Becca Wilhite Blog

November 18, 2014

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

Filed under: emotion,events,family,history,libraries,Mom,musings — becca @ 12:32 pm

Five years ago today, I posted this. I’m reposting it now because reasons. Mainly that I was thinking about it this morning and so I shared it with my English classes. I cried when I read it to them – not for sadness, but because my heart was leaking love for all the people in the story. All of them.

I’m sure it must have been embarrassing for my class to see me lose it a little – that’s not an everyday occurrence. I apologized, but honestly I’m not that sorry. It’s okay for them to see me feeling things. There are worse things than feeling too much.

___

Standing at the circulation desk, filing cards grown soft at the corners, I heard the phone ring. Eager for a change of pace, even if it meant I’d be doing someone’s research over the phone, I grabbed up the receiver.

“Batesville Public Library, can I help you?”
It was my dad. Calling from the hospital room in Chicago where my mom had been admitted during their getaway weekend. He just wanted to check in on me – he’d missed me when he called home to talk to the boys.
“I’m good. Work is fine. I’m excited to go to Cincinnati this afternoon. Can I talk to Mom?”
Pause.
Now, I should explain that pauses in telephone conversations with my dad are not unusual. There is always… a great deal… of… white space… in talking with him. So why was I suddenly hot around my eyes, and tight in the back of my throat?
“Dad?”
Throat-clearing. “No. You can’t. Mom’s in a coma, Bec.”
Did I know that? Was there some conversation in the past few days where this information was given to me, and did I somehow forget about it? Is that even possible? But if not, how could he have neglected to mention such a vital fact to me?
The library, quiet anyway, went fuzzy like cotton around me. Even the whispers were muffled, and I felt wrapped up in the familiar. I didn’t even sit down. I tipped my chin to roll the tears back into my head, and finished the conversation like a well-bred teenager. Which I was.
Maybe years of living with a mom who spent a week every year in the hospital calloused me. Maybe the idea of her in the ICU was just part of my childhood. I’d lived with it my whole life, you know. So maybe you won’t find me a completely unfeeling ingrate when I tell you that the rest of the day was more than fine – it was fun.
After a rowdy drive into Cincinnati, Missy and I got dropped off downtown, scoured a few ballet supply stores (for her) and a bookstore (for me). We ate at Taco Bell. For a skinny person, Missy could really eat. She ordered no less than five menu items, and I watched, impressed, as she downed every bite. We met at the rendezvous point to get picked up for the dance.
The dance.
Here was where I belonged, in this under-decorated church-building-turned-social-hall. With these kids, from towns and cities an hour from my home — this was where I felt like me. Good kids, and all so different. Different from what I saw every day at school, and different from each other. I felt loved there, not judged, not watched, not weird. This was a place for a great deal of hugging.
Dance, dance, dance. Cute boys and happy girls and jokes and laughter and music. Forgive me for forgetting, for a couple of hours, what was going on a few hundred miles to the northwest.
After the dance, Pizza. As ever. Mr. G’s pizza, breadsticks, and root beer. More laughing. More talk. More teasing. Gentle teasing from the others, and more pointed teasing from my brother. I shook it off, like I’d learned to do (not like the years and years that I would scream and yell and then get in trouble for overreacting).
Somehow on the long drive home, I didn’t know. I had no premonitions. The earth didn’t shift. Air wasn’t sucked from the atmosphere. I just rode home, laughing and not sleepy and not afraid.
I checked on Marc. He was sleeping in the parent’s big bed, elbows and knees everywhere. Good. Wash face. Brush teeth. Change into jammies. Lights off. Climb into bed.
Knock at the door.
Blood runs cold.
Ignore it. It will go away. My fear of the dark, fueled by far too many Stephen King novels that first year I worked at the library, overtook all logic.
More knocking. Monsters. Axe murderers. Doorbell. Vampires. Psychotic animals. More knocking. Another doorbell.
I picked up the phone in my room and called our own number. I don’t know if this works anymore, technologically speaking, but that night, I hung up quickly and the phone began to ring. Once, twice, three times. It stopped. I grabbed the receiver.
“Nathan?”
“What?”
“There’s someone at the door.”
Only the intervention of a benevolent God prevented him from reminding me that axe murderers do not ring doorbells.
“Okay. Coming.” The bravest words of a brave big brother.
I stood, shivering at my bedroom door. Saw him walk from the basement stairs across the small family room. He turned and I heard the door open. Heard the Rockwoods’ voices, hushed appropriately for the time of night and the delicacy of their mission.
I didn’t wonder if we’d left something in their car. I didn’t wonder if anything terrible had happened to their kids between dropping us off and getting themselves home. I didn’t wonder anything. Because I knew.
I knew.
I walked to the front door. They’d come in, but only just. Their backs were pressed against the door, and I knew again. There were no jokes, and if the Rockwoods weren’t telling jokes, this was more serious than anything I’d ever experienced with them. Jolene, tall and stricken, held her arms out to me. I shook my head, not because I didn’t want her comfort, not because I didn’t believe, but because my head would shake. Back and forth as I was folded into her arms.
Whispered words: “Your mom…” Head shake, back and forth.
“… dad called…” Head shake.
“Come home with us, sleep at our house…” And then I could nod. Yes. Your house. That is the right thing to do. Because we shouldn’t be here alone. And we should give you the thing you need, too. We should allow you to do the only thing to do when there is nothing, nothing anyone can do.
 
