There are times when my memories of my mother seem painfully far away. I seem to have to dig for them, focusing so hard to lay hold to just one concrete memory. After fifteen years, I suppose that’s bound to happen to a certain degree. It pains me when it happens, and yet there are other times when memories of her bubble to the surface in a way that surprises me.
And then there are times last night, when I lay in bed thinking about her and wanting to remember specific memories of just her and me. There were plenty, but some of them have slipped away. Children don’t go through their lives actively trying to retain the memories of their parents… as a child, it’s a given that Mom and Dad will always be there. And so as a child you go about your selfish, carefree way; you interact with this woman who is, in most ways, the center of your life and you assume she will always be there.
Until she isn’t.
Last night it took an effort to find memories. The ones that I have carved into my memory were readily available; things I promised never to forget… the way she would take me on her lap when I was upset, regardless of how old I was; the fact that her hands were always warm; the sound of her heart beating; the way she would count to ten in English and then switch over to Dutch. So many abstract things that made her who she was.
But it was the physical, specific memories I wanted. Moments of interaction and conversation that were just her and me…
Like the game we used to play in the grocery store: we’d race to see who could find the largest piece of cheese in the dairy section. I’m pretty sure she let me win most days.
Like the way she would let me eat toast with peanut butter and honey in my room after kindergarten, because I wanted to eat at my play desk like a first grader.
Like the way she would let me sit in my pyjamas and watch Curious George and Mr. Dressup.
Like the matching dresses she made us when I was in Grade 1; I loved that red and white fabric so much, I wore it for the school program that year. There are pictures of me in it somewhere; I was so proud to have a dress just like Mom’s.
Like the huge box of doll clothes that she sewed and knitted for my birthday one year, even a matching set of flannel pyjamas for my dolly and me.
Like the way she would jokingly ask ‘Don’t you love me anymore?’ and I would get so upset because I couldn’t stand the thought of her thinking that was true.
Like the special treat it was to lie in bed beside her if she’d hurt her back or she wasn’t feeling well. I would beg for stories of when she was growing up and she would tell my favourites over and over.
Like the way she told me one night after I’d have my recurring nightmare of her dying without my having a chance to say goodbye, that I would be just fine and go on to be the best darn writer I could.
I don’t seem to have memories of conversations about life, marriage, love, pain. It’s not that I never had those conversations with anyone… it took a village to raise me after she died and I’ve had conversations with C, my sisters, friend’s moms, and friends. I’m grateful beyond words fro all of those interactions, but I wish that we had hung out on her bed and chatted about those things. There are still days when I long for memories of moments we never had.
What lasts, however, despite it being fifteen years and my having now lived longer without her than with her, is the imprint of who she was. The specific things she did might be fading. But her character, her strength, her love of people and of the Lord, her joy and laughter, her courage, her gentleness, her love; those attributes remain fixed in my memory in living colour. I do not need to reach or dig to find them; I can almost reach and touch them.
And that, after fifteen years, is a precious, precious gift.