Friday, May 15, 2009

Four stages

1. My dad drove a succession of pickup trucks throughout my lifetime: a green '49 Ford, I think, in my babyhood--at speeds over 30 mph, it shimmied all over the road and I loved it like a carnival ride. Over the years his trucks got gradually less Sanford-and-Son; his last was a silvery-gray extended-cab, camper shell, decent stereo, and I can't think of the make or model.

But someone in my neighborhood owns a similar truck, and even a year later every time I glimpse it coming down my street my heart jumps, for an instant, and I am ready to run out onto the sidewalk with happy surprise. It has been so long, where the hell have you been?

2. I was crazy for baseball even as a little girl...though I wanted only to hit, was uninterested in defensive play. I didn't get to play Little League; girls' teams were rarer, then, and anyway no one was available to take me to after-school practices. My grandfather indulged me, though, pitching to me for hours in the front yard where we'd marked out a long, narrow diamond.

Dad played beer-league softball one summer. They had somehow mustered up real uniforms, stirrup socks and all, not just t-shirts, and in my eyes this qualified him for Cooperstown. I had a snapshot of him in full regalia for years, a crooked picture I'd taken myself, pressing the shutter too soon, Dad half in, half out of the doorway. Chiaroscuro. I can't find it, now, can't remember if we went to any of his games.

Me and Mom and Sis and Mr. Sis went to the Mariners' second home game, this season (retro-Griffeymania precluded our getting four seats together for the opener). It was a beautiful evening, and an M's win; we had peanuts and beer and stone-cold overpriced hot dogs, and it was a blast like it always is.

Privately, though, I keep thinking about how, for nine years, I'd invited Dad to drive up and go to a game at the Safe with me. Outdoor baseball the way God intended! We could go to a night game and I would put him up here overnight. Or I would pay for a hotel room if he preferred. Or I'd take a day off and we'd go to a day game and he could drive back that afternoon, if he insisted. Kettlecorn and jumbo dogs and foam fingers and the best seats I could afford, any time, any month, year after year I offered--begged, really--but he never took me up on it. Couldn't spare roughly three summer hours in the ballpark, no matter how I asked, and thinking about this I am less sad than furious. Furious.

3. It's a babypalooza around me, lately. My personal trainer, three ladies in my book club, one of the writers on my team. I am enjoying going a little berserk, for all the showers. For the most recent one, I was at a schmancy toy store, and among the hand-carved wooden push toys and the organic felted-wool blocks made by a Guatemalan women's collective, there was inexplicably a chunky plastic toy tractor, with attendant chunky plastic farmer. Bright yellow and green, officially John Deere-licensed. Dad was a tractor buff, and a brand loyalist; one of the biggest Christmas scores I'd made in the last decade was when I bought him and Kathy a four-place setting of John Deere logoed plates, wheat sheaves around the rim, tractor shining in the middle. So when I saw this lurid toy jumbled on the shelf, I laughed, first. Then in the space of ten seconds I was weepy, fumbling for Kleenex in my purse, practically running to the register to buy something definitely else.

4. A dream, this week: that Dad and Kathy are renewing their wedding vows. They are making an enormous production out of it, too, a big ceremony, caterers...and among their wishes is that Sis and I dress in matchy-matchy fashion, much as we did in 1979, ringbearers in prairie dresses. It's all very awkward and uncomfortable as we fret and change clothes and try to arrange carpools to the venue, running late...and something else is bothering me about the whole scenario, too, but in the dream I cannot put my finger on it. It is only upon waking that the nagging sensation lifts, that I remember oh, yeah. Right. That.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

