I missed being born on Mother’s Day by about six hours. I’ve always been a little slow, so my tardy entrance shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Immediately upon my arrival, my parents dubbed me Ronald, for no good reason that my mother, who chose that handle, could ever come up with. Her own name was Quinda. It’s a beautiful name, I’ve always thought, lyrical and awfully pretty when written out in calligraphy. But I’ve never met another being – animal or human – in possession of it.
The two of us, with our mysterious names, were mighty close when I was a little boy. Then she got sick. She had what was then called “nerve troubles”, then she became addicted to some of the medicines that doctors gave her. Finally, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and – when I was 21 and halfway around the world in the army – time ran out for the pretty lady with the pretty name.
By then, our relationship had gone significantly downhill. I guess I blamed her for getting sick, and resented the fact that she was no longer the happy, nurturing person she had been when I was younger. I foolishly saw her bouts of depression and her pulling away as something she had some control over.
It took writing the memoir that was primarily about my father – “Into That Good Night” – for me to sort out Mother’s and my differences, more than two decades after her death. Remember, I told you I was slow.
Anyway, we’re fine now, when I’m several years older than she was when she passed away.
Here’s a story about her, for Mother’s Day.
It was 1959. Miss Francis, my second grade teacher, had students treat the room on Fridays, one parent supplying enough goodies for not only the second graders but the first as well, since Miss Francis taught both groups in the same classroom.
When my turn rolled around, I announced to mother that I wanted to treat the room with rolls of Life Savers. Assorted fruit, please. To which she replied that she’d be making a couple of pans of her chocolate fudge with coconut and walnuts.
Now, there are two things you should know here. First, almost all the mothers brought homemade things when they treated the room, cookies or popcorn balls or maybe cupcakes topped with gooey icing. Purchasing thirty or so candy bars or Hostess Twinkies would have cut far deeper into those women’s household budgets than whipping up a big bowl of batter and firing up the oven. And, second, my mother was considered one of the best cooks in a town brimming with good cooks. She was justifiably proud of her talent, and the recipients of it looked forward to her creations.
The year before, when I had treated the room in the first grade, Mother had made Buckaroo Bars, one of her signature dishes. The quartet of elementary teachers – Miss Francis, Miss Addie, Miss Lillie Bell, and Miss Mae – had gazed contentedly at the pans of golden sweetness with delicate edges of crispy crusts, multitudes of chocolate and caramel chips, and fresh pecans from our back yard. They’d fairly drooled, those four good ladies, and Miss Lillie Bell paid the concoction her highest compliment. “It looks like Quinda,” she’d whispered, as reverently as a nun in the presence of a miracle.
I was all of six, loved my mother dearly, and didn’t quite know what to make of someone saying she looked like a batch of brownies.
In second grade I dug in my heels and said I wanted Life Savers or nothing. Everybody brought home-baked things, I maintained, and I wanted to be different. We argued, I cried, she sent me off to bed, and the next morning she said that she’d see me when she brought the fudge to school.
I’d told everybody to expect Life Savers, which hadn’t caused nearly the excitement I had anticipated. Miss Francis had looked downright crestfallen.
Then, after lunch, I heard mother out in the hall talking to someone. Miss Francis told us to put our work under our desks and get ready for our treats. I put my head down, preparing for my comeuppance, for my exposure as a liar. When the treats were handed out, I opened my eyes to see Mother in the doorway, smiling at a roomful of children who would have preferred fudge but were holding packages of Assorted Fruit Life Savers.
It’s a simple story, but it touches on a great truth. Sometimes parents’ sacrifices aren’t big costly things at all. Sometimes love’s tender offering can be as simple as letting someone make a bad choice.
Happy Mother’s Day.