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Monday, September 8, 2014

Mama. Oh Mama.

In the grey dark of dawn, gentle hands began to minister to my little mama and with that human touch, she took a breath ... and then she slipped away.

And with that snip the last thread that held her body here on earth was cut. My precious beautiful little mama - who had grown so tiny and so soft - has died. And how I will ever be able to pay tribute to the mama she was to me ... I haven't a clue. This cut is so deep that I'm not sure the words can bubble up through the loss. She left us so gently.  There wasn't any drama to rip away the scab and make grief easier to empty out. With Daddy (see? he is still butting into her story with his drama) there were crises and there were hospitals and sneaking of dogs into rooms and beeping monitors and all that stuff. With Mama there was just a whoosh. And then emptiness.

How to pay tribute to the Importance that was Mama. Mama was the sun around which I orbited. She was my lodestar. She was my mirror. She was even a Wrong Way Sign I heeded, making different choices with my life so that I did not wind up quite where she was. She was the font. She was where the stories came from and the songs. She was the only Druid I ever knew - and not some sort of cute modern day Wicken Druid but a woman who would look at me slightly vaguely and say "I'm sure God can hear our prayers in the woods."

In my two earliest memories, admittedly mostly about me, she is there - on the edge, close enough to pick me up if I fall. In the first she was in a car with the rest of my family listening to my 15 month old self cry. I asked her how long it went on and she said, airily, "Oh - the whole trip" which was from Richmond, VA to Lake Worth FL. 1,000 miles. I asked her how they could stand it and she said "The trip was planned and paid for. You were going to cry that long anyway and we were going to have to listen to you." Which is exactly the sort of Glenda the Good Witch pragmatism she practiced throughout her whole life. What must be endured will be accepted with a shrug and some sort of management procedure will be brought to bear upon it.

What a woman.

I have a-zillion memories of her - and though I shan't fill up this post with them, I have promised myself and LD that I will write them all down into The Story Of Mama - for him and for P and if we are so blessed, any grandchildren that come along. I love those memories. I like to pull them out of the treasure chest of my brain, like so many rubies and emeralds from a jewel box, and look at them, savor them - feel them again.

She and I had a special time together in those early years. By the time I was born, my older sister was in school so I had long days of being her Only Child and yet, because I already had a sister, the New Babies who came along were something she and I shared. There was never any sense of being supplanted. We were a team.

This team had formed before there were New Babies, of course. We did stuff together. She did not know how to drive before I turned 4 so we had to go everywhere by bus. We'd take a county bus to the city line and then walk across the street to a different corner to catch the city bus. Once when we were coming home from downtown - which is where people shopped when I was little - I started to cross the street to catch the county bus. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was going to the bus stop. I was across the street by then. We argued for a while about which side of the street was the correct one and then she said "When the bus comes to my corner, I'm getting on it."

Well. I knew one thing - nobody was going to let a 3 year old get on a bus without her mother so I walked back across the street. And then the bus came to my corner, paused a moment, and seeing nobody at the stop, drove off and left us.  We had to walk home and we laughed the whole way.

It wasn't long after that, she learned how to drive. Not because public transport was so difficult but because of a near disaster caused by me. Big sister had started school so it was in the fall. Mama was heavily pregnant by then with the first of the New Babies. (those poor girls were still being referred to as TheBabies when they started high school) She was napping in the afternoons then and usually I loved to nap with her because she'd let me sleep in her bed with her. But this particular time I kept thinking about the candy in the bathroom - I must have just gotten over a cold. That candy in the bathroom was so delicious. It was orange flavored. It melted on your tongue. And if you climbed up onto the toilet and from there onto the sink you could get the cabinet open and you could pry the lid off with your bottom teeth. I took a few and let them make my mouth juicy. I went back to bed to try to nap. That candy called my name. I went back for another few. Then back to bed. Then back to the bathroom again. When there was only one candy left I figured I'd get scolded for eating the candy without permission but so long as I hadn't eaten it all it, I would probably not get a spanking. Much of our childhood decision making pivoted around the odds of the spanking. And then I went back to sleep with mama, on the Big Bed.

Of course, I had forgotten all about the moral dilemma by the time my sister came home from school. Instead, I bragged, "I had some tandy" (Always fun to get one up on the Big Sister) "Where's mine?" big sister demanded and I remember Mama saying "she didn't have any candy" and, completely forgetting the strategical advantage of silence I said "Yes I did. I had the tandy in the bathroom"

After that everything was pandemonium. No car. Couldn't drive anyway. No ambulance service in the county. Call Daddy. Call the neighbors. Most of the women neither drove nor had cars at that time. We were starter families in starter homes during the recession following the Korean War. Finally a neighbor took Mama and me to the hospital and I distinctly remember her saying "Now be a good girl and don't kick" so I asked her to hold my legs, which she did for me .... and then great big men with noisy silver machines did things and I threw up.

Yes. I was the sort of kid that inspired those pesky childproof caps on medicine bottles.  Sorry.