Before getting in the car, I did the only thing I could do when there was nothing else to do. I went back into my room, picked up the phone again, and listened as the buttons sang Jorja’s song – the eleven-note jingle that meant I could reconnect with my far-far-away best friend.
Her mom told me she was asleep.
“Please.”
“I need her.”
“My mom died.”
Gasp. “Oh, Becca.” A quick waking, and there it was. The comfort I needed, across a thousand miles. The words, just right.
Will you be shocked, or will you understand when I tell you we laughed? Will you know what it is to share a heart, and to realize that there is a time for tears, and a time for laughter? And, sometimes, will you understand the need for both at once? Will you know that both, in equal measure, are required in order to heal?

May 9, 2014

I Was Never Abandoned

Filed under: history,Mom,rambles — becca @ 4:28 pm

My parents never left me anywhere. Once upon the late seventies, a two-car, two-family caravan mixup resulted in leaving my cousin Rebecca (not to be confused with my sister Becky or, you know, me) at Peking on Fresh Pond (a restaurant where they left the head on the fish, ack) in the environs of Boston, but I’ve never been left behind. Not that I’ve never been forgotten. But that’s a blog post/therapy session for another day.

Nevertheless, having never actually been left behind didn’t prevent me from  fearing abandonment.

Constantly.

When I was in middle school, our family went to Florida for spring break. It rained every day. We spent some bonding hours in front of MTV, my brothers and I. (That was this TV station that played music videos, kids, and our parents didn’t approve, so we didn’t have access to it at home, but it wasn’t specifically forbidden during the wet week in Florida, so… guilty joy.) One day, my mom took the rental car and hit the grocery store  – most probably to avoid ONE MORE PLAYING of the ridiculously chipper jingle, “Please stop calling MTV, cause the phones are closed, da-da!” Certainly she was off to breathe quietly in the car and avoid any more togetherness for a few minutes, but I was positive that she’d never come back. With only angsty middle grade novels to blame for this thought pattern, I was certain she got behind the wheel and headed out on the freeway to never, ever return.

(Spoiler: she came back. With groceries. From the grocery store.)

I’m not sure why that thought has been in my head today (except that I kind of want to go to the grocery store ALL BY MYSELF and not tell anyone; but fear not: I have no intention of never returning home), but I want to put it out there that my parents never tried to run away from me. You know, in case something like the desire to sit alone in a car and just breathe ever appears in a book and someone tries to tie it to a childhood trauma. There are no childhood traumas here, okay? Just early teen drama and imagination, and the occasional grown-up sympathetic understanding of what a temptation that escape might have been for the mother of thirteen-year-old me.

