Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Recalling My Mother's Former Vigor

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...and My Youth

"Mom, you looked frail today when I first saw you," I said without meaning to, and then, "I mean, not weak, but rather, too thin." (Unfortunately, she looked both, but I did not want to encourage the power of suggestion.)

"I know. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw it," she agreed. My mother appeared more physically vulnerable than I've ever seen her, other than the morning after her major car accident, which was three months ago today.

After we said goodbye, I felt suddenly desperate to see a childhood friend, who would remember my mom and me when we were much more vigorous. This friend and I were best friends from age two and a half to age nine or 10.

One of my friend's daughters was wearing an adorable sun-dress that my friend used to wear, which her mother had made for her when she was a kid. Sitting with the child while my friend attended to another one in the other room, I felt like I was sitting with my friend again, at her early-childhood size.

"Your mother used to like to play School and she was always the teacher," I told the five-year-old, who was looking up at me through her little glasses -- a brunette version of her mom at that age -- "She tried to teach me Math....It didn't work -- not because your mom was not a good teacher; I was not a good student."

My friend's daughter kept looking at me and I felt like a giant, and was compared to her. "Your mom also taught me to play jacks and Backgammon. Do you know what Backgammon is?"

My friend's daughter showed me a fantastic piece of mica that she had found and I praised it sincerely. My friend and I agreed that both of us enjoyed collecting rocks when we were growing up.

We acknowledged how natural it felt for us to sit with each other and talk; we had seen each other in person maybe twice in our lives, since age 10. I brought up her dad, may his memory be blessed, and a bit about my mom, but not a lot, since we didn't want to upset her daughters by talking about the accident.

My friend's essential face in all its expressiveness was the same, and the easy laughter between us delighted me. My awkwardness at our not having seen each other much as teens or adults caught up with me at the end; as fun an exchange as we had had, where she said she remembered my favorite color and more, I still tripped over imagining how we could sustain the friendship beyond e-mail exchanges after this spontaneous visit. It was so much more fun than e-mail, speaking with her in person.

Maybe I didn't need to worry about how I'd entertain her husband and kids if they came over to our house, and maybe I could let myself be continually natural with her, or maybe the practicalities of our lives would make in-person visits challenging if they were too planned. Simply, I needed to be grateful that she was home earlier today when I called, and welcomed my visit.

Before I was leaving, she said, "One year, for my birthday, you gave me a purple, pink and maroon scarf and I always took it with me wherever I moved. Once, when my father-in-law was visiting us, he was cold, and I let him have the scarf. And he still wears it. And I think of you whenever I see it on him."

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