Woke Sunday morning with her on my mind. Took a few hours before I tightened in on the fact that while I knew May 17th was the day my mother was born, and I had already felt that tiny little stab of, “I wish I wish her a happy birthday in person” it wasn’t until I was safely tick-tack-ticking prices on a stack of newly arrived Provencal Rose at the shop that it dawned on me, she would have been 70 this year. Felt my shoulders sink just before they started bouncing as the first chuckle of the day rumbled from my tummy up, “Fuck, would she have hated the sound of that”
Pretty sure that my own uptick in years, and the hormonal wild ride that comes with it, is in part responsible for this softening of my self-reinforced crunchy outer layer. In part the reason that I find myself crying at any number of manufactured heart string tugging film, television show or damn commercial. Part of the reason that I feel the edges of my mouth bend and sort of stretch in the direction of my ears, something I think some folks call a smile, when I see a tiny person float in strapped to one of their parents, little feet dangling…oh if they’re wearing like bity Chucks, Vans or flower adorned sandals, um, I turn into the village idiot. Puppies, those baby elephant videos, kitties cuddling, I’ve got people the globe over posting adorable small animal videos and pictures on my Facebook page, daily, at this point. Not sure how my uterus drying up (wishful thinking as the bastard is acting more like it has developed a stutter than actually riding off into the, “I can now go commando all the damn time” sunset) has made me gushier but it has. That or my jaw is just getting tired of being ready to take the next blow, but there has been a very noticeable lack of….ambivalence in my squishy bits as of late.
My mother’s birthday has always been on my radar. It’s one of those week-and-a-half to two week stints between Mother’s Day and the 20th of May that are reminders, a day to celebrate moms, her birthday, the last night I saw her and the anniversary of her death all bunched up like a fist that all too often hits me square in my gut, and has for nearly 15 years now. This year, that little chuckle about how displeased she would have been at the idea of turning 70, (although obviously I think she would have gladly taken that to the alternative. The one that had her not seeing her daughters married, her youngest getting her Masters and most beloved grandchild graduate from high school, and the University of Louisville) brings with it another gentler smile, one that lets me know that for all the downs, the fights, the emotional cruelty and hateful rage she threw, she loved us and gave all that she was capable of, and that fucked up mix made us who we are. This woman I am now.
Maybe it was always less about what she did wrong and more about how I took it. Not sure, but all those years running, spastically, from anything resembling the life she led, at times from even thinking about being her daughter…one of those jobs that made you feel the most loved, and resented human on the planet, maybe it took nearly 44 years for me to give up my own dissatisfaction and rage. Maybe it took my writing here and sharing our story, our stories, that helped me crack at all the crusted over bits and begin to let my more fragile, un-scared flesh be exposed. (I’m still leaning toward blaming my sputtering uterus by the way) I know my sister has always hated, or had issue, with me sharing what our mother was really like. Felt like I was betraying her, and with her not here to defend herself, although I can’t imagine how there is ever a defense of seething insults like, “I wouldn’t fuck you with someone else’s body!” at your daughters because they were dressed up and going out, like teenage girls do. Like she did. Her choices and circumstances weren’t mine to make and while I sometimes trumped about the house wearing her clogs and boots when I was tiny, I never once walked directly in her shoes. Nor she in mine and somewhere in there I’m finding a little peace and the missing is less heavy, or saturated with tension. It’s sweeter and that cream stuff, well it’s rising to the top….
This morning, my day off, I woke and lazily motored about the apartment. My husband on a rare visitation tapping away at his keyboard, the sound of the couch wheezing beneath my stretched out frame, the seducing sound of water trickling across stones coming from the little stream that runs through our apartment complex, audible over the utter silence of an empty Monday workday. I took a deeply satisfying breath and a sensory memory overtook me so strongly I swore I could taste the phantom aroma. A dish my mother had in her weekly rotation for a couple years, around the time when I was 9-12 years old. Not the kind of meal I grew up eating but one that made an impression…even though I can’t seem to recall if I liked it or not, which tells me it wasn’t a “Most hated” dish.
It was when we were living at my brother’s father’s house. The Big Ugly Evil I used to call it, the one where we lived over the garage and my mother was tasked with feeding the transient and ever-changing stream of sad souls that man would bring trudging through the house. Through his house, as we were always reminded. I would be in one of the back rooms off the kitchen, often reading or listening to The Mighty 690 AM radio. I would hear the Pyrex dish hit the counter, the slithery sound of her knee-high clad feet as they slid across the linoleum. A twist of the door knob of the pantry, (to this day I’ve not seen a pantry as big as the one in The Big Ugly Evil. Used to hide in there and snack on hickory smoked almonds and sliced green bell peppers that I’d douse with red wine vinegar, black pepper and garlic salt…so yeah, weird kid) my ears perking up to see if I could make out which of her weekly creations she was up to. Pantry door closed with a swoosh, me with my back pressed against the high backed chair that was deemed “too ugly” for his dining room, therefore perfect for us, knees drawn tight to my chest as I strained to finish dinner, through sound. Wasn’t until I heard the un-vacuuming “poink” and the sound of an envelope slapping back and forth, hitting the sides of my mother’s wrist that the symphony of soon-to-be dinner sang.
