Only weeks after her mother’s passing, Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on a previously scheduled vacation. San Miguel was also the place where twenty-four years earlier her mother had sought refuge from grief and Laurie finds memories of her mother everywhere.
by Cinelle Ariola Barnes
My husband always tells me that I am strong. Apparently, it is partly why he married me. He thinks that there is an unwavering soundness to my soul, and he reminds me of that each day – on both calm and stormy ones. Sometimes I challenge him, dare him, to put his finger on that which makes me so. And every time, he says, “I can't quite pin-point it, but it is there. It's just something and it is there.”
I never understood. For the six years we've known each other, I've staunchly refused to see the opposite of my frailty.
On a warm July day this past summer, my back tanned in the Carolina sun and my legs lay comfortably on salt-and-pepper sand. My toes just touched the hem of the sea; it was warm, like bath water. In my hand was an Anne Lammott book. I had no real intentions of reading it. I sat, feeling blessed by the chance to read. My husband built a sandcastle for our daughter, but she didn't care because she was only eight months old. Instead, she raked the sand with her dainty fingers and ate it. Every twenty minutes or so, my husband checked back in with me, for a drink fresh from our monogrammed cooler, or a reapplication of sunscreen.
This was normal protocol for family day in Sullivan's Island. This is what we do there – on Saturdays, Sundays, Church days, lazy Tuesdays and on days when friends or family visit. It is our lather-rinse-repeat. Our very own ritual, the one that never gets old. It is our stay-cation itinerary, the one that allows us to vacate our life while still playing in our own backyard. We go there often, no matter the weather. This casual, unhurried beach captivates us. It is no tropical paradise but, to borrow my husband's words, there is something there. Strength, I think, is what he calls it.
We celebrated my mother’s birthday on Feb. 8th, but never really knew how old she was. She said that she was born in 1900 because it not only made her two years younger than my father, but was easy for her to calculate her age. In 1968, when my mother died, we did some of our own calculations and came up with something between 72 and 74, but of course didn’t know for sure.
Coming of age in New York’s Harlem, she expressed her independence by dropping out of school before she even entered high school and then taking a factory job, something not unusual at the time. In her early twenties, she opened her own retail shop with one of her multitude of sisters.
Education was never one of her goals but she was beautiful and was known for the way she dressed, spending more on her clothes then than I do now. Of course, I don’t have the interest in them that she had.
Marrying my father and settling down with children must have been difficult for her but she thought that was what she was supposed to do, especially since she had passed the 30-year mark and needed to make a move if she was going to do what was expected of her by her family and culture.
Her mood swings, her constant complaints about her life, her put- downs of my father, my brother and less, of me, were accepted. She was discontented about almost everything. Never knowing what was going to set her off, I retreated and tread lightly. Not ever being able to drive (she said she was too nervous), she was imprisoned in her own life.
Now, that I’m approaching that time of her last years, I’m a great deal more understanding of this woman, my mother, who never lived the life she thought she should have. Instead, although vastly different in temperament, I’ve done the living she never did……
This July I turn 59 years old. If I live as long as my mother, then I am about to embark on my last year of life.
Mom, you were the queen of selflessness.You gave up everything for everyone else. My deepest frustration was not being able to get you to see that your mother and sister were sucking the life out of you. Every day, on the phone, you’d try your hardest to get them to listen, think things through, and calm down. It NEVER worked. The medical profession says that stress can cause disease. It's clear in your case that it did.
by Eric Lucas
I was lolling in the bathtub reading a comic book (the Amazing Flash) when my mom came in waving a copy of the afternoon newspaper. “Russians Launch Satellite,’ blared the huge headline. I tore myself away from superhero suspense to listen. You should listen to your mom, right? It was October 4, 1957. I was 6 years old.
“You may not understand this, but your world just changed,” my mother told me. “Pretty soon people will travel into space. You could. There’s a whole universe out there.
“All you have to do,” she added, “is make sure those grades keep up.”
She used to work that into every conversation; in fact, until recently, she would occasionally resurrect her offer that, should I wish to go to law school, she’d pay for it. Never mind I have no interest in law school and I’ve enjoyed a 30-year career writing everything from hotheaded newspaper columns to, well, hotheaded internet columns.
Most of my childhood is vague to my recollection, but I remember that evening the whole world marveled at the news Sputnik I had circled the globe. A 6-year-old boy’s grasp of the world is pretty much rooted in baseball, bikes and Cheerios, so I can’t say I comprehended the fact the universe had just shifted. Did this make the amazing technology behind the Flash more likely? What about Superman? “Just remember this moment,” my mom admonished.
Her death is still as fresh as my birth. It was nine months ago, (her death, not my birth) and I miss her very much, especially on days like today. I remember her love and her singing Happy Birthday to me. I also recall the story she told of my difficult birth.
She was, of course, rushed to the hospital where she waited, and waited, and waited — in labor for 72 hours. I am not sure if mom was reluctant to bring me into the world, or if I was being extra cautious about sliding my pudgy baby body those last few inches to a new existence. Given my subsequent history, I’m pretty sure it was the latter.
Just as my mother had endured my birth, this willful woman endured her life, and mine, though not without letting me know that she knew what was best. To her dismay I did not become a Jewish heart surgeon (or even a Presbyterian foot doctor). Mom also put up with me marrying two non-Jewish women (not at the same time, God forbid), and gradually grew to love them as she loved me.
The more time goes by, the more I become like my mother, for instance: waiting for the burglar. My neighbors have been ripped off five times in two years and I find myself trying to out-think the would-be burglar when I travel.
Mom showed me the way in this behavior by turning on her radio when she left the house, doing a pre-departure round to check door and window locks and hiding valuables when she took trips. One time, after she returned from a trip, Mom couldn’t find her silverware and was convinced the burglar had shown up and stolen it. Dad refused to submit an insurance claim, as he was positive Mom had hidden it and forgotten the hiding place. Sure enough, years later, the “stolen” silverware was discovered in a picnic basket in the attic.
The highlight of this long wait for the burglar happened when Mom, Dad and my sister were home one night, watching TV in the living room. My sister went out to the kitchen to get a soda and found the kitchen door not only open, but propped open. The burglar had finally shown up and they hadn’t heard a thing. Nothing was actually missing…my sister had aborted the heist by showing up at an opportune moment. In a way, we were all relieved that the years of expectation weren’t in vain, but we laughed pretty hard at the irony that we were home when it happened. Meanwhile, I still put my lights on timers and hide my valuables when I leave on trips. I seem to be programmed to wait for my own burglar!
by Andrea Gross
Ten years, ago I was watching as Charlie Rose interviewed a guest who was publicizing a book about his mom and dad. Rose looked envious. "You know," he said, "I've interviewed thousands of people, but I've never interviewed my parents. I've heard many of their stories, but I've never written them down." I looked closer. Did he have tears in his eyes?
Light bulb: I was working for a major consumer magazine. Like Rose, I spent my time interviewing people who weren't my parents. Mistaken priorities? Definitely.
Two weeks later I was at my parents' apartment, fully outfitted with tape recorder, microphones and all sorts of journalistic paraphernalia. My mom talked non-stop for four days.
Her eyes sparkled as she told stories of flying in a single engine airplane with the handsomest boy in town. She spoke of times that made her laugh, experiences that made her cry, and events that changed her from a young girl concerned only with appearances to a wise woman dedicated to helping others.