She’s a little old lady now, but I always remember her as young. Forever Young. Trapped in Kodachrome. Standing next to Pop’s new ’69 Olds, looking chic in her white capris and tropical-print smock, her thick black hair piled impossibly high, her dark brown Native eyes watchful and wise, her broad toothy grin, blindingly white and infectious. I always remember her as Beautiful.
I always remember her up early. Clanking softly around out in the kitchen. Making Pop oatmeal and eggs before he left for Camp. Packing me bologna and cheese before I left for school. Crock-potting that night’s dinner before she left for Doc Mulroney’s. I can still smell the sauerkraut and polish sausage. The Oldsmobile Man’s favorite.
I always remember her helping me set up my Hot Wheels track. Challenging me to a mean game of gin rummy on rainy Sundays. Coming out to our backyard on mosquito-filled July nights to pitch me a few innings. Coming out on freezing January Snow Days to help me win a snowball fight against those rotten Hansen kids. She had a hell of an arm.
I always remember her dancing with the Oldsmobile Man in the living room on Saturday nights before they’d head out and hit the town for real. How they looked like movie stars with Pop in his good jacket and thin black tie and Mom in her heels and elegant white gloves. How she’d fire up the hi-fi and put on some Sammy Davis and they’d whirl and twist and spin until she was laughing so hard she’d lose her breath. How Pop would pull her in close. Hold her tight. How she’d look into his eyes. And give him a kiss. A long one. A mushy one. How it was Magical.
I always remember her helping me wash the Gremlin after a date. How she’d turn the radio up when the Stones came on. How she’d talk cars with me. Tell me the story of why she loved Mustangs but hated pickups. How Uncle Jack grounded her after she got her first speeding ticket in his Chrysler. How she knew Pop was in love with her when he let her borrow his ’56 Holiday Coupe. How she knew she was in love with him when he wasn’t mad she’d brought it back with a dent.
I always remember her as being there for me. To talk. To listen. To give me a hug. To bandage a scrape. To laugh with me when I was happy. To cry with me when I was sad. To teach me things. Important things. Like how to be patient. How to be kind. How to make good mac-and-cheese. How to get out a tomato stain. How to iron a shirt. How to fold a fitted sheet. And how to use a stick shift.
That was supposed to be Pop’s job but after five minutes of me chirping the tires and grinding the gears and killing the motor out in front of the house he’d had enough. Told the Beehive he couldn’t do it. Made him too nervous. Too edgy. So she hopped in. Drove us over to the Junior College parking lot. Turned off the engine. Had me get behind the wheel. Told me to just sit for a few. To relax. To practice the process. Go through the motions. Let off the gas. Push in the clutch. Snick into the next gear. Ease off the clutch. Get back on the gas. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. She stayed calm. Cool. Collected. And before long I was shooting around the lot, upshifting and downshifting the Gremmy like I was Mario. Well, almost.
She said she was proud of me. That Pop would be surprised. That she knew I’d get it. She told me to drive out to the Dairy Queen and when we got there she bought herself a dipped cone and me a hot fudge sundae. Noon on a Saturday. I was beaming. Haven’t had a sundae taste better since.
And now she’s a little old lady. Eighty-five. The famous black beehive is long gone, replaced by a mostly white convenience cut. But she’s still Beautiful. Same eyes. Same smile. Same soul.
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She’s doing okay. Still living independently. Spends winters down at her place in Mesa and summers back at her new Senior-Friendly condo in NoDak. Has gal pals that she does brunches and lunches and teas and dinners with. Usually has a ‘sipper’ around five. A Bailey’s on the rocks before bed. Still walks a couple miles every day, faithfully using the custom walking stick Big Sis bought her after she fell a year or so ago. Still loves to cook and bake but has to watch her cholesterol and sugars. Still loves to dance, but just slow ones and only with me or her ‘special friend’ Bob. Still crazy about Mustangs, but likes her new Camry just fine.
I Facetimed her last night. Told her I’d taken the youngest out in the ‘B. Said I’d driven him to an empty parking lot. Turned off the engine. Had him get behind the wheel. Told him to just sit for a few. To relax. To practice the process. Go through the motions. Let off the gas. Push in the clutch. Snick into the next gear. Ease off the clutch. Get back on the gas. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Told her I stayed calm. Cool. Collected. And before long he was shooting around the lot, upshifting and downshifting the ‘B like he was Mario. Well, almost.
She laughed. Said she remembered doing the same with me in the Gremmy. Asked if I remembered it too. Told her I did. That I’d never forget it.
Then I told her about my day. Wasn’t my best. Had a setback. A disappointment. Was feeling discouraged. Frustrated. A little sad. A little angry. Told her it was good to hear her voice. To see her face. To know she was there for me.
Like I always remember.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone…
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