July 10, 2013

Journaling

Filed under: emotion,Mom — becca @ 11:54 pm

I was just writing about some memories of my mom, and how they’re foggy and unreliable. And here is a list (unedited, unproofed, and possibly completely untrue) of things I’m sure I remember about my mom.

Things I actually remember: She said “Dammit” once when she was mad. I laughed, but not out loud. I was only a tiny bit scared. I had a few inches on her by then.

Spaghetti sauce. So delicious.

She laughed through her nose, not like a snort, but like people who sing through their noses. If she’d closed her mouth to laugh, it might have sounded the same. I remember her sitting at some YW camp-ish function in Batesville (but I was there, too, so she might have been acting in a stake capacity) and laughing with Carolyn Crawford and they both laughed similarly.

Her fingernails clicked on the piano keys, so you’d hear the strike of the nails and then the note just after.

She had very pretty fingernails and I did not.

I think she loved our clawfoot bathtub in the Boston house. There wasn’t a whole lot she loved about our year in Boston, as I recall, but I think she loved that tub. I was a tiny bit afraid of drowning in it. I wonder if it was deep. (Also re: Boston house, I must have read “A Wrinkle in Time” when we lived there, because that house is the setting for the book in my mind.)

She had a music studio called “The Tin Bucket” – as in, he couldn’t carry a tune in a tin bucket. I love that.

She wrote margin notes when she read fiction. I wish I had some of that fiction. I’d love to read the notes.

Dad’s lack of promptness made her itchy. Dinner was ready, and he should be home. He made up for it by (always?) picking up plastic 2-liter bottles of root beer on taco night.

She had arthritis in her hands (and probably everywhere) and her docs told her that if she avoided white flour and red meat she could probably lessen her pain. Whole wheat tortillas. And ground turkey. It’s just not the same, you know?

Once she burned pork chops in the microwave. The story got a little legendary in our house, but I think I actually do remember that smell.

And then there was the time she roasted a leg of lamb while our cat dragged itself around the kitchen in a body cast. Lamb (cooking) still reminds me of cat (dying).

She taught me to use gravity to fill up my bra (the bend over and shake/shove it all in trick), which works better when you’re near 40 than it worked at 13.

She bought margarine, dreaming of butter. One Christmas, my dad put a box of butter in her stocking because it was a treat.

She hated orange flavored candy, because she had chosen orange as her medication flavor when she was little. And when she was grown, all the orange flavoring reminded her of medicine. She once told me she wished she’d chosen chocolate, because then she wouldn’t be a chocoholic. Which is funny, because I don’t really have a memory of her eating a lot of chocolate.

I do remember one time she lied to me. I came in from school and lay down beside her on the carpet. She had a drink in a mug. I could see bubbles and it was a little golden. I asked her if I could have some. She said, “It’s just water, go get yourself a cup,” but it was totally ginger ale. I forgive that one. She didn’t want to share. Understood.

Once I found 4 quarters on her dresser and swiped them. I traded them for 4 nickels from my money box. Later she said that money was for Melanie Low, who had lent her a dollar. I was unrepentant and did not confess.

She loved Gone With the Wind. I wonder if she read it. I assume so.

When she saw “West Side Story” she didn’t know what Tony and Maria were doing in her bedroom until she was in college. (I think I was 12 when she told me that.) Also, she said she was in college when she understood “There is a green hill far away / without a city wall” was talking about a hill OUTSIDE a city wall (as in, opposite of WITHIN), not a hill that was missing its city wall.

Left handed. And gorgeous penmanship.

She wrote letters to her mother in Oakland. Her mother who worried if the letters were later than expected and maybe sometimes even called to ask if everything was okay. I remember her saying “If anything was wrong, I’d be sure to call and let you know” but I don’t remember if she said that into the phone with an actual connection to my grandma, or if she just muttered it in casual annoyance.

She sang in the car.

She was in Auntie Mame and the Music Man and The Sound of Music. I was in those too, except not Mame.

Belted dresses. And blouses. With bows around the neck.

She declared (yes, she really declared it) that it was impossible to make just enough rice. There was always either too much or too little.

