After my mom passed, my sister became the keeper of the family photos, drawings and such. Now whenever I visit my sister Jen’s home, I feel like I’m simultaneously stepping back and forward in time. Her home, for me, is a shrine of sorts to our mom. I recognize almost every object there that is connected with her. The armoire that sat in our dinning room, as children, stands near her front door. The one we’d run past a thousand times. The one where sometimes at just the right moment you’d rummage through the bottom drawer and find tiny treasures. Or the small woodcut/painting above Jen’s kitchen sink that used to hang in our childhood kitchen. It holds the motif of the same country vibe. Ma used to say, “People say my style is shabby chic.” She’d follow her statement with an uproarious laughter and a wide smile. When you lean in and look closely at that miniature scene hanging there, you’ll glimpse the dotted pale blue and titanium white reminiscent of the south of France, somehow it stands as a nod to Ma’s bohemian style. There it is hangin on the wall, Ma’s eclectic, inclusionary nature, her quiet knowing.
Round the corner and I find the tall standing lamp in Jen’s living room whose dimmer nob sortaworks. (Even now) it conjures memories of the times Ma would jimmy it to get it working. That was Ma, the quintessential figure-it-outer. The most can-do human I’ve ever known. She always found a way to make something work. She always found a way to turn the light on in any situation. In later years, as I matured and had the wherewithal to contemplate my parents more, I inquired of her, “Ma, how did you learn to enjoy life so much? How did you get like that?” She paused what she was doing and looked up above her glasses. She knew it was a moment of depth amidst the everyday so calibrating herself to drop a bit of wisdom, she said in that casual style of hers, “After my father’s death, I spent a lot of time with Mrs Applegate.” Returning to her stitching she went on, “Mrs Applegate taught me a lot about how to really enjoy life.”
With the loss of her father at 12 years old, Ma faced her biggest obstacle at that time. She loved him deeply. His exit left an incalculable loss for her. Yet what she did in the wake of all that was remarkable, she didn’t fold, she sought those who knew how to live life well beginning with Mrs Applegate. She found models of the joie de vivre and fashioned her own self out of that clay.
The month of December holds the anniversary of Ma’s passing. I find myself feeling grateful for all the colorful toothpicks Ma put in the food at our birthdays, all the ways she lit up when we walked into the room, all the soups she made us and all the joys she brought to our lives both large and small. She showed us how to live.
Photo by Timur Civan Circa 2009-ish
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