Happy Birthday, Momma!
It’s strange to me how, when I think of her, I see a collage of images. I see her as she is today – the small woman with a slow gait, the wrinkles on her face and hands, the permanent frown placed on her face by relentless pain in old bones. I also see the little girl she once was and feel that it was only last week when she played outside in the yard with baby brother, Joe. I can see “Hopie”, the “not-yet-dry-behind-the-ears” first grader walking to school with the neighbor kids, kicking a stone all the way there.
Hope’s mother, Bess, known by us kids as “Maw-Maw”, was a talker. That woman talked and never took a break. To put it crudely, she had “diarrhea of the mouth”. Bess talked all the time, even in her sleep. (I know because I had to sleep with her when she came to visit after Paw-Paw died.) Every thought that ever entered her mind immediately spilled out her mouth. So all through my childhood, Maw-Maw told me stories about her “Hopie”.
“Do you know what your mother did when she was your age?” She would begin. And then story after story fall from her lips.
Fortunately Maw-Maw was a good story-teller, so even though the tales took detours and leapt over the limbs in the family tree, she eventually came back to her point. And each point was punctuated with an image that is imprinted on my mind’s eye so that now I see all those images superimposed on this 91-year-old woman who I see as both mother and friend.
It’s strange how I can see her so clearly in all those images because I am the child, yet I feel that I know her not only as my mother, but as a little girl, a young woman, a new mother, an old mother, a daughter and a wife. You see, the stories I have heard so many times took me there, put me in those moments, and gave me the sense that I too, have lived them.
I lived many of the stories of Momma through the eyes of her mother so I feel that tender mother-love for Hope. Other stories I lived through the eyes of Hope. You see, Momma is a story-teller too, though she has always preferred to skip many of the details. Spoiled by Maw-Maw’s elaborate elocutions and driven by an insatiable curiosity, I learned early to ask questions. So between Momma’s own stories and my insistence on more, more, more, I was given vivid pictures of Momma’s life as she saw it. Through these pictures I feel that bond-between-comrades kind of love for Momma.
Other stories I lived through the eyes of my dad. You see, he too, was a story-teller, though truth and fable were so interwoven that the images created in my mind are fantastic, romantic, surreal.
Then, of course, there are all the stories that Momma and I created together; the ones that I actually lived. These have provided yet more images.
All these images, one over the other, then another and another, have now merged into my mind as a kaleidoscopic sort of collage. One peeks out from behind; then another slips into the background. One fades, merges into another one; that one fades and brings forth yet another one. They swirl before me in slow motion. They blur into one unidentifiable seepage of colors only to reemerge as clear, recent memories complete with sounds and emotions. They move in steady progression, always blending two or more at a time. I see them march along; I see them all at once.
I suppose this is what it is to grow old – we have a treasure of images we call our own and together, they define us as unique, special, whole.
Yes, today Momma turns 91.
Happy Birthday, Momma!