Sunday. Domenica. Slow day, I have a bit of a cold but we got up around 9 o’clock and went for a walk. A few blocks around is an easy two miles, so a walk, a passeggiata, takes time and is always satisfying and full of art and interesting sights. There were signs everywhere advertising “Festa della Momma”, Mother’s Day. It’s become an international celebration, like Halloween, due to the prospects for the sales of holiday-related merchandise. We stopped into a café for a couple of espressos then went next door to a mini-mart, an Alimentari, for a quart of orange juice. I do not know how these guys who run the Alimentari make a living. There are at least three of the stores within twenty yards of each other down the block, two on the left side of the street and one on the right. They are situated so that a customer can enter the first, walk diagonally across the street to the next one and then angle to the third within three minutes. They all sell exactly the same stuff and the same brands. The guys behind the cash registers are medium-sized dark men in their early twenties. The businesses and the staff are totally interchangeable and are cookie cutter replications. I do not get it. My first thought, of course, is, “What is really going on here? Who the hell needs three places on one block to buy a Fanta orange soda or a box of crackers? Heroin? Gambling? Slavery?”
Note to self: find out the Italian words for “juice” and “slave”.
Today is Mother’s Day and I’ve been reading online lamentations disguised as tributes from family and friends and strangers and acquaintances about how much they loved the beautiful departed mothers and how much they miss them, even today, ten, twenty, thirty years after the mom’s death and how much they would give for one more day with her. Occasionally there is a photo attached to the post and I just don’t see the attraction. One out of every ten moms looks pretty good, but I suppose the beauty of the absent mother is definitely in the eye of the dejected beholder yearning for maternal comfort and a possible do-over.
This baffles me. Every mother dies. Dads, too, but generally the old man goes 10 to 15 years before mom. It’s the way of the world, the body or stress; men just don’t live as long. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to why women outlive men. A lot smarter people than me have worked that one to death. It’s a fact, live with it. If you’re a man, time is running out.
My mom died in August of last year. I was, of course, quite sad; I guess I grieved for a few days. I’m human. I’m not a monster. I have feelings, too. Every week I think about calling her, emailing her, and I have to slap my head and remind myself that she’s dead and gone. Shuffled off the mortal. Singing in the choir (or so she always hoped). I have a five minute reflection, a few seconds of remorse, some irritation, then I go back to whatever I was doing; writing, reading, drinking coffee, watching episodes of Archer or Boardwalk Empire, listening to music, walking, working out, visiting with friends. You know, normal shit that doesn’t waste my time grieving and bemoaning the past and longing for the impossible.
And don’t think that any of this means I didn’t love mom. I did, especially near the end of her life when she was vulnerable and frightened but still strong and smart as hell. When I moved to the mountains of northern New Mexico, far away from California, she was teary and asked if we’d come home for Xmas. We did a few times, before it got too hard and expensive. I stopped celebrating holidays ten years ago. That would have included Mother’s Day, but I wasn’t going to disturb the established paradigm so I always called mom, sent a card, something sentimental to acknowledge the simulated significance of the occasion. It took a long time for me to get Agnes to say, “I love you.”
Whenever I’d call her I made it a point to end our conversations (which averaged six minutes and 20 seconds) with, “I love you, Mom.”
“You take care, honey.”
“OK, thanks for calling.”
“It was nice to hear from you.”
“Give my best to Sally.”
Seven or eight years ago, just before I hung up one Sunday, I said, “Bye mom, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I disconnected before I realized what I’d heard. I ran into the living room and told my wife, “Hey, Sally, my mother said she loved me.”
Sally was amused and thought it was interesting. Maybe I was making too big a deal out of it. Probably. Possibly.
Now, today, for the first time in memory I don’t have to look at my watch and wonder when would be a good time to call and will she be done with lunch, dinner, bocce ball, mass. I don’t have to take other people seriously or pretend that their nostalgia and mawkishness and suffering and loneliness and desire to be rescued from adulthood matter. No longer must I acknowledge every busy body who asks, “Well, are you gonna call your mom today and thank her?”
I will not ever wish anyone else a happy Mother’s Day, either.
Telling my sister or sister-in-law or friends or, for Christ’s sake, my wife to have a happy mother’s day feels completely creepy. It evokes a thin film of incestuous perspiration.
I don’t have to remember to call my mother and wish her a “Happy Mother’s Day.” She always accepted the expression graciously, but I don’t think she was one of those greedy, needy women who had to have attention. Just the opposite. From what I observed, Agnes liked to be left alone. It’s a quality I inherited from her and one of the things for which I’m grateful. She was pretty sharp when it came to bullshit. Thanks Mom.
This is a real quote I found on my Internet news feed this morning posted by a friend:
“Wish you were here, my loving Mother. I know you’re watching. What I'd give for just one more day. Oh God, I miss you so.”
That sad line was repeated too many times.
OK, what would you do with that “one more” day? Lunch? What would you order? My mom really loved fried calamari. How about yours? What was her favorite food? Would you pay? Did she drink? Do you? Do you think you’d have a couple of pops with mom before she had to “go away” again? What would you do afterwards? I guess take a drive. Agnes and I did that, cruise around and look at stuff from the car. My mom liked to go to the coast, out by Point Reyes, but I’ve been there a lot and, on our final day together ever, I would probably try to convince her we should go to a matinee. I like movies, so did she, so we could get some popcorn and kill a few hours. Then it would be five or so. What then?
Too early for dinner, she’s too old for a walk; she wouldn’t take a walk anyway. Never exercised. I could ask her to sit down and tell me, really, seriously, if there is an afterlife, what it’s like, but I’m not doing that, oh no. We had conversations in that vein plenty of times when she was stuck on earth during her “real” life and we both ended up slightly annoyed with each other. So I guess we could watch the news. Agnes liked the news. We might even have a discussion about the latest ignorant backward shit that the Republicans were doing, how fucking mean spirited and racist they were. That was always fun for ten minutes or so. Mom really hated the GOP. Now it’s time for dinner, I’m still full from lunch and am kind of in a hurry to get gone. We go out, eat Italian, probably at La Toscana. I’d have chicken cacciatore and she liked lamb. Of course I’d eat too much, feel wiped out and full, and so would she, and then all she would want to do was to have me drop her off at the spaceship.
I would act as though I’d like to spend a little more time with her, this extra day, but really, I just want to hit the hay because I probably have an early flight the next morning. We kiss goodbye and I would say, “I love you, Mom.” She’d reply with, “Have a safe trip. Give my best to Sally. I love you, too.” That would be kind of cool. She disappears up the ramp with all the other moms who are being dropped off by all the middle aged sons and daughters who look burned out for sure; overfed, over stimulated, bad backs and sleepy. I’d be sorry to see her go, I guess.
The Return of Mom; the big gift, one last time, and a final opportunity. Is that what people are wishing for? Would that make them feel loved, saved, and complete? Next year would they be able to finally let go, now that they have had that precious “one last day” with mom? You got what you wanted. You OK? Feeling healthy, fit, stable, and sensible? Ready to face reality after that priceless, once in a lifetime, impossible final day? Is it all you expected?
I thought it was a little disappointing.