In search of story


Connections: May 13.18

It’s that time again: time to get on my apostrophe soap box. It’s “Mother’s Day” all over the place, but I insist on “Mothers’ Day.” Not only is it a day to celebrate all mothers, but it’s also a day that’s been so homogenized and hysterialized that Mom is what Hallmark has made her. Mothers’ Day hysteria hits hard. Now — heaven help us — there are even pop-up ads to remind us we need to do more.

Back in the day, it was simpler: you snuck someplace and made a heart-rending card out of construction paper and erasures. And you went hanky-shopping with your dad. “Hanky” is short for “handkerchief,” a decorative, often beautiful, piece of cloth we used to blow our noses in. Or for our mothers to spit on and wipe some goo off our chins. Or (we were Catholic) to plop on your head if you were a hatless woman (gasp) entering a church. Hankies were nothing if not versatile.

One year my brother gave Mom the Hope Diamond of hankies, lacy, white, with a very elaborate embroidered “M” on it, much to her bewilderment (her name was Evelyn). What’s the M for? she asked naively. “M for Mom!” he replied, with some exasperation — why did she need to ask?

After Mom died, I threw out many things, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out her hankies, which now live in a drawer upstairs. Including the one with the flowing regal “M.”

Whatever your memories for the day, dear reader, I hope there is a mom or a grandma in your heart, on the phone, or maybe across the table. Maybe even an old hanky in your pocket.








Question for Mothers’ Day

So it’s Mothers’ Day. Hooray for Hallmark.

Everyone spells it Mother’s Day, as though it is something unique for each mom, but, unless you have a four-year-old turned loose with crayons and glue stick, there is nothing very unique about it at all, and so I spell it Mothers’ Day by way of protest. It’s one-size-fits-all because it markets well. Buy something, anything! Prove you love your mom! I have two wonderful sons. They don’t need to prove anything on Mothers’ Day. They probably wouldn’t agree, but, hey, I’m the mom and it’s Mothers’ Day, so I’m right.

I am busy with my own Mothers’ Day thoughts, which have turned back to my grandmothers. Perhaps you have met them in my blog. One was kind; one was not. Each shaped me.

Both were daughters of immigrants. Both were born into poverty, one in the coal country of Pennsylvania and the other in a back-of-the-yards tenement in South Chicago. Neither finished grade school. One went to work in a box factory, gluing velvet to the insides of boxes; the other went to live with another family as their servant. Both had alcoholic fathers who were not admirable men.

Both worked very hard. Both held staunchly to the faith taught by their own mothers.

Both died at 90, so they weren’t just wispy aproned memories from my childhood; they were flesh-and-blood women who walked firmly in the day-to-day of family. They held my hand and held my babies.

I knew them as mothers of my parents. But who were they before they were mothers?

And that, daughters and sons of mothers, is the question for Mothers’ Day.

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When you’ve had enough…

“You’re talking about me! I know you’re talking about me!”

I looked up. There came my mother full tilt down the hall.

Yes, Mom, I’m talking about you! This is the nurses’ station and I am going home for the night! I’m telling them there is no one with you now!

There was no patience in my voice. I’d had enough of her paranoia and enough of not knowing who she was.

A few years later, my father threatened me. I walked out of his hospital room fighting back the tears, to a different nurses’ station, where I told them I was leaving and didn’t give a damn what my father did.

I’d had enough of Dad’s dementia and enough of not knowing who he was.

My mother’s last Mothers’ Day present was chemotherapy. On Dad’s last Fathers’ Day we took a ride and hit a rough patch of road which caused me to exclaim “It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten yet!” He replied, “You mean we ate already?”

A lot about caregiving comes back to me at this time of year. Dad died at the end of March. Mom went into crisis in mid-April and died mid-June. Different years, same season. Same me. Mom’s brain tumors, Dad’s dementia, spring, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day…it all blends together like muck and mud.

Sometimes you have your parents but you don’t. You see and hear only the look-alikes that disease has left in their stead. They know you, but you don’t know them. Eventually they don’t know you either. So where’s the Hallmark card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day, Whoever You Are,” or “Happy Fathers’ Day from the Daughter You Don’t Know”?

Forget “When you care enough.” It should be “When you’ve had enough.”