08 May 2011


"Happy My Day," you say to your kids upon waking up on this bright May Sunday. But despite the successful laugh line, you know it's not true. This day is hers, and she's not here.

The photo of Mom you put up on Facebook took your breath away, in fact. The familiarity. That facial expression, her blend of humor, pride, and a little bit of on-guard. Because you were not easy to guide, and you and she were emotionally dissimilar--a practical soloist versus a blindly gregarious optimist. But as your adulthood finally took hold, you frequently supplied things the other lacked (usually by telephone, but that was the negotiated landscape).

Her eyes are looking right out at you in this scanned Kodak moment. It's the moment, a signature capture commemorating her triumph that, somehow, you did not flunk out of the prestigious college she had prayed, yearned, demanded you would attend. You're a dazed mess, because graduation was held on a humid, stormy day inside a gym on campus. (You had never been in that gym, ever, before the day you graduated in it. Which is a hilarious little digression. And the hangover. Oh, the hangover.)

Your path and hers diverged so completely after this day. You stayed behind in that town, that state, and she returned to her New York City existence--the loner in a sea of people, sounds, and visual arrays. She liked it that way, like a cork bobbed on a wavy, ceaseless sea. Punch in her numbers on the first telephone you ever owned (brown, with that big dumbbell handle you could cradle under your neck for efficient multi-tasking) and she would be there, always. You could see her in your mind's eye where she sat. You couldn't bear her aloneness, yet you couldn't fix it. And her maternal voice would flip on as soon as you had a crisis. Maybe you couldn't fix things for her, but she frequently did so for you.

On My Day, you get up and dress for a social outing with your family. Maine's still damply chilly despite the new springtime, so it's sweater and jeans time. Your afterthought, after the jewelry and the combed hair, is one of her scarves. There can be no greater symbol, really, of Mom's New York existence than these filmy, silky, satiny relics of her work life. Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altman, Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf's--her colleagues bought clothing there, but Mom could only afford scarves. Almost all of her scarves, which you've inherited, are prints and colors that you would never ever select. And there's something 1970s about them that feels unreachable. But when you twist them, roll them, and knot them loosely around your neck, they become a little more you. And tucked underneath a sweater collar, they are subtle.

It's on you now, today's scarf. Some kind of comic-book burst of color, you don't even know what's pictured. But here's your My Day present: it smells exactly like her. Six years this month that she left this earth, and her scarves still bear her scent as though you just opened the drawer in her bedroom and stole something for a night out in Manhattan.

And as you write this piece, your youngest comes into your office and hands you an essay, trilling "Happy Mother's Day!" Unbelievably unique prose, and an overwhelmingly optimistic sentiment expressed in the piece, which is called--not making this up--"The Energy Given From Others." It is Your Day, it is Her Day, and it's His Day too. Revel in your fortunes, and hold your mother close.

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