I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away… or Just Another Black Friday

22 11 2012

How is it possible that it is Thanksgiving? This week – this year… hell, this decade plus in fact, has been what it’s been (past tense for “It is what it is”).

Two Saturdays ago, the Mrs. saw me answer my cellphone then turn to tell her that her younger brother had lost his year-long battle against stomach cancer. Instantly, her shoulders heaved, sobbing like I don’t remember seeing four years ago when Billy took leave of us. It occurred to me that just her reaction to that news could have sent her careening off into Glory and I’d be liable.

Not five minutes later, the front door flew open and in bounced Donny Diva, happy to see his GGma. He brought his younger brother to meet her…their ages spaced just about what the Mrs. and her brother had been. “Littles” was tenderly placed in her trembling arms and through a watery lens, she met her 10th great-grandchild for the first time. After all, this was the intent of the trip north. Little did we know how good it was that she was here with us to get the sad news.

I can’t get over how this works – how we are constantly in this mix of intense pain and joy at once. Held in the tension, we precariously place one foot carefully in front of the other as we make our way forward on that tightrope stretched thin over the Niagara Falls of Life. The last decade and a half for me has been at once exhilarating and exhausting. I feel closer to God and further away than ever (at least in the eyes of others). While it is often a silent, still place, the roar of voices in my head can be deafening. I both love it and am terrified by it – all at once.

My sister-in-law’s birthday was last weekend and as they turned the calendar on a new week, her 91-year-old mother turned suddenly ill and was gone within a matter of hours. Of course the family knew their dear, sweet mother wouldn’t be on this earth forever – and no, they weren’t ready to let her go. In an email she shared,

“Earlier though, something happened. When she was still battling the pain and going in and out of consciousness— her eyes were closed and I was holding her hand and silently praying—- then she turned her head toward me, and opened her eyes —- she looked up not focusing on me, but past me—-and her eyes became wide and blinked in what appeared to be awe or incomprehension –she faintly smiled but then looked almost as if she could cry—all I can think to describe it is that her face had the look of someone seeing a returning loved one whom they had not seen for a long,long time. Almost as quickly as her eyes opened then they closed and from that point on she remained unconscious until she slipped away. K was standing at the foot of the bed and she saw it too and we both felt as if (Mom) had seen past the veil of this earth—-

Exactly a week ago now I drove the Mrs. five hours to the south for the memorial service for her brother. It was a really joyous occasion yet punctuated by many tears. It wrapped up as he had requested. Singing one last favorite bluegrass hymn. I too was able to see past the veil…and it was good.

For that song – stuck in my head now for days – I am grateful.
And you do NOT want to get me started on what I think about Black Friday, or do you?



From Georgia with love

8 05 2009

DSC_0057Before my feet even touched the floor this morning, I had mothers on the mind.  My Blackberry blinked with an new email alert and as I lay there reading, my heart went out to a friend living in Casablanca, Morocco who’s son is getting ready to leave this summer to begin college studies in the States.  Two seconds later, NPR played a bittersweet Story Corps piece about a mom putting her daughter up for adoption.

Motherhood comes with loss.  We never know before we get into the club what may be required of us…the form that it will take – but it is inevitable.  Best Boy is making plans to move to LA later this summer.  I do my best to stuff down all the feelings I have about that.  Since he’s the one, who at three years of age was quick to say “no talkin’ B!”, his thoughts and words tumble out only when we are in close physical proximity doing something totally unrelated.  I am already imagining the worst and thinking that the next time I will really have an inkling of what is rolling around in his head is never.

It is the nature of motherhood to jump to dramatic conclusions – most of which never come true.  But some things do and we’ll find ourselves caught in nightmares that we can’t ever really shake – the forms they take are as bizarre as dreams themselves – things don’t make sense and are random, sometimes seen in black and white but often garishly colored.

My thoughts then went to the Mrs.  She just had a sibling reunion at her place with the two remaining brothers.  I stayed put up here in the North so as to give them all their emotional and physical space (I would have had to sleep in the car).  She wondered out loud as to how many more times this side of forever they would all be together again.

