May not only brings flowers – thanks to April’s showers – but also Mother’s Day. My recently published memoir, The Red Kitchen, takes an extended look at Mothers and Daughters (M & D). In this post I want to describe the progression of mother and daughter to something rich and wonderful as I live it now and saw it then.
In the very beginning, as a child, my mother was more than the person who fed, clothed, and took the tangles out of my long hair. She was simply my Mom and back then you could only have one.
As a teenager, when my mother and I weren’t at war over my not helping around the house, boys and my reputation—Mom was fun. Sometimes we escaped the M & D label and were girlfriends. I remember saying, I “really, really” needed something from Famous-Barr department store and Mom said, “Well, then let’s go.” She turned off whatever was cooking on the stove, left a note for my father, “Back soon,” and off we went like giddy girlfriends. We did this more than once. Such fun.
One summer evening when I was in college, my mother and I were in our glorified basement, aka the rathskeller, sewing a dress for me. We could see the sidewalk and steps leading up to our front porch through the casement window. While my mother worked away, I looked through a box of photos and mementoes and found my braids. The trip to the beauty shop in third grade and cutting my hair for the first time had been traumatic. They were part of my identity.
“Mom. You saved them,” I said holding the long braids up behind my ears where they used to be.
At that same moment, standing at our front porch door, was a guy I dated only once in high school and now wouldn’t take No for an answer on the phone.
“Oh, crap,” I whispered to Mom, “I wish Gerald would just go away. Don’t answer it.”
“I’ll take care of this,” she said, pinning the braids around her head and adopting her Olga, the maid voice, which she used when she thought I was treating her like the help.
“Yah,” I could hear my mother at the screen door, in her best German accent. “Guten abend!” I knew this was good evening from hearing my Grandma Rosie. Then a longer phrase . . . and a deadly silence, and finally ”Gute nacht.” I saw poor Gerald’s shoes making a fast retreat back to his car.
I waited for Mom to come back down and together we collapsed in our chairs laughing. “I doubt if he’ll be back,” Mom said wiping tears on her apron and unpinning my braids.
“What was that long bit you said in the middle?”
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Your grandmother used to say that about your Grandpa John. It’s the only phrase that popped into my head. God that was fun.”
Now we’re into my mother’s mid-seventies and I’m in my mid-fifties. The battles over most everything are over and on more than a few cherished occasions, we were out and about together as friends. No longer girlfriends but two grown women enjoying each other’s company. I wish I’d honored those times more – maybe pointed them out to my mother and appreciated the passage together.
I’m thinking about this last stage of the mother and daughter relationship again because of my birthday celebration and my book launch. What a week!
My older daughter and I took the day, at her invitation, and drove through the splendid tulip fields outside of Mount Vernon and onto one of our favorite places, La Conner.
We popped into a few of our favorite shops that survived the pandemic, urged each other to buy something we thought might be too expensive: a hat and Italian coffee mug for me, a scarf for her. We carried out niçoise salad with grilled salmon on top, sat outside at a picnic table looking at the welcome sun’s reflection on the river and people passing by on the boardwalk. It was a wonderful day, together without labels, feeling the love we have for each other – though still M & D – and the fun of being together on a beautiful day.