Monday, May 11, 2015

50 things about my mother

A friend shared this piece late last night on Mother's Day, and it got me thinking about a lot of things. About the specific memories recounted in her words, about the universal truth that seems to be complicated mother/daughter relationships, about whether I could list 50 things about my mother.

I'm going to try.

More than that, though, I'm going to try and remember the good things. I could certainly list 50 bad memories just from the last few years of her life alone, but I don't want to remember her that way. I don't. I want to remember who she wanted to be and who she occasionally was. I want to remember her without all the baggage. I want to remember the way she laughed and what she loved.

1. She would wake us up every morning when we were kids the same way, by opening our window shades and singing the same song. It wasn't until very recently that I realized that she was always singing the wrong lyrics. The song she sang was "Rise and shine, and give God the glory"....but she instead sang the lyrics "Rise and shine and bring out your morning glory". I wonder if there was some significance to her alteration of the words. I know she struggled with faith itself, with religion more. I come by that part of my personality honestly.

2. She loved to swim but hated the beach.

3. When she was a teenager, she would go down to the studios in Los Angeles to dance on American Bandstand.

4. Both her and my father had very characteristic bowling approaches. My dad's was refined and precise (like everything he did), he had a mean hook and the ball would hang on to the edge of the lane before kicking back right before the end. Mom, on the other hand, threw a back-up ball and her approach included a tiny little hop near the end. None of us could ever re-enact it, and no matter what she did, she couldn't un-learn that style. It was uniquely hers.

5. I could count on one hand the number of times that I ever saw her drink when I was a child.

6. She made almost all of our Christmas decorations growing up, handcrafting and needlepointing. A few of the ornaments hang on my tree every year still.

7. She loved painting ceramics. There was a beautiful Christmas tree with tiny lights she painted. It was my favorite decoration to put out every year.

8. She couldn't walk past a Christmas store, even in the middle of summer. She always had to look and she always had to find something she couldn't live without.

9. I've never known someone to love Christmas more than she did.

10. Speaking of Christmas, she loved all holidays. All of them. When I was a little girl, we didn't have much money, so she'd get the cardboard cutout decorations and put them up all over the house for every single holiday that we celebrated....and she celebrated them all.

11. I can remember how she curled her hair and a few of the dresses she wore when she'd go out dancing with my father when I was little. She was so beautiful when she was dancing.

12. She wore purple eyeshadow. She always wore purple eyeshadow.

13. She wouldn't leave the house without her makeup done and her hair curled.

14. She was so excited when I was old enough to help her dye her hair, and I can remember all the nights we spent laughing in the garage. I'd tease her about the grays and she'd remind me that I'd get them soon too. She wasn't wrong. Though her hair did start graying before mine, I was 12 when I plucked my first gray hair from my own head.

15. She loved, loved, loved Jean Claude Van Damme. Didn't matter how terrible the movie was or how bad his acting was, she'd watch him in anything.

16. She loved to take drives up the coast, and when we were little we would pack a lunch and head to Santa Barbara, eat beneath the enormous Moreton Bay Fig tree, then walk to the end of the pier.

17. She made sure we learned about culture and art. We spent so much time in downtown on Olvera Street. She pushed us to learn Spanish even though she didn't speak it. She'd taken French in school and regretted not having learned a more useful language for living in California.

18. She adored Solvang. We always had to stop at Pea Soup Anderson's on the way there. My brother and I would watch in horror as she and my father ate split pea soup, and they'd laugh and laugh.

19. She had a lead foot and loved to drive fast. We could usually egg her on too. She passed that one on down to me.

20. She was great at making hats and vests and skirts out of brown paper bags. We didn't have many dress up clothes, but we didn't need them.

21. She not only tolerated my weirdness, but encouraged it. She knew my favorite toy was Kermit the Frog and that I'd strip any baby doll anyone bought so he could wear the clothes.

22. When I left that Kermit at my Grandma's house, she made sure that Grandma mailed him home with air holes and snacks.

23. She loved root beer floats more than any other dessert. If it was from A&W in a cold glass, even better.

24. When my great grandmother needed to come live with us, she did the best she could for as long as she could, even after the night Nana ate 8 dozen chocolate chip cookies that Mom had made for my brother to take to school. She let Nana tell the story about how she didn't know who did it and just made more.

25. Her favorite perfume was L'air du Temps, but she wouldn't buy it for herself because it was too expensive. She wore Red Door instead because it was cheaper most of time unless one of us bought it for her. Krystle was actually her favorite scent, I take that back. It was the Krystle named after Krystle Carrington from Dynasty. She was so upset when they stopped making it.

26. She adored Disneyland. Her favorite ride was It's A Small World, and she always sang the song.

27. She had really expensive taste when it came to purses and was very picky about the style. The straps had to be the exact length she wanted, and there had to be at least 3 zippered compartments. My father never once managed to buy her a purse she liked.

