For You, Mom

A year ago today my mother died in my arms. I’ve posted about it before (see Still Here) so I won’t go on. But here are some excerpts from a short story that give you some sense of her. The tense is a mess, and it’s a bit of a hodgepodge without the rest of the story. I have other stories and other excerpts that show a different side of her–complicated, depressed, withholding, cruel–but today this is the part of her I want to share. To remember.

SHADOW DREAMS

Every night, my mother dreams. Sometimes it is nothing more than an abbreviated version of her daily routine. Running to Agway for mulch. Picking up milk and butterscotch cookies at Munroe Dairy. Reading the newspaper while my father nods off watching Murder She Wrote. Sometimes, she dreams in shadows. In these dreams there are objects floating over her that she cannot actually see. They are distinguishable only by the black shapes they cast at her feet.

“I had another shadow dream last night,” she says at the breakfast table one Saturday morning. “It was an avocado‑colored Amana refrigerator. Double doors.”

“How the hell do you know all that from a shadow?” This is my father. He sounds like he is talking to a Jehovah’s Witness or a used car salesman.

“I just do,” she says.

My father claims he has never had a dream. I tell him this is impossible and explain the four stages of sleep to him. I say, you probably just don’t remember them. But he is adamant.

“I never dream,” he says, pulling a package of Marlboros out of the pocket of his shirt.  “Your mother’s the dreamer in this house.”

***

During my first year of graduate school I spend Saturday mornings with my parents.  My mother and I sleep late, but my father is up by five.  He lets the dog out, makes a pot of coffee, reads the paper, makes a grocery list, goes to the bakery.  I wander into the kitchen around ten, just as my father comes through the door with a bag of fried apple dumplings, or poppy-seed sweet bread, or sour cream blueberry crumb cake.  He smells like stale smoke and fabric softener and sweet morning air.  I make another pot of coffee and peek into the waxy bakery bag.

My mother joins us in the kitchen by ten thirty.  Her body is round and soft, but her legs are wiry, like a bird.  She puts a kettle of water on the stove for tea, then stands next to where my father sits, surveying this week’s bounty.

“Look at all these goodies,” she says.  “Oy, Franky, what are you trying to do to my girlish figure?”

My mother thinks she was Jewish in a past life, so she says “oy” a lot.  She pats her stomach fondly.

“This wasn’t here when I married you,” says my father, but he pats her stomach fondly too and turns to cut up bite sized pieces of his breakfast to feed to the dog.

My mother tells us stories about her students—this one asks too many questions, that one doesn’t apply herself, another is pregnant and abandoned by some no account boyfriend.

My father bangs at the window to frighten squirrels away from his bird feeders.  The feeders sit high up on poles he threaded with battered garbage can tops meant to block intruders from the special sunflower seeds he buys at Agway.  He is trying to attract cardinals.  The squirrels look up at him for a minute and then continue.  They climb the pole and pull themselves onto the circular metal barriers like Olympic gymnasts.

My father looks at me and shakes his head.  Then he talks about my brothers—how they should or shouldn’t spend their money, what they should or shouldn’t do for work, why they never should have moved out of the house.  He asks me what’s wrong with them.  He thinks because I study psychology I can solve all the family problems.  I shrug my shoulders and reach for more pastry.

And then, my mother tells us her dreams.

“Last night I had a dream about Jim Deitrick,” she begins.  “You remember, he stood up for your father at our wedding.  Everyone thought I had a crush on Jim because I kept looking at him in Sister Jeffrey Anne’s Chemistry class.”

She waves her butter knife at me.

“Jim was a big shot basketball player, so they assumed I liked him, but it was your father I had my eye on.  They sat right next to each other.”

“How do you remember such crazy stuff.  I don’t remember any of this.”  My father’s thick black eyebrows arch in disbelief.

“Never mind.  I remember.  Your father wouldn’t ask me out because of the rumor that I had a crush on Jim Deitrick.  After all, they were best friends.  There were rules in those days.”