I don’t remember if she liked pets or just tolerated them, but I do remember the Golden Retriever named Josh (Seattle?), which she named because her mother hated that name, so she couldn’t really use it on a son. (I recall that dog went to live with some family on a farm. Classic cliche. Were we taken in? Did the dog get put down?)

When we lived in Boston, she was pregnant. She told a neighbor child that she was going to have a baby. She was wearing a red dress, peasanty and smocked. We were in the kitchen. I was seven, sitting by her on the tall, green step stool (with the upholstered seat), and she put her arm around me and told the visiting child, “Becca is my baby, too.” And I loved her so fiercely right then.

April 25, 2013

I Tried on a Dress.

Filed under: body image,emotion,Mom — becca @ 10:11 am

Not that trying on a dress is something all that unusual [1], but this thing happened to me when I did it this week.

see it at cabionline.com

 

Here’s the dress, above, photo courtesy of CAbi clothing. If you can’t see it, I’ll describe it to you in my high-fashion vocabulary [2]: it was green, and silky-ish (some kind of poly-something, I assume); a collared/button-down shirt-dress with a waist tie AND IT LOOKED LIKE A DRESS MY MOM WOULD HAVE LOVED. Except for the green. My mom avoided the green/yellow things in life, because her liver had issues and green and yellow things made her look jaundiced. So she said. I never actually noticed. But I was sixteen when she died, so “I never actually noticed” could be my theme song.

Anyway, the dress looked awful on me. That sassy, confident, leggy, honey-maned model? Not me. At all. It was, in every particular, wrong. But I sort of loved it anyway, because it looked so Mom-ish (in the “my mom” definition, not the “mom jeans” definition). And I stood there, in front of a very large mirror, staring at me in this wrong dress that felt so very right in its ability to conjure. Memories. Feelings. Smells and sounds of that laugh that my kids wouldn’t recognize. The small sweet memories that I hold on my palm like a butterfly that may, any second, fly away — but the ME that is now, this ME is willing to enjoy the seconds the memory flutters there. Maybe that’s the definition of the way I’ve grown up: That I can enjoy the fleeting while it occurs, instead of dreading the moment that it will be gone.

image via greenjeane.blogspot.com, or so google tells me

[1] Kind of it is.

[2] Please stop that laughing.

May 11, 2012

It’s More Stuff, at last.

Filed under: familyness,Fifth Gift,food,Mom — becca @ 6:29 pm

Do you ever feel the need, the deep, deep NEED to be poetic or intellectual or (dare I say it?) satisfying when you write? I do feel that need, but I try to push it to the side as often as possible. So, what I’m saying is, although I could astound y’all with my reamarkability, I’d rather just spew out some word vomit so you feel more at home — and like I’m accessible.

See? I’m here for you.

So. Mother’s Day. Coming right up. We’re having homemade wheat bread and honey butter and reading out loud to each other. That’s what passes for Big Wilhite Plans. (But the adults are going to Cheesecake Factory tomorrow, for Pre-Mother’s Day Festivities, and that’s plans if I ever had some.)

Speaking of Cheesecake Factory. There are times that I miss my mom. Things I wish she could have known. I know I tell you that a lot. And the last time I went to CF, I had one of those times. Because I had a tuna salad. My mom knew tuna salad as this:

You know. It’s canned tuna chunks, mixed with mayonnaise and dill pickles. Maybe red onions and celery if you’re in a dicing mood. You put it on bread. You eat it, and for a mayonnaise-based meal, it’s good. Even satisfying. At least it CAN be. But my mom never ate this:

That is the Cheesecake Factory’s Seared Ahi Tuna Tataki Salad with avocado and wasabi vinaigrette. With a pretty rosette of pickled ginger (mmmm). 441 calories, if you keep track of such things (which sometimes I do, and that’s the perfect number, since the slice of mango-lime cheesecake I’m going to eat for dessert has a few whole lot more than that).

I wish I could have shared this with my mom. Not literally, you know. She’d have to order her own. Oh, come on. Just kidding. I’d share. But really? This is tuna salad nirvana, and I wish she could experience it.

