June 27, 2015

Can't Go Home Again

As I made my way through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland over the past few weeks, I always found a church to light a candle in memory of Mom. She would have liked that.

Now it's time for one last visit to Mom's house, to help with sorting and sifting through the things she collected and treasured over a lifetime.

The finality is inescapable.

She downsized some 18 years ago, and I had not visited our old neighborhood since. Seeing our former home was as disheartening as I expected. The lawn and landscaping had been ripped out. The canopy of the once-towering silver maple tree had been lopped off, four feet of the dead trunk left standing.

On the spur of a moment, I visited the cemetery. Crabgrass has taken hold on the patch of bare earth above her.

Later, I honored our routine with Manhattan clam chowder for supper, tea and a black-and-white cookie. (Two delicacies uncommon on the West Coast.)

How I'd dreaded the day I would face this process: what to keep, what to toss, what to surrender forever to strangers in an estate sale. I think she'd be disappointed in my choices, for the things of highest value to me are sentimental.

Front of hand-drawn card, Happy Mother's Day.
I found a Mother's Day card I'd drawn for her, in pencil, maybe around age seven. The paper is folded in fourths, just so, like a regular greeting card.

Inside of hand-drawn card. "Dear Mother: I love you very much. I hope you have a very happy Mother's Day. Love, Your Daughter. XOXOXOXO"
But it's the P.P.S. that makes the card:

Inside of hand-drawn Mother's Day card: "P.S. I love you very, very, very, very, very much. XOXOXOXOX"
I browsed through the albums she'd filled with photos and postcards from trips she'd taken with her friends. Lined up together on a bookshelf, it was sad to know that she hadn't opened them in years. I wish I'd pulled them out during a visit and helped her relive those moments.

Dad's been gone for 30 years, and it took some time for her to weather that loss. I found two newspaper clippings, carefully preserved: essays by widows on the topic of living alone. “Women can learn to like living alone,” published about two years after he died. “Gathering the courage to live your life” ... published 20 years after he died.

She didn't share her thoughts or feelings with me, and she didn't keep a journal. It broke my heart when I found two longer entries in her “birthday book,” a special datebook where she recorded the birth (and death) dates of friends and family:
My husband who I loved more than anyone else died at 9:00 PM, Age 58
Three days later:
Hon - Laid to rest as I watched with a broken heart and all my love.
She's gone, and I feel like I didn't fully know her.

Hers was always a world of worry. In the kitchen, where she would see it throughout the day, she had hung a framed quote I'd given her (attributed to Mark Twain):
I've had many problems in my life,
most of which have never happened.
“Be careful,” she'd tell me at the end of every phone call. “Be safe.”

Wish you were here, Mom.

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