" family......but the truth is we are FAR from perfect, loaded with dysfunction, in denial at times AND Italian - nuff said.

But the bond I have with my Mom is incredibly strong. We are incredibly close......I cant imagine her not being around....

Im so sorry you are going thru this.......

2:03 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home