After that Daddy made her learn how to drive, left the car at home while he took the public transportation - for the rest of his working life. He found he liked not having to be bothered with a car during Richmond's modest rush hour.

Oh the memories. Oh the flood of memories. Mama knew more songs and more stories than any other mother in the neighborhood - in the world, I was sure. and I would brag on her and tell my friends they ought to hear my mother sing. And then I'd take them to her and she would sing. And when the ballet teacher wanted wooden milk buckets for her little tap dancing milk maids, it was mama who suggested using contact paper printed like wood to cover old paint cans. It was also mama who sewed our tutus and the milk maid costume. Black and white striped satin over red net tutus. Oh mama. mama mama mama.

and it was Mama who had the faith to drag me to every violin teacher in the city till she finally found one who would take a chance on a 5 year old. This was before Suzuki and the wunderkinds of today. And it was Mama who kept a scrap book of every program I ever played, every newspaper article, every award, certificate and medal. And when all her kids grew up and moved away ... she bought herself a violin and learned how to play it - and even won 2nd place in the Chesterfield County Fair Fiddle competition.

And Mama could draw. And she sewed. Oh she could make anything. She taught me how to make the Seven Dress for my dolls. You say you want to know how to make a Seven Dress?


  1. You fold a square of cloth in half and then in half again 
  2. Snip out the corner where the folds all meet, diagonally opposite the 4 loose points. 
  3. Then cut away those 4 points in the shape of a 7. Open it up and you see a t-shaped garment with the neckline where the first snip was cut away. 

You can leave it like it is to make a pull over or snip it down the center to make a coat. So long as you make the body wide enough to wrap around your doll or teddy bear or G I Joe, you can just tie it at the waist or if you want to get serious you can glue the edges or sew them. I've taught countless little girls how to make the 7 dress but it came first from Mama.

Mama Mama Mama. Oh Mama how could I ever describe all that is you? How to explain that you didn't believe God could only hear you in a church. How to demonstrate the tenderness you showed us when you said "don't come crying to me. I can't help if you're crying" How to tell the pride I felt when you told me "If you need a day off from school, just tell me. I'll write you a note. But never tell me you are sick if you aren't"

How does one describe the utter joy of sipping coffee with the grownups after being invited by Mama into the living room, to sit on the sofa with her in the morning before school. What about the lessons in How To Catch A Man - which was the title of a book she bought and shared with us. "Stare directly into his eyes, then lower your own - twice, swiftly - and say "You are just so cute."

What about the hilarious laughter we shared watching comedy shows together. The way she managed to get us in the summer children's plays, the youth orchestras, the drama classes and the art shows. We were always everywhere doing cool stuff because Mama thought it would fun to try. "I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You had a few hours of trying something new." and the complete freedom in the kitchen - so long as you cleaned up after yourself. Yes. It was Mama who taught me to always have good toys - and to share them with abandon. Just ask any little girl who's spent time at Bess' Girls Camp.

Oh Mama. Mama. How could you go away?

And yet she has been going for a long time. She has been in a skilled nursing home now for almost 3 years - bedridden for the most part - and probably as much by choice as anything else. She no longer drew. She no longer read. She knew us all and remembered the new family members - the grand-daughters in law. The great grandchildren. But she only really roused herself when she talked about the old days. Old photos. Old stories. Old diaries. I had them all and I took them all to her bedroom. We could spend hours with these mementos of decades gone.

But on our last visit things were different. She is right handed but she picked up her diet Pepsi with her left hand and poked her face with the straw. She didn't recognize any of the photos, though I took big ones of her and Daddy and TheBabies. She smiled and did the polite thing but if I asked "recognize her?" she'd say "No. Who is this?"

After a while there were no more pictures. She lay back. She stared at me and said "I love you so"

And I crawled into bed with her and I held her close and I whispered to her all the words of pride and love and tenderness I had. I told her that she was the best mama ever in the whole wide world. I told her I loved her and would always always always love her. And we cuddled till the lunch staff came with her lunch.

And I went away thinking "she's going. She will be gone soon."

And now she is gone. In fact - she may have gone before that nurse gently touched her in the darkness of a Saturday morning. I hope they came for her - the way they did for Daddy. Perhaps it was Daddy himself. However it was, though - I am glad it was gently and I am glad the last words we shared with each other were I Love You.

Mama. Oh Mama. Goodbye.




4 comments:

  1. oh Bess. I'm so sorry to hear it.

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  2. Oh, Bess. I'm sorry I didn't know your Mama, although I feel like I did know her a little bit just by knowing you and by reading your stories. Sending love.

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  3. I'm so, so sorry, Bess. Your Mama obviously meant so much to you and it is so hard to lose those we love. Such a beautiful tribute. Your Mama must have been so proud of you and would have loved you so much. Many hugs.

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  4. Bless you, Bess -- you and your sweet Mama. So sorry...and so not -- because of the wonderful memories you have to hold and to share. Hugs!!

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