*Theological/Existential Question: Is there seared Ahi tuna Tataki salad in heaven? And mango-lime cheesecake? If there’s not, I’ll find a way to be happy anyway, but I think there might be.

On a non-foodly topic, I have a deadline. Remember when I told you I was enjoying what I hoped was my last non-deadline writing project? It was. And now, with the excellent editorial advice of Agent Meredith, I am revising FIFTH GIFT for a soonish submission. And it’s going great. Do you want to know how much she likes my story? A lot. She has lovely and kind things to say about characters, language, world-building and such. It’s a fun story, on it’s way to awesome. And she’s helping me make it better: Want to know what she asked of me? Setting, that’s what. She wants my characters to wear clothing and live in buildings and have SCENERY outside their windows. And she’s absolutely right. But do you want to know what happened? When I started putting my characters in clothing and having them look out the windows in the buildings they live inside… they had to go out into the scenery. And new things are happening there, in the outside. Cool things. Things that will hopefully thicken up this story to the point of its becoming a BOOK. That someone will PUBLISH. And when that happens, I’ll be so sure to let you know. (Yesterday I added scenes that were awesome and met my 2000 word goal. I cheered. And made peanut butter fudge as a reward. See below.)

Peanut Butter Fudge. It’s a new happiness. I saw the recipe in my Hershey’s cookbook. My Grammy gave me this cookbook 18 years ago as a wedding present, which is exactly in line with my Grammy’s gift-giving mojo: Give the gift you’d like to receive. I’m not much of a chocolate dessert person. But know what? Husband is. And so this book has pages (like the one with the “deep dark chocolate cake” recipe) that are stiff with spills and smears of ingredients. Which, you know, is how to measure the success of any recipe. Pick the dirtiest card, the stiffest page, the one with unbookly colors and textures on it. Also pictures.

If you’re a candy purist, this isn’t even fudge. Know what? I don’t care. Because even if it isn’t fudge, it’s good. And BONUS… it’s easy. Also, there’s sweetened condensed milk. So, you know. Happiness.

Here it is.
Fake Peanut Butter Fudge

2 cups (12 ounces) Reeses’ Peanut Butter Chips
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk*
3 Tablespoons butter

Line a 9×13 pan with foil. Spray the foil with pan spray. Pour chips and milk into a saucepan. Melt over medium heat until it’s all smooth. Stir in the butter.  Spread the loveliness into the prepared pan. THEN, there’s this:

2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk*

Rinse the peanut butter sauce pan. Dry it really well. Pour chocolate chips and milk into the saucepan. Melt over medium heat until it’s all smooth. Don’t forget to stir, and don’t turn it up too high, or you’ll get lumps. That would be sad. When it’s smooth, pour it over the peanut butter layer. Cool it in the fridge. Cut it into 1-inch squares (they’ll be cubes, really, and they’re lovely and striped). I know. Too easy to really be fudge. But so tasty. Tell me if you try it.We can make yummy sounds together.

There’s more, but we can save some of the random for another day, right? Happy Mothers’ Day, mamas out there. And those who have mothers, ever knew a mother, or have a Mother Heart. You, especially.

XOXO

February 21, 2012

Listen to my Voice (Guest Post by Macy Robison)

Filed under: history,Mom,musings,singing — becca @ 6:44 am

***WE HAVE A WINNER! Bethany, Congratulations. I’ll get a copy of Macy’s CD out to you right away.***

Today, we have a guest post from a wonderful friend I’ve loved since I was sixteen. (Yes. I was once sixteen. Yes. That was a very, very long time ago.) Macy went to high school with me. She was Very Cool, but she let me play with her anyway. In fact, Macy’s kind of Very Cool was defined by her inclusivity. She was popular by being a superstar tennis player and singer/performer, but people loved her because she loved us back.

