My mother had the good sense of humor to die on November 2nd, Day of the Dead. So I take the day to remember her, and as the years pass, the memories change. The first few years I had vivid memories of her last days in the hospital, the details of the room, the crowd of people gathered, bonding with each other over our shared love of the woman in the bed.
This year, without any forcing, my memories are of her as a vibrant not-sick person. She was a proj-aholic too. She put muslin banners on our kitchen walls in Seattle, to pin up our art projects for proud display. She was a constant cheerleader for the creative lives of the family members--my father's music, my writing and plastic arts, my brother's theater. And she was wildly creative herself.
For her, creativity was her way of playing, reconnecting with her own innocence, fostering mental health. If she had aspirations to become a professional artist, she didn't push them. For her, it was the joy of the project itself. Knitting, of course, she usually had a sweater or afghan in the works. Drawing--she was a gifted cartoonist, too. Gardening--her roses were incredible. And music. She played organ, and was one of those musicologists who could identify a composer by hearing just a few bars. She had her favorites, particularly "Mr. Brahms," as she called him. She sang, for pleasure, in the car and while working in the kitchen, and in choirs. She was an alto, like me.
She was also messy, like me. Hurricane Jane was one of her nicknames. She used to say, "if you want creative children, you have to be tolerant of messes." One of her mottoes. Another: "if you want to be an artist, you need to learn a trade." So I can credit her with a few things--my messy studio, my tolerance of day-job compromises, my ability to make a living but not forget the art, my intense craving for creative endeavors of all kinds.
She was a lover of cats. We couldn't have cats in the house because of allergies, but she became best friends with an outdoor cat when we lived in California, who stuck with her through her illness. During some of the rough spots, she would lie on the couch with a towel across her chest, and Tillie, a big white fluffball, would be allowed inside to sleep on top of her. Tillie was a good kitty, she knew not to wander the house. She knew what her friend Jane needed. Maybe Tillie needed it too.
Cats symbolized something for Mom. A certain independence, a kind of childlike devilishness. Cats are very busy creatures. They also like a good hug every now and then. Mom was the same way.
I miss her terribly. Her legacy is obvious, it's all around me, the knitting book next to my elbow, the graph paper and pens under my laptop right now, the stack of papers behind that, and the joy I find in all these things. So if I can't have her nearby, I can at least know her ideas have shaped my life for the better. The things she taught me are among the things that keep me sane.
Thanks, Mom, I'm turning out like you and it's not so bad. I wish you could meet my beautiful husband, and my family of four-legged furry ones. I tell them about you, every chance I get.