She has been in the role of mother for almost 70 years now.

Little did Georgia Ora Smith know how she had prepared her daughter for such a lifelong stint.  Certainly she herself had been an incredibly strong woman who was purposed enough and undaunted by the conventions of her day to become a school teacher on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota before she wed.  I have to find the picture that has long captivated me with Georgia primly dressed standing tall beside the Chief in full feather regalia – his arm draped around her shoulder.  One of the few things in addition to that faded photograph that I know of – is the hand-hewn, soft, silver spoon that has my mother’s teeth marks still warping the outer edges of the bowl.

Georgia’s third child was finally a girl followed a couple years later by another son. She didn’t know that the Great Depression would bounce their family from North to South like a ping pong ball.  Nor could she predict that her husband would be sent to a mental hospital in the South because so little was understood about grand mal epileptic seizures at the time.

Her diaries record those years when a $5 money order would come postmarked from somewhere on the road as my Grandfather’s watch repair panel truck/livingquarters meandered from town to town looking desperately for what little work he could find in an effort to support his struggling family.  Christmas gifts of an orange along with a glorious quart of milk for each of them that they didn’t HAVE to share is a memory the Mrs. often recalls.   Georgia kept them together as a family.  It was pure determination. She never knew that she only had 14 years to spend with her daughter.  An outbreak of “sleeping sickness” stole her away leaving my mother to be the embodiment of the sacred feminine in an all male household.

After that summer of sadness,  another woman was brought into my mother’s life – her demented paternal grandmother from Canada – now in the care of the recently widowed son and his four children.  I silently scream, “What were you thinking??” but it was family and that is what you did.

My mother must have been 15 or so when she and her younger brother headed out with that demented grandmother she hardly knew – surely still reeling from the loss of her own mother – on a bus bound for the Chicago area and yet another new home.  At a rest stop, the grandmother found a police man and claimed to have been kidnapped by these two kids.  My mom said she remembers just standing there crying and begging the policeman to just take her grandmother away.  It was all sorted out and the journey continued.

A hell of a way to start the journey into mothering.  She had no one to share all the girlie girl things with along the way.  She is someone who’s shoulders have long been weighted with doing – housework, laundry, nurturing, caring, fussing – in short, loving the best she knew how.

I think of the millions of hours Shop Girl and I have spent laying side by side in the dark talking through her days while she still lived at home.  That has all been replaced by Friends & Family plans or free Mobile to Mobile minutes.  Her time in LA just meant my phone would ring at 3 a.m.  And I expect it will again.

What did Georgia know to teach the Mrs., that the Mrs. taught me, that I can teach Shop Girl, who will be mother in her own time?  My mom has always been a sounding board for me.  Secretly, she may have been screaming at me – truthfully, she may have been scared out of her wits as to what I was saying or doing…but she was listening.  To say it never came with judgment is not to say she didn’t show me right from wrong but I never felt like I wasn’t loved and respected as a person who was working through the twisty turns of my own personal journey and she was there to remind me that I was cherished regardless of the outcome.

DSC_0021Maybe the genius is in the baby spoon.  Before children can feed themselves, our hands direct the spoon.  One spoonful at a time.   Sometimes we end up wearing what we’ve attempted to put in…it gets spit back at us or gagged up.  We don’t have any guarantees that once it is in the body it will do its intended work.  But we load it up and head it toward the mouth nonetheless.  And in return, there may be times that our efforts to help get “bit” and permanent scars at the edges of our lives might be markers of our best intentions.

Georgia’s spoon is a constant reminder to love and nurture – weather the losses with grace and resilience befitting the generations of strong women that have shown me the way – but with a steady hand offer up yummy morsels of life itself.

p.s. Here’s a shout out to my neighbor Kathy who is a the consumate picture of motherhood itself.  She runs a wonderful day care and is the best substitute mommy I can imagine while their mommies have to be out there trying to keep food on the table.  And she still has time to have beautiful tulips in her yard.  Right before a storm the other night and they were away, I stole over and brought some digital goodness into my life.