28. When I was in college, I went on a cruise with her, my grandmother and my brother. We drank and laughed and had a fantastic time. She made sure we went on a plane tour of the glaciers, and she looked just like a little kid seeing fireworks for the first time.

29. She preferred visiting the wharfs because they are really beach adjacent. All the smells and sights and feelings, but none of the salt or sand. (She really hated that)

30. When I was a stupid teenager who did stupid things like get drunk to the point of being belligerent, she'd shrug off what I said or did, then drag my hungover ass to church the following morning.

31. She wanted to be a teacher. When they planned the wedding, she'd realized she was a couple of units from graduation and figured she would finish afterwards. Then she was pregnant with me. She never taught.

32. She went through phases where she would get wrapped up in making or doing something new. One of the last involved the fleece blankets. Anyone who was around those last few years can attest to the blankets. We have tons of them. They are still the ones my kids grab on the coldest nights, and we took one to the baseball game yesterday on Mother's day.

33. She really really really wanted to visit Ireland. She never got there.

34. Her tacos are something that people still talk about. Friends would always come over for dinner on taco night...even when my brother and I were away at school.

35. My favorite memory of her is when she'd ask me to help her make her bed, and I'd incessantly throw the sheets up in the air and dive under them. She'd tell me to stop and do what I was supposed to, then laugh. Over and over. Sometimes it took us half an hour to make one bed.

36. She didn't sew often, but was quite good at it. She made one of the dresses I wore to a dance in high school and a gorgeous dress for me the year I wanted to be Scarlett O'Hara for Halloween. It was beautiful.

37. When my older kids were very little, she wanted to buy them a swing set. I told her no since we lived right next to a park at the time. She said she was going to get a playhouse instead....and she did....with a swing set attached. It still sits in my yard 11 years later.

38. We joked that when my brother and I went to school, they replaced us with dogs. They really did. They loved their dogs just like humans. Maybe more.

39. She and my father wanted to have 6 children. She had complications after my brother was born and needed an emergency hysterectomy. I don't know that she ever truly made her peace with that all.

40. She loved red roses the most but her favorite color in general was purple.

41. Her favorite song at church was Ave Maria, and she'd always cry when it was played.

42. She told us stories about her cousin who'd been killed in Vietnam. When the traveling wall came, she wept as she rubbed his name.

43. She worked on Reagan's campaign when he was running for Governor. She adored the man, and was one of the first to visit the library when it opened.

44. I can't whistle. Neither could she.

45. When my son was born on her birthday, she was elated. It meant she didn't have to have anymore birthdays, they were his now.

46. She loved The Wizard of Oz. We watched it every year when it aired on television growing up.

47. When I was about 8, she picked us up from school with purple hair. It wasn't intentionally purple, something had gone wrong when she dyed it. My brother screamed and refused to get in the car at first, not recognizing her.

48. She always sang "Happy Birthday" to us all on our birthdays, whether we were with her in person or not.

49. She didn't quite know how to navigate the world without my father. I believe in my heart that wherever they are now, they are together.

50. Her favorite song, an appropriate one to end a list like this one, was "Smile".

I love you, mama, and I miss you so much. It's taken me this long to get to where I just miss you. The hurts are less, the pain is fading, the questions I'll never have answers to have aren't being asked anymore.

I just miss you.

I am who I am because of you.

I love you.


  1. Hugs. I love the list. So many good things. I have a secret list like that somewhere. It makes the now interactions easier... sometimes.

  2. Wonderful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing

  3. Your mom was HUGE in my life from pre-adolescence, into my teen years, then when my parents divorced, when I was 14 I'm not sure what happened.
    But when I was just shy of 21, I was married and had a new baby. I came to the house off of Kheuner to visit and share my joy with your folks.
    I remember telling your mom I thought something was wrong with the baby, but the doctors kept brushing me off. When we talked about it a little bit more, she told me to make another appointment and SHE would go with me to make sure I was being heard! I did, SHE DID, and then they did! :) She was a "force" My own mother couldn't be bothered at the time (luckily that's all changed now) but your mom, your mom was always there for me, and I was right! He needed medical attention, and because of her, he got it.
    There are so many memories of both your parents, they stuck up for us, they defended us to our own parents when they thought it was necessary.
    One thing you may or may not know, when I was 14, and my folks were getting divorced, I was having a hard time with life in general... one day sitting around the dining table at the house that was off of Elizando, your parents offered for me to come live with them, and be yours and Gary's "Nanny" (when I wasn't in school) they were giving me a way OUT of my house, out of my life... they were wonderful, and they loved us. In the end, I knew my life wouldn't disappear and I needed to deal with what was, but GOD I LOVED them for their offer!


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