by Ken on June 30, 2009

Early memories are difficult to sort, at times. The fleeting pictures with differing indices of backgrounds. “Was that there – or maybe there?” or “Had I lost my first tooth yet?”

My memories of Mom seem to start with a hand. How interesting. It was a hand pulling a sled. I recall laying in that cradle of safety, knowing, somehow in my young heart, that it was a dismal world at that exact moment, and her hand served as my stable point of reference. Around that stable hand flew the flurries of a cold and damp world of Alaska. The hand formed an  image of connection between this trusted human being and my buggy of safety.

That point of connection – her hand.

And she held it so uniquely. It wasn’t a grip. It was a gentle connection, only a few of her fingers. How was there the strength? How could she pull all that I was through this blinding world towards some destination I knew not of; and do it all with just a few fingers?

I did not care where we were going. She was there. That was all that mattered – in my enfant universe.

And as that hand literally pulled me through the snow on that winter day in Alaska, it, figuratively, pulled me through countless events and moments of my life.

She was my dearest friend.

She had a love for me that did not require any effort on my part. I could be me – even in a world where I felt unloved by others, at times.  She was there for me in every way.

She loved me in my triumphs. She quietly stood by as my attention diverted to shinier things. As I felt loved by many she stood by in appreciative silence; yet there, too, she stood in my darkest and  loneliest moments.

And she said things. She said things which remain with me to this day;  Silly things that formed stable foundations of my life – often said in passing yet formative in their effect.

One was, “You can be anything you wish to be.”

“How silly”, I, at times, said in later years. I’d watch the carpet salesman sweating through the motions of a sale and I’d ask, “Did he want to be a carpet salesman?”

Yes, I tempered many of what she said with maturing musings. But their basic premise never left me.

There were many, many more; each full of wisdom and grace.

She played the piano. There was a song she loved called, “Night and Day “. It was haunting. I’d go to bed and listen to the notes flowing up the stairs as she softly played that wonderful melody. I drifted off one evening, as the melody played, and woke up with a terrifying jolt. I felt an emptiness in me which filled my gut with a sorrow and pain I’d never felt. As the song moved through the air and I got out of bed, in my pajamas and ran to the source. She was playing and she stopped, surprise in her eyes.

“Mom, I thought you were dead”. I remember crying and the total feeling of devastation I felt but the absolute relief in finding that it was still she who played the tune.

She took me in her arms. I don’t know if she cried or not. But all I know is that she told me to never worry about that. She would not leave me.

I don’t think she promised she would never leave. In fact, I am sure she did not. But at that moment, at that time in our mutual endeavor, she made it clear that this was not the time or the place for me to harbor such thoughts or concerns.

Mom could laugh – oh could she ever laugh. And she could laugh at herself most of all. She’d lose it – at some simple thing and the laughter became the thing – greater than the incident itself.

And she could scold and be a complete pain in the ass. I never felt an anger that had the same effect upon me than hers. Her eyes could darken. She could affect the very atmosphere that I breathed. Dad’s corrections and anger were quick and sometimes a bit painful, physically, but Mom’s displeasure could be like daggers.

I only experienced those two or three times in my life. That was quite enough.

Mom saw me through everything.

She was at my baseball games – when I struggled to learn the game. She cheered me on. She became a Tiger’s fan and we went to many games in Detroit and watched them on TV. She could knock off the names of the team: Rocky Calavito, Norm Cash, Al Kaline, Jake Wood – she knew them all. And we collected cards together.

As I learned to play the piano she was there. She rooted me on effusively with approving words and actions. When  those occasional days came where I’d played for hours straight, she still remained my loyal admirer.

She helped me through my loves, my losses, my times of confidence, and my times when I could not get any tenable grip upon the why’s and how’s of our world. She reminded me, she showed me, and was that constant hand with the light grip which I recall to this day.

She served as our mother and father as my father served in Southeast Asia. And she quietly took the news, thought falsely delivered, that my father had gone missing in action in that God forsaken war. I came down the next morning, oblivious, to a  quiet and shaken being. She’d lived, alone, while we kids slept as babes, with the belief that  Dad was missing. A Chaplain mistakenly brought her that news which she bore for 2 hours before the mistake was remedied by a phone call.

She spoke of it rarely again.

I watched her struggle with men who wanted her in not so honorable ways while Dad was gone. And I watched her stand honorably.

She taught me about love – and about the the birds and bees. She quelled my concerns of our dog GiGi’s losing her virtues to the dog on the other side of our screen door. It took a bit more contact than that.

And she taught me without the slightest hint of preaching. She never made me feel dumb – even in my dumbest moments.