And now we’re all grown up and we’re still friends. I really love it when that happens. And Macy performs this amazing musical/talk/fireside/piece of awesomeness that you can see HERE or own HERE. Also, make a comment on this post. Then I’ll pick a commenter-winner, let’s say on Friday the 24th. I’ll buy you a copy of her CD and send it to you. (One winner. US or Canada.) And besides that (and a lot of other talents), she’s a professional photographer, so if you live in Austin (or are interested in flying her out to where you live) you can check out her brand of photo-genius HERE. And now, my friend Macy:

Today, I thought I lost my voice. Not laryngitis-lost, but I thought my larynx was so damaged that it might not work properly anymore.

I was playing with my son. Like most 4-year-old boys, he loves to wrestle. He’s usually pretty easy to predict and I’m able to keep either of us from getting hurt as we wrestly, but today, he added a new move — he head-butted me in the throat. Right in my larynx. And though I didn’t feel a pop, my throat felt different than it usually does. I’m a singer, so I’m very aware of what my throat and voice feel like at any given time.

In that split second, the horrifying thought came — what if my voice is gone?

The human larynx is a delicate thing. It’s made of tiny little muscles. Muscles that can fatigue, that can tear or strain just like any other muscle in the body. And like any muscle, the vocal cords can wear out from misuse. The voice sounds different when it goes through trauma. And with enough trauma, it can completely disappear.

While I was trying to figure out if my voice was okay, I remembered an experience I had with Becca. We were living in the same dorm at BYU when I got a call from her. Her mom had passed away a couple years before (which she writes about beautifully here and here — and if you really want a good cry, scroll down and read her dad’s comment on the second post) and she called me that night because she couldn’t remember her mom’s voice. Couldn’t remember what it sounded like. And though I hadn’t experienced anything like what she was going through, I just knew what an awful thing that was. I don’t know what I said to her — I hope it was something okay — but I remember being sad about it for a long time.

And then my own mom died. And the day came when I couldn’t remember what her voice sounded like. And it was awful — it was like reliving the loss of my mom all over again.

Our voices are more than just muscles we use to communicate. People recognize us when they hear our voice. Hearing a voice we know and love brings comfort and joy. But as the years have gone by, I have come to understand that my mom’s voice was more than the sound her vocal cords made when they vibrated together. What I heard when I heard my mother talk to me was more than just that vibration — I heard her love for me. I heard the joy in the way she lived her life. I heard the service she gave and the person she was. That was what her voice was to me. And though I would never hear her speak again, I still have her voice inside of me — telling me to practice my singing, telling me to be kind, and telling me to be myself.

Our voices are the essence of who we are. And if someone remembers who we are, our voice sings on even when the vocal cords are silent.

So, I talk about my mom. And I sing about my mom. And I tell my kids about my mom. Sometimes I really have to think to remember what she sounded like when she spoke to us, but her voice — the essence of who she is — that is with me every single day.

Thank you, Macy, for being my guest today. It was lovely to reminisce with you, and for all my blogfriends to get to see inside your heart — and to hear your voice.

Leave comments, friends — and I’ll pick a winner [on Friday] to receive Macy’s “CHILDREN WILL LISTEN” CD. Yay! Prizes!

I borrowed both pics from Macy's blog. Thanks!

November 18, 2011

Gratitude Month, Day 18

Filed under: gratitude,Mom — becca @ 9:16 am

Twenty-two years ago today, my mom passed away. You can read the whole story HERE. (Okay, so that’s not the whole story. But it’s the story of that day, for me.)

So today I’ll tell you some reasons I’ve been grateful for my mom.

She was bright. Smart, yes, but also Lit Up. She shone, can’t you tell? She laughed.

She was a reader. She read everything, it seemed to me. She was in a book club, which I found all so terribly grown up and fascinating. I remember she led a discussion on the book “Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom. It’s the story of a woman who was captured (at age 23, and pregnant) by I can’t remember what kind of Native Americans, and she lived with them for years before she broke away and traveled like a thousand miles to find some semblance of home. At least that’s what I think, since I’ve never read the book. How could I not? I don’t know. I just haven’t. But Mom did. And she took notes in her perfect, careful left-handed cursive in the margins of her paperback. She introduced me to Shel Silverstein and Chaim Potok and Erma Bombeck and L.M. Montgomery. I have distinct kid-memory of sitting in a chair with her and listening to her read aloud recipes from magazines. And the year we moved from Seattle to Boston in a green station wagon with no a/c and (by the time we passed Oregon) no muffler, she read us “Johnny Tremaine,” knowing that we’d soon be smack in the middle of some serious history. (Sometimes an Irish lilt would squeeze out when she read. I don’t know how. She wasn’t Irish. But it was cool. And I blame her for my propensity to read with accents.)

