Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shared Memories

On the occasion of Mother's Day I've been thinking about my mom and how fortunate I am to still have her in my life. Sometimes I feel a little uneasy when I write of her, worried that I might inadvertently violate some zone of privacy. Frequently I read her my blogs and I recently asked her if it felt uncomfortable when I wrote about her. She replied," No, you're a writer and that's what you're supposed to do. You go right ahead and write about what is part of your life".

My mom has always been my best cheerleader and it is actually an amazing thing to go through life with someone always in your corner. I sometimes wonder if I've stored up enough affirmation from her over the years to be able to carry on someday with only her voice in my head. Since my father passed away she has taken on his voice as well adding, "your father would have been so proud" to her "kvelling" (Yiddish for bursting with pride).

My dad used to call my mom "the original innocent" and that captures her well. She is a kind and loving soul who sees the best in people and in doing so, nourishes it. When I was growing up, my closest friends sought her out for advice and counsel. Neighborhood children used to knock on the door for her. When she went back to school as an adult she became a first grade teacher and she was one of those teachers that everyone remembers. She could see the world through a child's eyes, with a freshness that eludes most of us.

When I was in my 30s a coworker lost her mother at an early age. It was the first time I thought about the fact that someday if we live long enough, we all experience that very fundamental loss. I remembered my mother telling me once that she used to think about how she could create wonderful memories for her children to carry through life. I began to think about how I could return the favor and do that for her.

My mother loves art and used to have a postcard gallery of her favorite paintings in the kitchen when I was a child. She was especially partial to Klee and Roualt. She also had a collection of artist books with color plates of their paintings which could be detached. When I was still very young she let my brother and me choose a painting to hang over our beds. I had Van Gogh's sunflowers and my brother had Van Gogh's boats at Saintes-Maries. Not the typical wall art of a child's room.

My mother was always curious about the world and as a voracious reader she journeyed through books. My father didn't have a particular interest in the stresses of travel so one day I suggested to my mother that we should travel together to see the original artwork that she so enjoyed in reproduction. Over the years we did many trips together and had many adventures. We still talk of when we hitchhiked in France or when the train I boarded pulled out of the station before my mom had time to get on. In shock, I watched her getting smaller in the distance, finally making a split second decision to jump from the train. My mother tells the story of looking down from the Leaning Tower of Pisa convinced that I must have fallen off as I paused to change my film on the side that tilted towards the ground. Her fears were somewhat allayed by the fact that no throng gathered below. We saw wonderful artwork together, seeing those original Van Goghs at a retrospective in Amsterdam and traveling to the areas of Provence where he painted.

My mother kept a journal while I kept a sketchbook and it is through her journal that I watched myself grow up in my mother's eyes, becoming a separate person who she felt she could rely on, someone who could competently navigate the world, no longer the child she needed to protect and worry about.

Traveling with someone who sees the world through fresh eyes allowed me a glimpse as well. I took delight in her delight. We used to make two lists each evening, one titled Surprises and the other the Kindness of Strangers, taking nothing for granted, watching for the small wonders of the world and the best in people. I had thought I was giving her the gift of memories, but it was something even better, the gift of shared memories.

 

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