My best friend and her daughter made these delightful, amazingly cool hair clips, which they plan to sell in an Etsy shop soon. They gave my daughter and I one before they left our house last Wednesday; right now they are on the final leg of their journey to Berkeley, where Karen has lived for two years. Karen has been my best friend for years - many, many years, since we were the age my daughter is now, eleven years old. The stories and adventures we've accumulated over the years could fill many a volume. It has been very difficult to live so far apart and saying "see you next time" hasn't gotten any easier.
Karen came to Kentucky to retrieve her 20-year old daughter, Marina, who had been staying with us since the first of April after deciding, wisely, to start a new chapter in her life. Karen and I spent a wonderful week together before they packed up the car and set off for what has been a thankfully calm, albeit very scenic adventure. I log on to Facebook in the mornings and evenings to check their day's progress, the comments about the flatness of Kansas, the stunning beauty of Wyoming... Marina's journey involved ending of a long relationship, which proved very difficult for her. That I was able to be here for her in Karen's place speaks volumes about the depth and nature of our friendship.
Soon after we met we were fairly inseparable and when we were teenagers, Karen would escape the (fairly routine) troubles at her house and wind up at mine, often sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, who always knew the right things to say. I always wondered how she did that. How had she become so wise, so empathetic, so understanding.
Looking back I have to laugh knowing that for every comment, each jewel of hard-earned wisdom I noticed there were dozens that I never even knew to consider. Like, how did she raise four children married to my Dad, whose career dominated his life and took him to points around the world on a regular basis. They were only 19 when they married, living on their own in Washington, DC, working for the government, my Dad for the Department of Physical Security (he was a safecracker) and my mother for the Federal Bureau of Engraving. To say they've weathered a few storms is to put it mildly, although no marriage can stay strong for 55+ years without navigating shifting weather patterns. I grew up in a nice, suburban home in upstate New York, and though she had help when we were young, I never considered how my mother managed the logistics, the enormous amount of work and challenges of daily life. I have two children and a 'modern' husband (he participates:) and when I get overwhelmed I remember the carefree days of childhood, well not carefree, just free of responsibility, the knowing that dinner would be ready, clothes would be clean, and so on; if you're a parent or running a household you know the list is long. And she did it all without a mother of her own. My grandmother died when my mom was just 7 years old, from an infection that these days antibiotics would knock out in no time. At twenty years old, my mother had taken on more responsibility than I'd have ever dared. She has fairly incredible, some hilarious, stories about learning to cook and keep house, which was a tiny apartment where my older sister was born a year later.
I often marvel at the creativity she applied to every day life and the sheer volume of all she did: she sewed Halloween costumes and Easter dresses, crocheted blankets and made strawberry jam and homemade bread, she made clothes for our dolls, baked cakes and maintained a clean house and an enviable garden. She always loved to read but never had significant time to pursue an avocation, the way I've dedicated time to writing and art. Are my children suffering because I'm in the art studio instead of the kitchen? Or because I don't iron and socks are often paired from the basket in the hallway five minutes before they leave for school? I used to feel guilty every time I sought my mother's advice, knowing she managed without having anyone to ask the best way to cook a pork roast, myriad parenting questions, just what does get gum out of freshly dried jeans.
But she supports me, wholeheartedly, and always has, in every endeavor I've pursued. Having waited until late in life to become a parent I've often felt like I was living two lives at once, before I got the arthritis that has slowed me down, some days to a crawl. And, wouldn't you know, my mother cooks dinner for us once a week. Every Friday, Dad shows up after his lunch with the boys, bearing meat loaf, enchiladas, chicken soup, chili, and always enough to last the weekend. She has a bad back and endures chronic pain and like me, has many days when energy flags. But she cooks anyway, knowing full well that I'm spending a generous share of my energy creating; she understands that making art, writing, photography, taking workshops, is what keeps me sane, what I refer to as my lemonade.
If it weren't for Mom and my in-laws (and dh, of course) this blog certainly wouldn't exist. And would the world miss out? Am I making an impact on anyone's life but my own? That's well worth pondering, but it doesn't take much thought to see what a difference she makes in my life. On Facebook yesterday I wished a Happy Mother's Day to friends and wrote that I'm the luckiest mom in the world; come to think of it, I just might the luckiest daughter too.
My beautiful mother, Alice, in an undated photo, when she was in her early to mid thirties.