It wasn’t hard to say where her glamour came from. She was the type of woman who people mistook for someone whose name they’d seen in the credits of a foreign film. Growing up, I remember thinking mother had her own private kind of fame. Hers was the type of person people wanted to reach out and touch.
I speak in the past tense, as these memories impress upon me a certain kind of reverence, though to this day these qualities remain unmistakably alive and hers.
I remember sitting on the bathroom counter near the sink watching her get ready those nights she and my father went out, marveling over her compacts of glosses and shadows, how she smelled of White Linen. The scent was clean and sophisticated. It reminded me of white pepper, a subtle spice but one with a distinct edge. The type of thing you didn’t always have in the house.
To every act she performed mother brought a sense of occasion. Hers was a bold, un-anxious beauty. She was not afraid to get her hands dirty and sang loudly in church. One boldness stands out in my mind in particular. We were vacationing with another young family in North Conway Massachusetts. It was summer. We’d rented canoes and a house. Both couples had two girls. Ours was to be the sort of vacation where one imagined being outdoors indefinitely. After swimming in the river all day, if washing was to be performed at all it would be done in the evening, under the hose which would run warm for several minutes after a day of baking in the sun.
Unanticipated by even the practics among us, ours turned out to be the sort of week that contained an internal cold snap book-ended by days of glorious barefoot weather. During the snap, the two families relied on boardgames and other manners of group pursuit which often involved small plastic pie pieces and wagering the correct answers to questions in various categories. The ladder activity remained over the kids heads at the time except for the occasional prompt about science whose answer involved a type of rock which one of us might’ve learned to identify in school. The first day of such pursuits is invigorating. Much beyond, the adults start to rely too heavily on meals to break up the hours and the children start wanting to snorkel in the grass outside in the rain.
This was not the case for my mother. Hers has always been, and still remains, an internal thrill unjeopardized by season or circumstance. She has that unqualified sense of calm and happiness which allows her a certain soundness of sleep and radiance of complexion. The second day of the snap, I remember looking down at her from my sleeping loft which overlooked the main room of the cabin. As the years get on, its hard to say whether this is an accurate memory as there are so many instances of my childhood where I can remember her proclaiming some undetected triumph, performing such small acts of joy. But as I recall it, she was walking into the living room. Or perhaps she was answering one of those infernal questions and recapturing some piece of her plastic pie. Outside it was dark and rainy. Most of us had resorted to afghans and slippers and the occasional bath. There was a loud roll of thunder after which a bolt of lightening lit up the room. “The weather is with us,” she said.*
*Happy Mothers Day, Madre.