She was the secretary in our school office working for the dreaded Mr. Jackson – our principle who had, and deserved, a feared reputation as the strict disciplinarian of our school. And yet she brought me, later, to know him as a friend who, a couple years later, blew smoke in my ears to ease them from the pains of an infection. That taught me of the complexities of the human heart and the many faces that one person is capable of wearing.

While she served that post I was teased by my friends as her southern accent permeated the halls of our school during morning announcements. She could never leave Georgia entirely behind.

This lady sang, she danced. She joined in our school functions. She did neighborhood rallies. She dressed us up for Halloween and did so herself. She lit our sparklers. She camped with us. She dived. She was the greatest sport there could ever be.

She painted. She wrote poetry.

And she loved my father. And helped make him a better man so that he could be our wonderful father.

What comes first?  I’d never claim to know.

As I got older I had harebrained ideas.

With her permission I went on a bike hike into another state. My friend and I were gone 3 days. We returned one night, riding through Indiana about 3:00 in the morning when we were barred by a farmer with two barrels of a shotgun aimed at our noses.

I traveled the country in my Renault – or whatever car I had. I was merely 17 years of age. She, with courage, granted her approval.

I was out late at night – performing at proms, dances, events, etc. She trusted me absolutely.

I was a paper boy – getting up at 4:00 am to deliver the papers. Many a morning, during blinding snow and temperatures in the 10’s, she would get up and help me with my route. But she only did this in the most dire of times – it was, basically, up to me.

When I sprung the idea, at the age of 21, to backpack through Europe, she did not stand in my way. That summer I spent 4 weeks in Basic military training in Texas, and she sent me the most loving letters I’d ever gotten. And when I returned, a week later she delivered me to a C-41 awaiting me at MacDill in Tampa, for my 2 month trip, alone with my backpack, abroad in Europe.

And she never heard my voice during that trip  – but once when I called her from Greece on a MARS station. I can scarcely imagine the stress that she must have felt while I was gone. Yet she never complained or made me feel like I was putting her through anything untoward. I returned to Florida and to Tampa with literally 24 cents in my pocket – enough for a phone call to Mom who was there in record time to retrieve her son from the clutches of the world.

She allowed me to become a man.

She stood with me through my growth, my marriage, and was there to hug me as I cried in joy and relief at my first son’s birth. Hers was a shoulder I often neglected, but quickly sought when the chips were down.

It is those moments.

And there were the moments we shared that are and shall remain ours alone.

Those are the moments.

I am, in many ways, my mother. I am her art. I am her love for words. I am her love for music. I am her love of travel. I am her love for humor. I am her. She is never, never gone from me.

The years did roll on and I did lose her. We lost her.

She never made me a promise that she could not  keep……. Never.

Her passing before me  was, in the scheme of life, the way it should go. But she left too soon.

It’s always too soon.

My memories of that moment  focus upon her hand.

It was a hand that I held, as I removed the rings from her fingers to assure that her daughters would get them as she had wished. No one else was there who could do it – or think of it. But I knew that it was not her. She had left – but that hand, that symbol, remained clutched in my own fingers for a bit longer than I intended.

I held it – along with a zillion thoughts – two zillion emotions – too powerful to understand. Too strong to acknowledge but for their complexity and power.

The emotions were separate to the event. I dealt with them, as do we all, in my own way.

But pictures can remain – if one chooses.

In this surreal and quiet moment,  I felt the rush of  memories. And among them,  there at the beginning,  was that hand pulling me through the snow on that blustery day those decades ago. This hand; which had held me,  had loved me; had supported me through my journey. This hand that had gently shown me the way to so much.

I’ve held this picture….. along with that first one.

Together they serve as covers to a personal,  internally-held tome that contains a lifetime of memories and love.

I’ll hold it to my heart forever.

Life’s eternal nature manifests in mysterious and wonderful ways. As Mom and I had connected through our shared lives we did so, again, at that moment – in a way that she did not expect.  We learned something together – it was, in some ways, our finest gift to one another.  And it remains ours alone.

That sadness was brief and no longer resides in me. My memories of her are happy, kind,  gentle and funny. This being, my mother, brought me mostly joy. She gave me, or at least rekindled in me, an ability and a way to experience it;  and to express it.

I was blessed to have had her as my mother this time around. It was a role, along with many others, that she played to near perfection.

She ushered in and nurtured the man who I was to be – and who I am. And did it equally well with my brother and two sisters.

I shall never, never know another like her.

I love you, Mom. Where ever you are – that world is blessed too.


You can hear my rendition of Night and Day here.

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