It would usually be a Saturday morning, a day when we slept a bit longer after a week of work and school. We would hear someone honking insistently in our driveway. I would throw on a semblance of clothing and go outside to investigate. Just as I suspected it was always my mother, up early and ready to go have a good time. She’d be sitting behind the wheel of her car with a big grin and as soon as I appeared she would gleefully hold up a bag of groceries that she had purchased for our family while doing her own shopping.
As soon as she saw me, she would kill the engine and emerge from the car, still smiling and carrying bags of goodies that she had brought to us. I would rush over to help her, feeling a mixture of delight and annoyance at her unexpected visit that had interrupted my sleep. Mostly I was laughing and smiling inside because I knew how much love came with her arrival and filled those paper bags that she so proudly carried.
My mother was a true child of the Great Depression. She understood clearly what it was like to struggle to put a meal on the table. Food was like gold to her, so when she brought gifts of bread and canned vegetables it was a sign of great generosity and concern for our welfare. It was also her way of telling us how much she loved us. She was a true believer that one should never visit another without bearing some small gift for the person who was going to open their home to her. She was always the Mama looking after her children, no matter how old and successful we had become.
There were indeed times when her early morning visits rankled me. Usually that happened after a very busy and tiring week at work when I cherished the time to myself on a Saturday morning. Those were also the moments when I had not yet considered what life would be like when she was no more. It did not yet occur to me that I would one day be longing for the sound of her horn awakening me from my slumbers. I had not yet imagined that one day her beautiful smile would only be a memory. I suppose that I took her generosity and undying love for granted back then, because it was always such an ever present aspect of my life.
Recently my daughters and I were reminiscing about Mama’s Saturday morning visits. We thought of how lovely and simple our lives had been back then and how totally filled with unconditional love they were. Our worries were few and our needs were so simple. In so many ways my mother was symbolic of all things good, even as she juggled a million little hindrances to her well being. She was a Phoenix burned again and again, but always rising from the ashes with a kind of innocence and a smile.
Sometimes Mama came to my driveway with a plan. Getting into our house with her paper bag of groceries was a subterfuge for other ideas that she had concocted. She might urge us to comb our hair and put on our shoes because she want to take us to the beach or on a day of window shopping at the mall. She might suggest that we accompany her to visit one of her siblings across town or that we pack some things for a random picnic. With her, things happened out of the blue, as though she had awakened thinking that it was a good day for some fun.
If nothing else was pressing we would reluctantly go along with her joyful thinking, sometimes with a bit of hesitation. Experience had taught us that we would always end up having fun, but our practical natures reminded us of things that we felt we urgently needed to do. With a wee bit of annoyance we would go along with her whimsy without ever thinking that one day we would really miss those random excursions with her. Somehow she made even a simple drive feel like an exciting adventure, ignoring our dieting with offers of ice cream and donuts.
I’m a steady soul, a reliably regimented person who follows a calendar, a weekly routine, a daily repetition of structure. I fall victim to my own organization without the influence of an impish sprite like my mother or my departed friend, Pat, who also pushed me into adventures with her. I need people in my life who will take me away from the mundane and show me how to have fun even when I think I don’t have time.
Sometimes I hear a car approaching and I find myself hoping that it is my mother once again filling my driveway with so much enjoyment. Then I remember that those days are long gone, but the memories linger to make me smile. People like my Mama are a gift that we cherish even long after they are gone. Perhaps I need to put on my shoes, forget about my plans, and do something out of the ordinary today. I think she would like to see me do that.