Sunday, December 20, 2015

I Remember Mama

For Mother's Day last year some Facebookers changed their profile pics to one of their mother. So I added two of my mother, the one her family called "Little Matt" all her life. One of my FB friends remarked she looked "adorable", which about made me splort my morning coffee onto my keyboard. 

Little Matt - age 43
Mother was tiny, she stood four foot ten inches in her size four shoes, and she never weighed 90 pounds before she hit 50. But she was a force to be reckoned with, and she was in no earthly sense "adorable". 

"Mothering" comes in all forms and styles. My Mother's style was Marine Boot Camp. You were scoured clean twice daily, dressed in heavily starched and ironed clothes, and drilled in piano and ballet. You wore starched pajamas for your afternoon nap, and were fed the traditional three squares a day Southern-style, a diet so high in fat, salt and carbs that none of her family escaped their 50s without heart attacks. 

My much older siblings thought I was spoiled because I wasn't whipped the way they'd been, but if I was spoiled I didn't notice. I was afraid of my mother. 

I remember looking at my friends' mothers and thinking, "My Mama's different." She never kissed me, held me, or even touched me unnecessarily. I have a small grainy snapshot of her kneeling in the grass holding me at the age of six months. I am lying on my back, looking into the sun, arms and legs flung out in startle. She has a perplexed frown and holds me away from her like an awkwardly wrapped parcel. 

As an old man my brother would weep, "Mom and Dad never loved us," and I would gently argue that they did, but neither of them knew how to show it, other than to house, scrub and feed us. Whatever love they'd learned as children was crushed beneath the weight of their own misery. Their relationship was like that of two tectonic plates, slowly grinding the life from each other. They were not suited. 

As an adult, I am inclined to be tender toward my Mother. She and my father had been married for 25 years when I was born. My sister was married and had children of her own, my brothers were at the cusp of adulthood and off to college and career. She dreamed of freedom at last. 

She engaged a lawyer and began divorce proceedings, but then she found herself pregnant. Freud might make something of that, saying she was giving herself a reason not to leave, but he would be barking up the wrong neurosis. Her spirit cracked. I was a prison she could not escape. When my father worked nights I sometimes could hear her sobbing and pounding the bedroom wall with her small fists. 

She's been gone 34 years this Christmas but time is only meaningful on a calendar. She is as with me now as she was one summer morning when I was five. She'd pulled green onions from the garden, and while cleaning them stopped to show me how you could make the green blade into a whistle. We whistled our green onions together, in a shrill note I could not hold. She laughed with me.  

Adorable? By no means. She was a small fire of thorns. To approach her was to be both burned and scratched. She could have been a better mother but she did the best she could with what she had. I learned from her. Sometimes you learn how to do something by seeing how it isn't done.   

1 comment:

smm said...

This reminds me of my paternal grandmother who became a particular type of teacher in direct opposition to the worst teacher she ever had as a child.