Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend my mother’s memorial service being held this weekend. Eight hundred miles is just an awful lot to ask of a six-week-old baby or his mother of only six weeks. I can’t make him go through that. And I feel completely incompetent most of the time at this mothering gig, so traveling while being inept just seems like the worst idea ever. Besides, my mother isn’t in that urn in Tennessee. I like to imagine she watches over Gibson, and that’s what he’s looking at when he stares off into nothing.
However, I did write a eulogy for her. I’ve wracked my brain for something else to post, but I come back to this again and again. Of course, I can’t help but bring everything back to having just become a mother myself. So, in praise of my mother, I reminisce about a couple memories from my childhood in the piece below.
On April 2, NASA captured a solar flare on film. Scientists used two different wavelengths of light to observe the plume of fire blossoming on the surface of the sun. In the video they released on their website, you can watch a few moments of something beyond beautiful. NASA describes the solar flare, in all its yellow and red glory, as “graceful.” And when you watch, you will agree.
The plume of flame twists and dances in burning elegance, swelling into the darkness of space. When it reaches the end of its time, what seems like only a few, very brief moments, it explodes away from the surface of the sun sending its grace and heat out into the star-filled backdrop.
I’d like to think that it’s no coincidence this great astronomical event occurred the same day my mother passed from this plane into the next. If you have to leave, a ray of light and plume of fire seem like fine escorts.
I wish I could give you a broad, all-encompassing view of her life; picking up all the details and clever tidbits. Every time she laughed or made someone else laugh. But I can’t. I can only present you a narrow viewpoint- the Ruth Ann I knew and loved. The Ruth Ann who raised and loved me. The woman who started my life and was the sun of my tiny, childhood world.
I have a picture of the first day home with my mom. She’s sitting in a chair, holding me in her arms. She’s bent over me, staring into my newborn eyes. And I don’t know what she was thinking then as she marveled at the tiny person she had created while trying to accommodate the stitches of her cesarean. I still don’t know the exact thoughts in her mind that day. But I can guess now.
She was thinking, “Oh dear, what have I done?” And I guess that based on what I thought when I brought my son home and effected a similar pose over him just a few weeks ago. But on that day, and a thousand, maybe a million times after that day, she rededicated herself to raising me to adulthood.
I have a million stories about being Ruth Ann’s daughter. I can only share a couple today.
My mother was protective of me. That seems like a given, but she was fierce about it. And funny. My first supervised, overnight “date” was with a good boy named Nathan who went on to become a good missionary. His home was equally as far away from church as mine but in the opposite direction. So, to bridge the gap, we met at a gas station in Jackson so I could hop in his car to go to a music festival on a lake.
When we arrived at the gas station, Nathan was already there and waiting. He was a very good boy. We were both incredibly awkward and nervous as sixteen-year-olds are. So my mother decided to up the level of anxiety already evident by imparting a warning to this good boy. All five feet, four inches of her got in his face nearly six inches above hers. She stabbed poor Nathan in the sternum with her finger to punctuate every word. In a quiet and commanding voice she slowly enunciated, “You. Are. Carrying. Precious. Cargo. Mister.”
Oh, I was mortified. Seriously? We were so grown up and sixteen-years-old for crying out loud. We knew what we were doing!
Nathan and I obviously didn’t end up blissfully wed. Maybe my mother’s fierce protectiveness drove him away. But for all the embarrassment I felt that day, the memory of seeing my mother entrust my safety to the driving of an inexperienced sixteen-year-old boy with words of warning is one I remember and cherish. You don’t always get to see your mother display her talons like that.
My mother nurtured my sister and me. There must have been a billion fevers, runny noses, rashes, coughs and upset stomachs between the two of us as we grew up. I know she called me Typhoid Mary in particular because I came home from school with every illness imaginable. But there is one image embedded in my mind.
When we lived in Yorkville, I woke to hear my sister being sick in the bathroom. I thought maybe she was alone, so I got up to help her. This was foolish because my mother slept so lightly she heard every creak the house made. So when I arrived at the bathroom door, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see my mother already there. No one had bothered to turn on the lights, and the room was illuminated only by the moonlight coming through the window.
I watched in silhouette as my poor sister continued to retch despite her stomach being completely empty. She was close to hyperventilating. My mother held her in the half-light and soothed my sister back to normal breathing the way only a mother can. I don’t know if either of them saw me that night or even remembered it. But that image has stayed with me, reminding me just how much our mother loves us.
Neil Gaiman once wrote, “You lived what anybody gets. You got a lifetime.” Ruth Ann got a lifetime. She considered her daughters two of her greatest achievements in her lifetime. I will strive to live my life like my mother’s greatest accomplishment. And I’ll tell my son about her as he and I build our own story of mother and child.