“Your mother’s getting soft in the head,” he says, staring at her over the top of his glasses which have slid half way down his nose.

“Nonsense.  It took me three months to get your father to ask me out.  On our first date we went to Hyde’s for hot dogs and I knew he was the one for me.  So right after we graduated from St. Luke’s we were married.  Seventeen years old.  Imagine that.”

“You should have stuck with Jim Deitrick,” says my father.  “He’s making six figures with Chemical Bank.”

“I’ve got plenty of figure, thank you very much.”

My mother gets up to put her tea bag in a bowl on the counter.  She saves them for fertilizer.  They pile up for months until my father threatens to throw them out.

“What about the dream?” I ask.

“Oh, the dream.  Well, Jim Deitrick was driving down our street in one of those lawn mowers you can sit on, except it was really a Lazy Boy Chair.  Blue, I think.  And when he got to our house he waved and called out, ‘I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel.  Say hello to Frank.’  Isn’t that strange?”

“I’ll say.”  My father rolls his eyes at her.

“No, I mean I’ve always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.”

“Well,” says my father, “It’s going to be awfully slow going in a Lazy Boy chair.”

***

My mother is talking about her old high school, St. Luke’s.  It is being torn down by the city because they’re building a supermarket and they need a big parking lot.  It is hard to hear her.  The wind is against us and it rattles our clothing like sails.

“Your father brought me home two bricks from the walls of the building.  Imagine that.”

And I do.

My father bends down in the rubble of the building, his glasses sliding down his nose, his knees stiff, his eyes tearing from the dust, a lit Marlboro cupped in one hand.  He picks up a brick and remembers my mother, her smooth creamy skin, her splash of red lipstick, her perfect dimpled smile.  He flicks away the half smoked Marlboro, picks up another brick with this now free hand, and in an instant, forgets.

***

I wrote this story years ago. It needs some attention, but unfortunately I’ve moved on to bigger more convoluted writing. A novel, that as my father might say, doesn’t know if it’s walking or riding a horse. On I go. But I miss her. More than I could ever have imagined.

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61 Comments

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61 responses to “For You, Mom

  1. Susan

    Thank you for bringing this writing to light. I can feel the characters in the prose, and through them, your own life. Sending an electronic hug your way. Today is 11 years since my dad passed. Some days it doesn’t seem real. Susan

  2. Kim Butler

    Beautiful Marie. Just beautiful.

  3. Wow, I am speechless. You bring such life to your words.

  4. A truly beautiful opening to a longer story (I hope). I don’t see that much wrong with the tenses, because you go back and forth from past to present in a natural way. This could be a really great memoir. There’s a blog about memoirs called “NARRATIVE” that was just Fresh Pressed a week or two ago. I will look up the URL tomorrow and post it on my website (about once a week, I cover other blogsites I’m reading). My website is http://creativeshadows.wordpress.com, if you’re interested to see the info about NARRATIVE. It might be helpful or formative on your ideas for the subject. Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed yourself, and I hope you don’t think I’m being bossy.

  5. All normal stuff. I lost my mother when I was 13 and to this day – at 61 – I remember the day she died and miss her each day of my life. No, I do not dote on the loss nor have I stopped living but sometimes it hits me like a brick. When a mother dies, a deep hole is left in your heart and there is very little which can really fill it – and it doesn’t matter how old you are, when your mother leaves you, or whether you are man or woman or if you loved her or not. Something about a “mother” is just sooooo primal. Thank you for your piece. Love those around you how you can and if you have children, love them for all those who can no longer do so.

    • Thanks for reading this and for sharing. I am truly sorry for your loss–at such a young age it must have been unfathomable. But even with that hole, your heart seems mighty powerful.

  6. sheerazgulsher

    Ah, that was a heart-felt piece. I can relate to what you’re going through, I lost my father not too long ago as well. I’ve started to write a story on it too, like you. An e-hug from me, also.

