Mother's Day 2020

It’s hard to be separated from your mother, isn’t it? Not just in the midst of a pandemic on Mother’s Day, but any day. But although my mother passed away in 2009, I sometimes think that she is with me and always will be.

Mom was a hard-working, smart, funny, vivid person, and a very tough act to follow. Her tongue had a razor-sharp edge and though for decades I swore that I would never talk like she did, as I aged her voice came out of my mouth more and more often.

Her career as an English teacher made her vigilant about her children’s speech and writing. When my brother and I discovered “swear words”, every time she heard us use one, she would exclaim, “Jeannie! Kirk! Must you use words of only one syllable?”

When I was 14-15, she told me she would rather see me become a streetwalker than to misuse the English language. I had to do some secret research to find out what a streetwalker does before coming to the conclusion that I would never test Mom in that way. As time went on, I found plenty of other ways to test her. And I assure you that had I chosen streetwalking as a career, Mom would have a great deal to say about it. And loudly.

Mom, a Coast Guard veteran, ran my Brownie Scout troop like an Army platoon, shouting “Column right! Column left!” as we practiced marching. Our beds had to be made with what she called hospital bed corners; men must be called “Sir” and women “Ma’am”.

Mom taught me how to sew and knit when I was 11-12 years old. Eventually I became quite good at it, but I always relied on Mom to pick out stitches and fix mistakes I’d made. In her late 70’s, she told me, “I’m not going to be on this earth forever, you know. It’s time you started fixing your own mistakes.”

I did not want to hear or heed that advice, not as much because I dreaded a lifetime with a seam ripper at the ready but because the thought of Mom’s absence was far worse than the thought of tedious sewing repairs.

Recently I looked down at my hands and found not my own but Mom’s hands attached to my arms. It was a very odd feeling. I’m 66 now and having a hard time dealing with the many ways the ravages of time have changed my body. The sight of my mother’s hands was another reminder that aging takes its toll on the human body, but it was also comforting to have part of Mom with me every day.

When Mom died at age 90 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, I felt that my entire body, my entire being, had been ripped apart. I’m glad to report that the sorrow has eased with time. At the same time, she is still present in my everyday earthly life. Sometimes I can almost hear her chide me for transgressions like wearing white before Memorial Day. I picture her watching me from up in heaven, taking breaks from lecturing God about illiteracy, in order to check on me and keep me going in the right (that is, Mom-approved) direction.

Each spring I watch the blooming of the dogwood tree (her very favorite tree) under which she and several pets are buried and think that Mom is with me forever…or until the day I can join her in heaven. A day that grows closer every day, so I’m darned sure to make every day count. I think Mom would approve of that. Well, I know it would. Right, Mom?

                                                                                          Jean McMillan 4-30-20

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