My mom was a trooper. She was sick, all the time. I didn’t really get it, because she was the only mom I’d had. I just figured that moms went to hospitals for a week or so every year. Just normal, right? But do you know what? She made it to every football game, every basketball game, every play, every concert. Even the middle school band. Bless her. She got up in the mornings and made hot breakfast. (I found out later that many, many days she went back to bed after we left the house.)

My mom was a musician and an artist. She liked to draw, and I have a few precious pictures she did for classes or whatever, that she chose to keep. I have stacks, stacks of music that used to be hers. I can’t play the piano more than one note at a time, but I love this music. She had classical stuff and Broadway stuff (her “Funny Girl” is falling apart at the spine) and horrible practicing books like Hanon. She taught piano lessons for years. Tried to teach me, but I must have been unteachable. She taught other people, though, and when she died, a bunch of her piano students bought a beautiful framed poster that now hangs over my younger brother’s piano. It says, “Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s Laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s Fire. God gave us Music that we might pray without words.” (It’s from a German opera house. Those Germans know how to be proud of their own. I love that about them.) She had long, pretty fingernails that would hit the keys just before the note played, so everything was in a syncopation if you sat close enough to her hands to hear the percussion parts.

My mom was an only child. She loved her mama and Nana and the aunts and uncles and cousins. When we lived far away from Grandma, my mom was on the phone with her at least once a week. (I so distinctly remember the conversations that would start, “Of course everything’s all right, Mom. I’m sorry you were worried. You can bet that if something’s wrong, I’ll call right away.”)

(That’s not her mom. That’s my dad’s stepmom, my Grammy. She was a diva. Totally. You’d have loved her too. Chocolate-coated, my Grammy was. Beside Grammy is Older Brother, who visits here as OmaHeck, then Mom holding me, and skinny, skinny beatnick Dad.)

My mom was a singer, too. She loved to sing. We had a singing house. And a singing car. We sang all the time. Not too long before her death, she grew some sort of something on her vocal cord and her singing was diminished. I bet that was a painful loss for both her and my dad. She loved Barbara Streisand. I knew every word to every song Babs ever recorded, because Mom and I would sing them all. Once, Babs recorded “Over the Rainbow” with Judy Garland, and that one can still bring tears to my eyes. She loved to do shows. She was a staple in the community theatre and encouraged me to get in it with her.

She was a cook. Mmm. And a chucker. That’s my word for it, anyway — it’s the way I do my cooking: Chuck it in if it smells right. She made the world’s best spaghetti sauce. And (I think I’ve told you this before) neighbor kids would come over and fill up cups with the sauce and eat it with spoons. She actually wrote down the “recipe” for that one, but it’s never tasted the same when anyone else made it. Once she burned pork chops. In the microwave. I think it’s best if we didn’t get any more detailed than that. She bottled and canned and juiced and made fruit leather. I so wish I’d learned fruit leather from her. But it wasn’t a 15-year-old priority to make it, just to eat it. She taught me how to cook, how to chuck, and how to feed people with food and with love. I have not taught my Kids that. I don’t want them to be okay without me. Yes, I am aware that is wrong, and twisted, and a little sick. Thank you for asking.

My mom was a teacher. The kind that taught us, at home. And the kind that found things that needed teaching and went ahead and taught them. She was “the Picture Lady” at our elementary school. She’d bring in a poster-print of a famous artist once a month or so and teach us redneck kids about Van Gogh, Manet, Picasso, Cassatt, Monet, Chagall, Gaugin, and Rembrandt. And more. Lots more. She never thought we were learning quite enough in school. So she’d give us more, after school. And she’d march into the principal’s office, all 5’1″ of her, and Demand Stuff. She taught those nuns what it was to fear the wrath of this little Mormon Mommy. When I get demanding at school and possibly ball up my fists onto my hips, I smile. Channeling the Mom is such a good thing.

