What was your relationship with your mother like, if you are a daughter? That's a loaded bomb waiting to go off, isn't it? For some of us anyway. For me.
I lost my mom when I was 35. She's been gone for 21 years now. I'm not one of those women who wallpapers her walls or any other surfaces with family photos. I have one of Dylan on display. One of Cooper. A portrait photo of my maternal great-grandmother at the age of 18 on her high school graduation day in 1898 or thereabouts. A large photo of my kids taken when they were around kindergarten age, others of them around graduation. One of Dear Hubby. That's it.
So...if I need to remind myself what my mother looked like I go to an elaborate antique cigar box that belonged to my maternal great-grandfather. I have many snapshots and old family obituaries that date back to one of my great-great-grandfathers, and I rummage around in it until I find a photo taken of both my parents. It was taken not long before she died. She is sitting on my father's lap and actually has a half-smile on her face. I can't tell you how rare that was, to see her with a smile. To see her having any physical contact with my father. If I need to remember how she sounded I dig out an old VCR tape of a family Christmas in 1987, I believe it was. When she was ill with cancer but not terminal yet. I hear her cackling laugh. My daughter has inherited that, and her tendency to talk to the television.
And if I need to remind myself of who she was...well, I'm at a bit of a loss there. I have my memories of who I thought she was but, the older I get, the more distorted those memories seem to be. I don't really think she was the woman I remember her as. As much as she talked, talked, talked to me...I don't think she ever revealed her real self. So much of her is a mystery to me and, regrettably, will remain so. So much of what she did reveal to me...well, I don't know how accurate a lot of it was. A few years ago a cousin of hers who grew up with her came out from New Hampshire to visit and on a day when Ginger and I spent several hours together I asked her to tell me what my mom was like as a young woman, as a girl. Ginger told me as much as she could but I think I went away feeling even more confused than I'd been before. Some of the family history she told me wasn't quite like the history my mom passed on to us. I don't think my brothers ever cared one way or another but maybe because I'm the only female in our family I wanted a more tangible grasp of who our mom was. But she'll forever be an enigma to me. A swirly vapor. A breeze that lifts the hair on the back of my neck. A smoky haze hovering just over the edge of the horizon.
My younger brother and I spent a day together during my vacation week and we did a lot of talking about a lot of things. We both know she made the comment she would've had a happier marriage if she'd never had children. We both know she was emotionally frozen. That she had no idea how to reach out to people and when people reached out to her she'd deliberately sabotage any friendly overtures. She was bitter. She was mad at the world. Nothing made her happy.
And yet...rare moments...she could be funny. She had a razor-sharp mind. She was hard-working, dedicated. I know she meant well. I knew she was lonely...but I couldn't fill her empty voids. And she resented that. Deeply. She wanted me to herself and she didn't want to share me with my husband, my children. And the less she had of me as I grew older, the more she wanted. I loved her, but I resented her, too. I wanted to be free of the web, what I considered the millstone around my neck. I wanted freedom to live my life.
These are wise words: "Be careful what you wish for".
Sometimes you get it.
My mother and I made peace with each other before she died. She told me many times, "I wish I could go back and do it over again when it comes to you". I told her it was water under the bridge, that I survived. That I loved her.
And here I am, a motherless daughter. For a long time now. And sometimes, as I think of her now and then, I realize maybe I know her better than I thought I did. Maybe, as a more mature woman, I understand her better now. That the water under the bridge has taken me over all kinds of rips and rills and free-falls and boulders along the way. I have a lot more of Life tucked into my belt now. I am less mystified. I am more forgiving.
She was who she was. I am who I am. And I am my mother's daughter.