  7. This is a beautiful piece, so lovely. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, I hope you remember her fondly but the the pain grows less each day.

  8. cathynd95

    What a beautiful story. I can tell it was written from the heart, those are the most moving stories. I lost my mom 4 years ago this month. I have a picutre of her and my dad on the counter in my family room and think of them many times a day. Both are gone, actually, my dad passed in Dec 2006. Miss them terribly.

    Thanks for sharing your stories

  9. This is really rich material, and it seems serendipitous that I just found this. My father died at 49, when I was a senior in high school. Tomorrow would have been his birthday. Keep writing– and best of luck.

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement. What a huge loss for you–and at a time in life that’s already so hard! Those birthdays and holidays are the worst. Hope your memories, family and friends help make tomorrow a little easier.

  10. Your parents sound like wonderful people. You bring them both to life with such care and attention.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Cheers,
    iRuniBreathe

  11. Beautifully remembered, wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Your story is beautiful and interesting and well written. Maybe it shouldn’t be buried under bigger, more convoluted writing that doesn’t know if it’s walking or riding a horse. I really enjoy your keen sense of observation. With a little attention, this story could soar. 🙂

  13. Parents, good ones are a treasure we keep with us and pass with few regrets. Parents, bad ones usually pass away with many regrets on their lips save one. They brought someone into the world who is good.

  14. Pingback: ifyoucantwriteblog « Live, Laugh, Love

  15. Uma

    Your writing is extraordinary! I’m sorry about your mother..Hugs.

  16. I had to interrupt my reading to hit “like”. Such a simple but beautiful story and I guess we could all feel the love. Sorry to read of your loss and congrats on being such a wonderful writer and Freshly Pressed.

  17. marcustheface

    I really enjoyed that; I could almost feel the atmosphere in the kitchen and imagine a subtle but non-offensive smirk on your Father’s face to accompany the comment about the lazy-boy. I don’t think it needs anymore attention from you; only from others…

  18. Purely a beautiful story. It was very well written. The loss of a parent does forever change you.

  19. Very nice. This is not the first piece touching on parental loss that I have read in the past few days. Scratching my head over what that is all about, and I notice that it is August 12. Three years ago today, I lost my dad. He followed my mom after exactly 16 months. Thank you.

  20. I used to say and think that she was my enthusiasm suppressor. Sometimes I just wouldn’t tell her when I was on cloud 9 for fear of her effectively pulling me right off it with a discouraging comment. I did not live on the same continent for seventeen years before she died, although I did see her, but only now do I feel the pain she felt of not seeing me (regularly). Passed on in 2000, missed almost daily. I can’t quite believe it myself. Your words are very touching, very visual. Thank you for sharing.

  21. M

    You bring her to life.

  22. Sarah

    What a beautiful entry.

  23. I got so emotional at the begning,,,when u wrote “your mom died in your arms”
    but on side your words give a factual description about your life….GOD bless you

  24. Wow- this in wonderful. The characters are revealed beautifully in your dialogue. I too am writing about my mom- she is still with us thankfully – I agree with Karen above- you are there as far as I’m concerned with this story- though I’d love to see some of your novel too- beautiful beautiful work.

  25. Well done, and wow! We will always love and remember our mamas. I hope you and yours have nothing but the finest shadow dreams. 🙂 Jane

  26. Bleeker Street Thyme

    This is such a beautiful story. Thank you for the pleasure of reading it,

  27. Beautiful story. Sorry for your loss. I too lost a parent…7 years ago, and it still hurts too. Thank you for sharing!

  28. Alyssa

    Great piece, I’m still in awe, full of admiration for you. Great job!

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    colorado springs divorce attorneys

  29. you write beautifully. your mom would be proud! stay strong. x

  30. You have such a gifted way with words. I felt, saw, smelled and tasted every lovingly crafted moment of them, even as they tore at my heart with sadness. It doesn’t need attention at all; it’s perfect, just the way it is. And so is the heart and mind that breathed them to life…

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