This week my troubled marvel of a mama would’ve celebrated her 84th birthday. Despite the challenges in our relationship and the years of turmoil, I choose to ‘remember the good’. There was so much good – fun and frivolity, charm, and charisma. Mom was a beacon to anyone in need and I can’t deny that my genetic soup includes her spirit of service. Sometimes I see her when I look at myself in the mirror. There are undeniable resemblances in both spiritual and physical form.
In some ways I’m an only child. My older sister Lisa is a perpetual 8-year-old in a grown-up wrapper because of her intellectual and physical disabilities. She was a miracle baby, surviving when no one expected her to. I’m her guardian now with mom and dad both gone and while I feel the weight of the responsibility, it’s also a privilege. Lisa’s reminiscences and recall of family history, silly tidbits are comforting. Even when she mixes up details – sometimes hilariously so, like her funny recall of Elvis trivia that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
When mom died, I became the family archivist, by default. I’m surrounded here, in my home office, by bins and boxes of photos which chronicle our family history. Well, parts of it anyhow. The darkness and despair aren’t photo-worthy…no Kodak or Polaroid moments, and I’m grateful. My memories of challenging times don’t require visuals. They’re present – nestled within me – but I try to temper the dark with light, however I can.
The photos I treasure? Some of these – the pic of mom, wearing only a hotel towel, when she went to New York as a high school senior to represent her hometown at a future business leaders conference. Remarkable? Yes! It was the first year EVER that girls were permitted to attend. Mom’s roommate snapped this photo and took many others that were more formal and staged, but this one speaks to me. Mom in an unguarded moment. She looks happy.
Just a year later mom met dad and things got complicated…resulting in the arrival of little Lisa. Fragile little Lisa. The pic of the three of them? A reporter from the local newspaper took a photo of the happy family as Lisa got her polio vaccine. I guess they looked photo-worthy – a good visual to accompany the reporter’s column about polio prevention. What no one knew yet? Just a month later, Lisa’s pediatrician began to deeply chronicle her vision and motor problems. Failure to thrive. Not meeting milestones…and their journey of pain and loss with her began.
I need to leave you with a smile. Mom was a party girl at heart. No matter where we lived or what the occasion, she found reasons to celebrate and had mountains of energy to contrive costumes…to pull people together, and not just for Halloween. (If you missed it, check out this post about her Halloween handiwork!) Party planning was her superpower. In the last pic, mom is the stunner in the middle…thrilled that she managed to coerce/encourage her lady friends into a Hawaiian luau-themed fund raiser for disabled children, like Lisa.
I remember the party…the pig roast…the music…and the trail of raffia from the grass skirts all over our house – for weeks. Oh, that and the remnants of hand-crafted floral leis. Such a mess, but it was a happy mom mess. So much better than messes of other sorts that often accompanied her bad days.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for joining me in reminiscing about sunny moments. Remembering the good.