May is Osteoporosis Month, whatever that means. It’s also, as most people in the USA know by now, Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of the month, when I phone my children to remind them that they have a loving mother without whom (plus chance, God, a father and doctors) they would not be doing whatever they are doing right now.
It’s also the month when I remember longingly my own mother. I waken in the balmy dark, the stars still swinging gallantly overhead, and squirm with regrets made harsher by my defenselessness in these black hours. Did I tell my mother I loved her? Certainly I never sent a card. My mother was a woman of strong convictions. When she told us, voice dripping with scorn, of her disdain for a Hallmark day—created by Business to make people drop their well-earned money on soppy cards for the benefit of some unknown Business—none of us would have dreamt of sending her a card.
But lying anguished in bed at 4:00 a.m. with the bats of remorse battering at my brainpan, I wonder if her scorn was not a defense, to ensure that she would not be disappointed when she didn’t receive a card. Why did I never send my mother a Mother’s Day card in spite of her disapproval? Or phone. Did I ever phone? Long distance calls cost money in those years. I don’t remember, and I toss, tangling in sheets that are somehow too hot under the whispered breeze of this mild May night.
My mother was the third daughter of a third daughter. From birth, she knew she was supposed to be a boy, just as her mother before her, another third daughter, should also have been a boy. (And if you could not be a boy, at least you were supposed to produce them!) Girls were not favored in those years. Boys were what the parents wanted, despite the fact that your sons would move when married into the families of their wives, while your daughters remained on the matriarchal side. (I should say that when my second daughter was born—so subject was I to this cultural conditioning—I was so disappointed that I turned my head away, until the nurse placed her in my arms, and I fell madly in love.)
My mother, born before women could vote, was aware from her earliest years that she would never be “enough.” She would have liked to be a doctor. She’d have made a fine doctor. If she’d been a boy she would have gone to college and probably med school, but being a girl, and a Southern Lady, on whom such an education was wasted, she never went past 12th grade. But she was smart! And sharp.
I think of her as always moving. Five foot two, tough and strong, she hauled the little tractor around to mow the grass. She brought in wood for the winter fireplace, repaired the roof, pitch-forked manure in the stable. She was a brilliant seamstress, who made not only her own tweed suits, but clothes for us daughters too, including one silk evening dress for me when she was so allergic to silk that just to touch it brought out a rash on both arms. She hated to cook but did it every night of her life. “Always laugh at yourself first,” she used to say, “before the others do.”
And then my father had a stroke and she took care of him. And then she got breast cancer and had one breast lopped off with Amazon disdain — and taught herself to swing a golf club again after being told she’d never play again. And after that she got lung cancer. And after it was all downhill.
I lie in bed as the pearly morning light steals into the darkness, and I wish my mother were here with me now to talk about what has happened since she died: Women in Congress. Women running for President. The #MeToo. Women demanding “rights” and pay, and demanding that men shape up. Women who refuse to believe that they are “less than” or “not enough.”
In my imagination, I send my mother a Mother’s Day card. I like to think that even after all this time she opens it Up There, on the Other Side. And suddenly, it’s full morning and time to hit the deck. Get up! I can hear her call out: Lazybones!
A Cat Stevens song floats inadvertently into mind. . . . lyrics shouted to the day:
“Morning has risen like the first morning
Blackbird is singing like the first dawn….”
I think she got her card.