The “Poink” sound was from a jar of apricot jam or jelly, the slapping envelope a packet of Lipton Onion Soup mix, (and why do we all do that slapping thing?! I still do it on the three or four times a year I treat myself, yes, I said treat, to some onion dip) she would mix that with a sploosh of Russian dressing before pouring it over chicken thighs and baking until brown and bubbling. A cut open bag of Minute Rice would be tossed about in a bowl with some butter and dinner was served. I am not kidding in the least when I say I could actually taste that dish when the memory of its smell came over me this morning. Rather incredible, and very welcome kiss on the forefront as it were….
“You’ve had a very lucky life” a phrase I hear quite often from customers as we talk about where I’ve visited, what I’ve tasted and where I’m going next. Used to bug the shit out of me seeing as I’ve spent a significant volume of time, and muscle, carrying around this damn baggage all these years. Lucky?! Charmed?! Easy?! These comments would send a nail through my spine and that tight jaw I’d been known for, well it would seal beneath pursed lips and the weight of a heavy brow. Sunday at the shop, just before closing I was recommending a wine and sharing the story of how sweet the winemaker is, how charming her home and her parents, the way they found out about my seafood “issue” and on the spot whipped me up another dish to wash down with their Champagnes. The words were playing like an orchestra to her ears, her smile encouraging me to keep playing. That was when her warm grin spread apart and she said, “You’ve got it pretty good” the words spilling over me like a wave of restorative freshness “Yes. Yes I do now” my response.
There is no way I could have, or would have, any of all that I have without the hands that shoved or sweetly led me on this path. The running, the shielding, the willingness to try anything, these are all gifts bestowed upon me that have contributed, both good and bad, to the person I am now and…well for maybe the first time in the nearly 15 years since she passed away, all I can think to say to my mother is, Thank You.
I’m almost exactly a million miles from being great at anything but I do seem to have a sliver of talent when it comes to this wine thing. Could be that titch of oddity that bent me enough to unashamedly speak up for the wines that created the kind of sensory memory that held enough intrigue to keep me listening and opening my mouth. To taste and talk more. To use words that tug at those of us that tromp about in the big splashy puddles of indulgent pleasure, and to those of us that find something nearly sensual in restraint and the scraping of the less polished. Wouldn’t be surprised to find it a sort of envelope packet of all of the above and none of it could have been possible without the life that brought me here, and the woman that gave all she had.
She Gave Me
The Love of Music. Be it an escape, a warm embrace, a deeply pounding session of fucking that leaves me breathless and like I’ve been astoundingly felt. Music, the right music, feels like hands caressing and massaging all of my bits and can evoke memories of exact moments that bounce to life like I were looking at it like film. I crave it. I fear it. I spent many years learning how to curve my body to it. Found a whole other life to run to because I could and there, there I found acceptance that I hadn’t before.
The Lust for Love. When I was very young, maybe five or six, my mother had a group of friends that worked with her at La Mesa Porsche Audi. Mechanics that all worked at the dealership where she was a receptionist. They did everything together…..like everything, and most of my early memories involve that group. One member of the clan was a very handsome young man, 19 years old when they all first met, named Matt. He was way hotter than my Fonzie poster and he was so sweetly attentive to the lonely, shy little girl that lived just outside the rooms where they drank beers and smoked pot. Matt always made me feel special and on one day, my birthday I believe, he even picked me up for a “date” where he took me for a ride in his convertible Porsche, to lunch and to get professional pictures taken. Never. Never had anything even remotely that sweet done for me before and to a five or six year old, well this was clearly a sign of true love. He loved me. I knew it and we were destine to be married one day. I even wore a dreaded dress for my picture as a promise that I would also wear one when we got married. Well, as these things often do, situation didn’t quite work out as my six year old imagination planned. Matt and I were never married, (dammit) but after schooling a “stand in” date of his, while she was brushing her long, shinny, twenty year old locks, that she ought not get too close to him as he was spoken for….well I learned that love was something I was willing to wait and fight for. That and driving just a little too fast, it was just my speed….
The Love of Fancy Cheese. One of the questions I get most often is how I got into cheese, (for those of you that don’t know, I am also the cheese specialist at The Wine Country). This too is a legacy of my mother, and her unwillingness to settle into her, our, situation. Most of my life was spent in varying stages of broke. Either flat ass with no food, or with certain utilities being sacrificed as there wasn’t quite enough money to cover. Lived on pancakes for a couple weeks and to this day I will not eat those bastards. Cheese on the other hand….well we always seemed to have just enough for fancy cheese. A tiny wedge of aged Cheddar. A block of rich and nutty Gouda. Smoldering and stinking triangles of pungent blue. Now unless it was tax return time we would never have all at one time but outside of the Pancake Era, there was always some gratifying bit of salty and creamy there in cases of, much needed. I grew up eating those cheeses like the rare treats they were and much like learning the sounds of dinner “music” and the flavors of specific vineyards and the taste of a winemaker’s thumbprint, I remembered them all. The way sharp Cheddar bit at the sides of my throat and the taunting twist of hand pulled string cheese as I spun the tiny threads around my tongue, hoping to extract each ounce of flavor. She used to call me Mouse in fact and part of the reason was my unabashed love of all things cheesery and also for the way my nose would go to work when she brought me to a deli counter, twitching and investigating. Probably another dash of seasoning in that whole envelope of who I am.
I wished you a very happy Mother’s Day
Am grateful we spent that last night together, all of us, celebrating your birthday
I miss you all the time but feel it most this time of year….
I hope you found a way to be proud of us, and you for making us the girls we are and for making my son feel like the most loved person in the world….he is one of the best people I know and you are part of the reason why.
As a woman of way too many words today I have just two, they are from the deepest bottom ocean of my heart