Portrait of My Mother
My mother taught me manners. She taught me about sex. She taught me to sit on the grass on a warm spring day and simply enjoy the moment. She taught me to love art and to appreciate the special way artists view the world. She taught me how to dress with style and economy (that lesson didn't stick quite so well). She taught me how to drink socially but not let the drink win. She taught me to sit like a lady. She taught me some of the constellations in a dark sky. She taught me to cook. She taught me how to make a bed so welcoming that one simply drops in. She taught me thorough housekeeping, another lesson that didn't quite sink in. She taught me how to meet foreigners with appreciation for their ways. She taught me simple home repairs, and how to recognize when they really call for an expert. She taught me to read and to reason.
Because we were a Navy family in which Dad was frequently away for long periods, most of what I learned about successful day-to-day living came from my mother.
She was a lifelong learner; having mastered French as a young woman, learned about the fishing industry in Newfoundland and plains Indians in Nebraska, she turned her mind toward learning Japanese when we were stationed in Japan and never stopped learning. She had Japanese language flashcards in her purse and reviewed them whenever she was waiting in line. She tucked a tiny transistor radio tuned to the Japanese language station in her back pocket while gardening in Hawaii. By the time she left Japan, she could speak, read and write the language and wrote long letters to her Japanese friends. She loved anything Japanese, from arts and crafts to sushi and clothing.
This portrait was painted by a friend of hers when they were both art students in New York City in the 1930s. She would remake her grandmother's dresses into something stylish and they would go dancing at the Stork Club and 21. I had the pleasure of meeting the artist long after my mother passed away and his memories of those days and of my mother were still vivid in his 92nd year.
Did she have flaws? Oh, my, yes! She was quick tempered, easily frustrated and sometimes catty. She believed her way was not only the right way, it was the only way. She was too concerned with appearances and sometimes illogical. She could be snobbish and judgmental. She was self-conscious about her lack of college education, never understanding that she was a better student than many who had more formal education. And she couldn't tell a joke worth a damn.
She hated Mother's Day; thought it was a holiday trumped up to sell greeting cards. We sent her cards and gave her presents on that day, anyway. Rebellious little buggers we were.
My mother has been in heaven for more than 20 years now but I still miss her, not only on Mother's Day but also whenever I see a painting I know she'd like, visit France, see anything Japanese, sit on the grass on a sunny day or lie out looking at stars. She's there when I read to my granddaughter and she smiles when I greet a foreigner with eager anticipation.
Mothers are like that, both unique and universal.
Happy Mother's Day.