I have a friend who longs to be understood by her grown sons. And so, she is writing a memoir.
She believes that her sons know nothing of her essence. She says they know her simply as Mom, as their father’s wife, as the daughter of the grandparents they once had. They do not know who she was when she was 18 and married to a man they never knew. They cannot know how she looked when she won the barrel race with her horse Gunner when she was 15. They do not remember when she wore her long hair in an up-do and it was blonde. And they think of her life’s work as bookkeeping, though it has been poetry all along.
The story she is writing is poetic and purposeful and full of messy beauty. From what I have read so far, it is much more than a rehashing of years.
As I read my friend’s story, I began to imagine the story my mother might have written—had she been of the mind to tell it. Not liking undue attention and not inclined to spend much time thinking of herself, she did not write a memoir.
I can only speculate how my mom’s story might read. Beyond the basic, indisputable facts, what she would write about herself might be quite different from what I know. I am, after all, not privy to what lie deep within my mother as she journeyed this Earth. I can only guess what she might have wished for when she was 16 and what it was that she might have changed at 80. I do not know what she feared most.
Truth is, I know her stories better than I know her story. I know she ate a spoiled Bologna sandwich on her honeymoon and spent most of the trip to Colorado with food poisoning. I know some about her life on the farm and growing up poor in rural Kansas. I know some about what she did and did not like about her jobs that helped send four kids to college. I know how she looked sitting on the bed next to her mother, brushing what white hair remained on my grandmother’s head at age 100.
Maybe we children are not meant to know all there is to know about our mothers. Maybe in addition to babies, mothers give birth to a part of their self that reaches inside and picks out what beats loudest, folds it up neat and square and tucks it away for safekeeping. Maybe moms peek in to admire that essence, like they peek in at night to watch their sleeping babies. They touch the soft skin of their babies now grown, they smell the green grass they rolled through in childhood, they taste the mashed potatoes of the family gatherings and they see each added page of the photo album of life. Maybe a mother’s essence is protected from the worst of life’s lessons and not immune to the change of experience. And though it may be hidden from the light of day, it remains.
Did I really know my mother’s essence?
In the way known by all who had the good fortune to have had a loving mother in the center of their childhood universe, yes. While I might not be able to state everything that was important to her or each disappointment or happiness she lived, I know for a fact that she gave her children comfort and safety, kindness and caring, love and security.
I could write lots of stories of what my mom did and rehash her years in all their messy beauty.
But what I would rather remember, and honor, is not what she did, but how she made me feel.
That was, and is, the best part of her essence.