I’d hate to give you the wrong impression here. She wasn’t perfect. She never made just the right amount of rice for dinner. Too much or too little, always. She burned pork chops, remember? She didn’t quite know what to do with a moody-emotional teenage girl. Drama was a mystery. She lost her temper (but not as often as she deserved to). All of which combined to make her REAL.

I wish you could have known her. I wish Husband could have known her. I wish, so much, that my Kids could have known her. (Here’s why)

But mostly, today, I’m grateful that I could know her. That I could learn from her, and on a good day, that I could find her, here, inside me.

June 27, 2011

Reaping the Benefits

Filed under: Dads,familyness,food,Mom — becca @ 1:03 pm

I love the idea of gardening. My dad is a champion gardener, and I have decades-worth of weeding memories, eating the warm-tomato memories, corn-shucking-on-the-run memories, overwhelming zucchini harvest memories, and random other garden memories, including the time that snake slithered right over that foot. (It wasn’t my foot. But I remember the skin-crawl as though it might have been.)

I inherited a lot of traits from my dad, including but not limited to freakish memory, long phone calls, and a love for cheese and red meat. But I didn’t get the green thumb. Which occasionally makes me sad. I try. Often. I spend way more money on plants and gardeny stuff than I ever save on actual edible produce. (*boo*)

This year I let myself off the hook. I didn’t plant anything. In fact, in that spirit of honesty, I’ll tell you that I haven’t actually managed to weed out the garden yet. But. I have a couple of volunteers. We’re eating a lot of chives, because they come back. Over and over. Yea! And their flowers are so beauteous. We’re using chives where normally we’d use green onions and everyone’s pretty glad about it. Also, the lettuces I planted last spring, but they never grew? Remember those? Surprise! They’re coming up now. So hooray for the surprise benefits.

Yesterday at church, Brother Bob asked us if we wanted any spinach. Um, hello? I guess, yes. So we went over there and he cut off a bunch of gorgeous greenies, and I ooh-ed and aah-ed over his growing things, and he also whacked off a bunch of rhubarb for us. I told him to leave the leaves on, because I had to go all Miss America pageanty and wave to the Kids while holding this incredible bouquet of rhubarb. We went home thinking how grateful we were that we could reap the benefits of someone else’s work. Thanks, Brother Bob.

So this morning I made a pie. A strawberry-rhubarb pie. I haven’t had one of those in at least 25 years. And it made me miss my mom like very few things do these days. I don’t know if my mom loved-loved strawberry-rhubarb pie, but she made it, and I ate it with her. She would have been proud of my pastry today, you know. It was a thing of beauty, if I do say so myself. We just cut into the pie, and only Kid 1 ate her whole piece (well, I did, too), and she laughed and said, “Well, Mom, you and I can eat this pie.” And my heart was happy-sad and I wished again that Mom was here to know my Kids. Because she’d think they’re delightful, I guarantee it. She’d crack up at Kid 3’s sense of humor. She’d be jealous of her hair, too. She’d swoon over Kid 2’s Vivaldi abilities. And she’d snuggle up with her in a blanket on the couch. She’d answer all of Kid 4’s questions, even when she knew he was only asking to keep her talking. She’d practice his duets with him, too, because she had the skills to do that thing. She’d hold her own hands together over her heart (that physical manifestation of *squee*) when she saw Kid 1 sing on stage, I know it. She’d practice songs with her, and help her work through tricky harmonies. And she’d pretend to be amazed at all the kid-ly braininess, when really, she’d pretty much expect it.

And every day, when I work on this Mom business, and sing songs to my kids, and read them books (with the voices)and bite my tongue when the unkind/impatient/snarky remark wants to escape, and when I say, “B-flat, b-flat,” and cook meals every day, I’m reaping the rewards of her seed-planting. Thanks, Mom.

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