When I was a little girl I can remember loving my mother so much and being so dependent upon her that life without my momma was unimaginable. One day I even told her, “Momma, I hope I die before you do.” I know I said this because I felt as though I could face death with her easier than life without her, after all who would take care of me. She gave me that smile that made me fell like I was standing in a field of yellow daisies with the sun shining full on my face. Then she knelt down on both knees, sat back on her feet and held out her arms for me. Cradled in her arms I watched her beautiful face expectantly for what seemed like hours but must have been only seconds, then finally she said these words which I’ll never forget. “No Baby, when I die I will have lived my life, but, you’ll still have yours to live.” Being instantly comforted, I took this as a promise that she would live forever or at least until she was very old and I would be old enough to take care of myself.
Well, Momma is 75 now and I’m almost the same age as she when we had that little conversation, and so far, she’s managed to keep her promise. But nine weeks ago, through no fault of her own, that promise was almost shattered. She had an accident, which, to this day, has left her in the hospital. Her recovery has been very slow and during this time our roles have, somehow, been reversed. This has given me a lot of time to think about our relationship and all of the changes it has endured throughout the many stages of our lives.
Back in grammar school, I could hardly wait to see her at the end of the day, to share with her some fascinating fact of history, or some recent scientific discovery that, I was sure, she had not yet heard. But she always seemed to be one step ahead of me. It was incredible. Momma seemed to know everything. One day I came home with a question posed by my teacher earlier that day and was prepared to see my mother, who loved to talk, at a lose for words. This was the question. “What would happen to one of the largest bridges in the world (I now forget which one), which could hold dozens of cars at any given time if all of the cars were removed and a single black cat was allowed to walk the entire length of that bridge and explain why.”
She wrinkled her brow and tilted her head to one side as she pondered this for a few moments. She then replied, “Why Honey, I suppose the bridge would collapse before the cat got to the other side.” Surprised that she had come to that conclusion so quickly and suspicious that she might have guessed at the answer, I said, “Momma, how did you know that?” She explained that the steady gate of the cat would cause a slight but constant pounding on the pavement. This pounding would then start a vibration that would grow until it broke the pavement apart. I cried, “Momma, how in the world did you figure that out.” She gave me one of those standard replies that only people of her generation give, “Oh Honey, you know Momma was raised on a farm and we had cats on the farm.” As I closed my gaping mouth the thought occurred to me that my momma was probably the smartest mom in the world; I knew she was, by far, the smartest mom I had ever met.
As I approached high school, our relationship began to change, seemingly over night. The wonderful, sweet mother whom I’d previously depended on for almost everything seemed to be replaced by this nagging, nasty, and nosy stepmother. Instead of being someone who would listen to my little girl dreams and all those sad or silly things, she was now someone who I found it necessary to keep my secrets from.
Instead of being someone whose applause and bragging made me swell with pride she was now someone who could embarrass me at any given moment. She was no longer the person who I loved to spend time with. She was now the person who I avoided at all costs.
I can remember crying at night in my room, mourning the lose of my dear sweet mother and wondering where she had gone and if she had ever really existed. It was a long time before I realized that she had been there all along and it was the little girl in me who had gotten up and walked away.
By the time I was nineteen and engaged, the rift in our relationship had been repaired, although it would never be quite the same. Now, I was a woman, fully-grown or so I thought.
After my wedding I moved sixty miles upstate from Lancaster to Union. Back in those Barbie years, which is my pet name for the first few years of marriage, I called my mom almost weekly and visited at least once a month. These are the years when it feels like you’re only playing grown up and playing house instead of actually being grown up and being in a real marriage. I can’t count the times I’d called Momma up and ask her how to do this or that, or ask her what should I do in a given situation. In those years Momma would drive the sixty miles just to stay with me until I got over the flue. And when my husband got a job transfer, she helped me pack for my move to Forest City. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this move would put Momma two and one half-hours away from me. It didn’t take long before my husband got tired of the long trips and the large phone bills.
The phone calls were made less and less often and the visits got further and further apart until, in recent years, I began to go down only on holidays and for special occasions. As the years have past Momma has grown older and I have gotten busier and we have found less and less in common. There have been times when I’d call to excitedly share news of some self-accomplishment only to have my spirit dampened by her nagging or complaining about this and that. There have also been times when I’d call just to say, “I love you.” I could her the happiness in her voice, as she’d reply, “Honey I love you too, I always have and I always will. I still worry about my little girl and I pray for her everyday” and I’ve never gotten too old to want my Momma when I’m sick.
Well she’s sick now. She slipped and hit her head on the sharp edge of the brick steps leading out of the side door of her house. She was in a comma for several days and when she first woke up she could not even speak. It was several more day’s before we would discover that she was not herself. She did not know her own family and even today has a difficult time remembering names. Until two weeks ago, she had been feed by tube and had not been able to get out of bed, not even to use the bathroom.
I have been there almost every week, bathing, soothing, calming and reassuring this woman-child whom has cried over and over for her daddy, whom she adored. I have soothed her brow and answered the many questions she has asked over and over again. I have called her Honey, Baby, and Darling without even thinking about what I was saying; simply saying the words she needed to here. I’ve heard her answer me with, “Yes, mam,” and “No mam”.
A month ago, I came home crying because she knew my daddy and my two sisters, but she didn’t know me. Two weeks ago I left her room ecstatic because she had called me Marilyn several times. Today I know she is herself and has most of her memories back. If and when she comes home, she may not remember how things were during her stay in the hospital but I’ll never forget when we came full circle in our relationship.
I know that my mother may not always be with me but she’ll always be a part of me. She may not always be at the end of a phone line but she’ll always be at the end of my thoughts, the one whom I share my little girl dreams, and sad and silly things. I may not always be able to turn around and see her face, but her smile will always be with me, to make me feel like I’m standing in a field of yellow daisies with the sun shining full on my face. I know that she may not live forever but if she dies before I do, I’ll know it’s because she has lived her live and I still have mine to live.