I have just left my parents’ house and, of course it’s time to go, there are things to do. But I turn around, walk back across the yard and into the house. Mom is still standing not far from the door.
Mom, the sky is so pretty right now, you have to come out and see it with me. She smiles and says okay, and we walk outside hand in hand.
My mother has always loved beauty. She would point to pretty things, like flowers or landscapes or sunsets, and say, Oh I want to paint that! And then she would. And she’s always been beautiful herself. She’s almost ninety but when she sees me and smiles, I think, how can she still be this lovely . . . with her wavy silver hair and the red lipstick she puts on for company. Her eyesight is bad now so there may be a stain on her top and the capris are a little wrinkled, but there’s that lipstick, that smile, and the treasured rings on her fingers. ~~~~~ For a while, after her fall, my dad dressed her for church and put lots of big jewelry on her. She let him but would later confide to me that the jewelry was ‘too much’. The upbringing—those unquestioned parameters of how a lady behaves—was to never ever be too much. In polite company (is there any other kind?), you speak mildly and not often, and you listen generously. The rule is to always be gracious and feed everyone. If you have a need or desire of your own, well, it can wait until everyone’s in bed or fully grown. Even then . . . .
We stand outside in the cul-de-sac, and gaze up and all around. We make small talk about how the other houses weren’t there when Mom and Dad moved in and how back then there was nothing obstructing the view of the encircling canals, the lush island across the way, and the sunset sky. And then we are just silent for a few moments, still holding hands.
I didn’t always feel this tenderness toward my mom. When she drove me the four hours to college in our big station wagon, I barely spoke to her the whole time. I imagine that the weekend away from chores and a household full of kids might have been nice for her—if only she didn’t have a silent, sullen teenager beside her! Overburdened at times with the duties of her life, Mom had no experience or language or internal permission to talk about anything that might not be pleasing for others to hear. Such as—what was it really like to have six children and a husband in Vietnam while her daughters were experimenting with long-haired boys on motorcycles. Years later, she told me how that time was the hardest and she handled it by taking long walks around the neighborhood after the kids were in bed. Ah, so she knew then what I too discovered as a young mom on my own . . . that walking is healing and, at night, the trees listen and the streetlights are good companions.
The sun moves slowly toward the horizon in its perfect way—its descent coloring the clouds and sky in various shades of pink and rose, turquoise and blue. I understand that these days Mom may not have ready access to whatever parts of the brain hold names and dates and facts. But she always remembers that we love each other. It is a mutual knowing, held in our hearts as tangibly as her soft hand is held in mine. And so, today, nothing obstructs my view of her . . . of how beautiful she is and always will be to me.
~ November 2018
Janet Reynolds Loper 1929 – 2019
He went for a walk in the late afternoon
and looked around the familiar world.
The well-known roads and neighborly trees
and a late day sky with a faint full moon.
So this is the world without her in it,
these words still catching him by surprise.
And then she smiled inside his mind
and her voice so gentle, and clear, and kind.
But where would I be if not with you?
And where would you be if not with me?
Oh, where would I be if not with you,
How could you be if not with me . . . .