I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mother's Day 2021

Mama and Grandma

I took this picture many years ago, at Grandma's home in Santa Monica. Mama had come to visit from Texas, while I was taking care of her mother as she, Grandma, endured chemo treatment for lymphoma. She was not expected to survive and was given palliative injections of chemo. But then she got better and lived for several more years. I believed it was because she had someone living with her and her two cats, which gave her a reason to look forward to every day.

In trying to figure out when this was taken, I had to think back to when I went on my six-week-long bicycle trip from Boulder, Colorado, to San Francisco (it was in the 1970s). I and a girlfriend spent those weeks on the road, most times sleeping in city parks or campgrounds as we made our way across the country. When I called my parents after we finished the trip, Mama asked me if I would be willing to be a caregiver for what was supposed to be a short time. Since I was betwixt and between, she figured I could spare a few weeks to spend with Grandma. In the end, I was there for more than six months and decided to leave when she was once again able to live alone. She didn't want me to leave, but I needed to resume my own life. It was quite a shock to my system to go from living outdoors to being confined to living in a stuffy two-bedroom house.

I don't know how old Grandma was in this picture, but she died at 79, so she must be younger here than I am today. It is quite a shock to realize this, and reminds me once again that if you live long enough, you'll get old, too. It must have been the mid-to-late 1970s, and both she and Mama have been gone for a long time. Mama died in 1993 at the age of 69. On this Mother's Day, I am glad to sit here and look at this long-ago picture and reminisce about times gone by. Even though they are no longer alive, they will always live in my heart as long as I draw breath.

Me and Chris in the 1980s

And I am a mother, too, even if my two sons are no longer living. This was taken in Boulder at my then-current home. No grey hair yet, and Chris is wearing his hair in the style of the day. He died at 40 and has been gone for almost two decades. He joined the Army when he was in his early thirties, and he died in Germany while serving. It was a heart attack that took him; he had high cholesterol and incipient coronary artery disease that he inherited from both parents. But still, it was a real shock to lose him at such a young age. Chris was jogging when he collapsed, and his fellow soldiers were unable to save him. It was classified as "sudden cardiac death," which (I have seen many times since) often takes seemingly healthy individuals, mostly young men. I remember reading about a young athlete who finished a run and died while getting a drink of water from a fountain, without any warning. After Chris' death, I began to notice that this is not all that uncommon, but before my own experience, I had no idea about the syndrome.

My goodness! I sure didn't sit down here this morning to become so maudlin, but instead wanted to remember why Mother's Day is important to me. After all, we all have mothers, and some of us are mothers too. It's nice to have living parents, but by the time you get to be old yourself, it's perfectly normal to have lost them. Not many of us live to be in our eighties and nineties, and the longer we live, the more we must learn to cherish the memories of our loved ones who have already left us.

Mama was a central part of my life as I grew up, and I have memories of her from my childhood into my middle years. Most of us only have one mother, and she is always a central character in our formative years. One strong memory I have of my parents when I was growing up was watching them get ready to go to a formal party, and Mama wore a dress that I can still see in my mind's eye: its voluminous skirt contained multi-layered clouds of sheer material decorated with streaks of silver and gold. When she moved, it swished around her in dazzling glory. I don't think she ever wore it again, but I will never forget how beautiful she looked that evening. The smell of her favorite perfume, Shalimar, was in the air as well. Of course I had to look it up, to find out if it is still available. These days, the scent is indeed still available, and that article tells us that 

Shalimar is preserved in its original 1925 formulation in the archives of the Osmothèque, donated by Jean-Paul Guerlain. As of 2017, Shalimar was Guerlain's second best selling fragrance, behind La Petite Robe Noire, with approximately 108 bottles being sold every hour.

I would love be able to smell it once again, and see if Mama might appear, but unfortunately my smeller doesn't work as well as it once did. I can still smell certain odors very well, but others are no longer available to my nose. That said, the memory of the scent of that perfume and its juxtaposition to my mother are still with me today.

After I finish this post, I'll start my own Mother's Day with a trip to the coffee shop to share a latte with my friend John, still sitting in his truck's cab rather than inside, since it will be awhile longer before they open the doors to indoor seating. It's cloudy and only 45°F out there right now, so we won't be sitting outdoors, I suspect. Then we will enjoy a gathering at my friend Lily's place for an early dinner. John is bringing some of his cod and will cook it for us. I'm bringing shortcake for his rhubarb sauce (instead of strawberry). Other than probably eating more than I should, it will be a fun gathering. We are now allowed to gather in small groups indoors if everyone is vaccinated. Slowly things are getting back to our new normal. And as I sit here in bed, my dear partner still sleeps quietly as I write.

Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism. —Gilda Radner

And with that quote from one of my favorite people, I will continue with the rest of my Mother's Day 2021. I hope you will have a fine day, too, filled with lots of laughter and remembrances. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, dear friends.


gigi-hawaii said...

Happy Mother's Day, DJan!

John's Island said...

Perfect post for Mother’s Day. Hope you have a happy day and week ahead.

Rian said...

Happy Mother's Day DJan!

Elephant's Child said...

Cherish those memories - and enjoy your day with your friends - making more memories.
Happy Mother's Day.

Gigi said...

Have a very happy Mother's Day, my friend.

Linda Reeder said...

My two kids and my two grand kids were here for brunch, and now they have moved on to do other things and Tom and I are watching soccer on TV. Later we will go to Gig Harbor to see Tom's sister.
A little more sun warmth would make it better, but it's a good day. It sounds like yours is too.

William Kendall said...

Wonderful tributes to your mother and grandmother.

Margaret said...

Warm and wonderful memories.

Red said...

I notice that you mentioned something about having one mother. I had two Moms. My Mom died when she was 59 of cancer. My step Mom was a very astute lady and had to deal with Emil's(my Dad) boys. She was a stick handler and had all her ducks lined up when she dealt with us. It must be tough to be a step mom. I hope you had a great day.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Happy Mother's Day to you my friend. I am certain you were a really good Mom! :)

Rita said...

Happy Mother's Day!
What a handsome man your boy was.
I didn't think you were being maudlin--just a day to remember. :)

Anvilcloud said...

Sue still has a very keen sniffer. I am not sue that I ever did.

So sorry about losing your child so young, but I hope your day went well what with coffee and dinner.

Arkansas Patti said...

Not maudlin at all but honoring those you loved with sweet memories. That time spent with your grandmother I am sure lengthened her life. It was so caring of you.
Your son was so handsome and such a shame he was taken so young. Still you got to cherish those years you did have together.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, as Patti said, your posting was "not maudlin at all but honoring those you loved with sweet memories." My Mom died when she was 58 and she continues to live within my mind as well as my heart. I so remember what she taught me and how she gave me a philosophy of living that has enriched my entire life. Both my grandmothers were interesting women, quite different, who influencing my life in different ways. As I work on another memory, I realize just how much those three women shaped who I am.

And, like you, I find myself filled with gratitude for my mom especially. How was I so blessed--fortunate--lucky--that she chose to be optimistic and have a child in the midst of the Great Depression.

Like Patti, also, I suspect that your six-month's presence in your grandmother's life made all the difference--that and the cats!!!--to her living longer.

I hope all is well and the you are enjoying this emergence into the life beyond COVID. Peace.

Marie Smith said...

I smiled when you said John was bring cod. Being a Newfoundlander, that’s my favourite fish. People here in PEI prefer haddock to cod.

Hope your Mother’s Day was great, Jan.

Galen Pearl said...

You look a lot like your mom in these photos. I know that Mother's Day is a bittersweet day for you. And yes, you are always a mother whether your sons are still alive or not. They are always with you and a part of you.

About your mother's perfume -- Some years after my mother died, I miraculously avoided a terrible accident in a way that makes no sense rationally (details too much for a comment here). In the seconds afterwards, as I watched cars plowing into each other inches from me, I smelled my mother's perfume. Interesting, yes?

Glenda Beall said...

I love that photo of you and your beautiful son. I can't imagine the pain of losing a child and especially losing both your children. You are an amazing woman and a role model for all of us because of the way you continued living and seeking adventures as you age.
When I was young I liked perfume. My older sister wore it and I did, too. But in my thirties, I became so sensitive to the smells of all scented products that I avoid it because it often triggers an asthma attack. Glad you had a good Mother's day planned and hope it was fun.

Tabor said...

Sadly, my mother and I were not close. She was angry at having been thrust into a life with five kids and no money. She was not a bad person, just someone who never could relax and let her guard down. I have a friend who lost her son (Charlie) at the same age as your husband and for the same reason leaving behind a young son. It was so shocking and sad. Mother's DAy is not all sunshine and light for some people.