In lieu of brunch or jewelry

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and the conversation somehow turned to mothers: our own, other people's, how the state of motherhood for her is imminent. And I allowed myself to vent, a little bit, as we riffed on the annoying habits of Mothers We Had Known In Some Capacity. I skewered my mother for what is--when I am feeling charitable--a fundamental aspect of her character, and--when I am feeling otherwise--her most maddening flaw: a congenital need to vocalize every. single. little. butterfly thought that happens to alight for an instant in her brain. This often takes the form of rhetorical questions, in life ("Why is there so much traffic?" or "What is it like, this restaurant to which neither of us have ever been?") and, more torturously, during movies and t.v. shows ("Wait, who is that guy? Is he the murderer? What did he say?") I'm pretty sure that my mother, most of the time, is paying scarcely any more attention to what's coming out of her mouth than I am; she just can't help it, likes to hear her own voice, the bright noise of syllables tumbling over each other, dit-dit-dit-dit, like the flurry of hash marks that denoted Woodstock's dialogue in Peanuts.

This is one way in which we're completely different, Mom and I. I like to craft and hone my words, whether spoken or on the page; I consider (and probably overthink) every sentence, given the opportunity. I dwell on other people's words, too, and this has led us to some crises, my mother and I. She has a formidable gift--and maybe this is simply the province of moms, something they all can do--for blurting out a comment or opinion that will cut me to the bone, excise a little chunk of my soul with surgical precision...and after nearly 40 years I honestly believe that she doesn't intend it to hurt, doesn't realize when it might, as unconscious as she seems to be to her own every verbalized momentary notion. Again, as is my nature, I will hoard and mull over a wounding remark, stewing for a week or three months or 21 years, depending. In recent years, when I've had the courage to confront Mom, after some interval of aforementioned stewing, she is always apologetic and contrite; she'll swear she never meant to hurt me...and then she'll more quietly admit that she doesn't remember saying whatever it was that caused me to have my latest private tantrum breakdown.

Mom's traveling right now, two weeks overseas; she won't be here to celebrate Mother's Day proper. Maybe that spurred me to open the floodgates a little wider, at lunch? I snarked on my absent, vacationing, dreamily oblivious mother; it was like my 20-minute set onstage at the Improv, and together my friend and I rolled our eyes and laughed and agonized. Mothers! Can't live with 'em, can't throw 'em from the train. What are you gonna do? You are gonna suck it up, and then you are gonna take them out for Eggs Benedict on Sunday like everyone else in America, or like I'll have to do next weekend, the end.

When I got home yesterday, there was a letter from my mother in the mail.

Not a postcard from Croatia, either: an envelope, a greeting card, mailed locally. I admit that I opened it with some trepidation, thinking What now? What'd I do? Had she psychically known that I'd been taking the piss out of her that very afternoon?

But I was wrong. Today, May 9, would have been my father's 65th birthday. That was what my mother had written me about: she anticipated that this would be a difficult day for me, and she wanted to tell me not to be too sad. That I had been a good daughter, and that Dad had known this too.

She'd thought about this, and she'd written it out beforehand, in between packing and consulting her guidebook and obsessively checking twenty times (a trait we do share) to make sure she had her passport and her blood pressure meds and, like, six pairs of reading glasses in her carry-on. She'd considered this in advance, and then she'd timed it, left the letter and instructions with her housesitter so that it would be mailed a week after she'd left. So it would arrive on the right day, when she knew I'd need to hear it. She knew, before I ever knew, that I would need to hear it.

And this is my mom in a nutshell, really. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, she's blithely orbiting Planet Margo, nattering, distracted, and I'm convinced that she is paying no attention whatsoever. And then she will have a moment like this, of purest grace; she'll set the bar that high, and then clear it by at least a foot, sailing effortlessly over it, and I am astonished and touched and humbled by her gesture. Made small, and then redeemed, by my mother's gaze when suddenly it falls on me after all. Mama, you don't often connect with a pitch, but when you do, you get all of it. That ball is still rising.

I know she'll read this eventually, when she's home. I hope she can read between my lines, and will know that these words, like any others, I have been carefully shaping and pruning for 24 hours now. I hope she'll take this in the spirit it's intended, a portrait as honest as I can make it: perhaps not entirely an ideal rendering of her, but one in which I flatter myself far less. I love you, Mom. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being. Your mimosa awaits.