Sunday, 13 May 2007
While There is Yet Time: Mothers Day 2006
By Fred First of Fragments From Floyd
Far below, cobalt blue cloud shadows drifted slowly east across green patches of forest. Their shapes shifted like Rorschach blots against the landscape and my mind conjured meaning and memories in their patterns. I was flying home from Virginia, back to Birmingham where so many of the parts of my life took root and form, going home for Mothers Day, the first with her since 2001.
That was the year when my mother, my wife and I had been traveling and away on Mothers Day. As we walked up the ramp into the Charlotte terminal on our return trip, we were startled to hear our names announced on the loud speakers. At the information desk, we learned the sad news that my mother’s mother had died in the nursing home during the week that we were away.
My grandmother’s stories that I never knew were perhaps that day’s greatest tragedy, and I was thinking about those conversations that she and I never had as I walked to my gate at the Charlotte terminal once more on my recent visit south, almost exactly five years later.
Mom is eighty now, independent and still drives — very, very slowly. She picked me up at the Birmingham airport and for a couple of hours, we revisited every place on the south side of town she thought I might remember. Each suburban street held stories of neighbors good or bad, of the local pets we both remembered by name, of girlfriends — names forgotten. Mom learned of petty pranks and transgressions of youth only now confessed. We pieced together the story of our lives from the places where they had happened. This was the same, that had changed.
“I may have told you this” she would begin, and without hesitating for a response, proceed to retell her mother’s perspective about episodes in my young life from her adult point of view back in another age. I had heard most of it before. I so wanted to hear it again, because these connections with who and where we once had been are all too easy to forget with the geography that separates us now.
I learned on Mother’s Day 2006 that over the years, mom had been recording her life story, putting down details remembered about her mother, and about her own childhood in Birmingham, a home town that she never left.
She spoke with tears of her father — my grandfather I never met — who died in a hunting accident when she was eleven; and about her boyfriends and the sad-romantic times of the war years. She and I listened to the tape together, recorded haltingly in her sweet southern voice, little changed from those scratchy records from her public speaking classes at Woodlawn High School in the early ‘40s. She was passing on her stories to her children and family in her own voice, so that we would not forget.
Funny how things work out. My visit on Mothers Day was timed so that I could give a gift: Slow Road Home, my newly-published book that would be a bridge between us. There were not likely to be so many meetings ahead for the two of us, and my hope had been to finish the book while she was here to know of it. I so wanted for her to share with me the accomplishment of this personal milestone, for her to hold my stories in her hand. And as I handed her my book, she gave me her tape. What wonderful symmetry, this — a synchronous embrace across the space and time that had intruded between us. I bit my lip.
We had each of us acted in the understanding of the importance of saving and sharing the meaningful moments, of celebrating the people and places of our lives together and apart. On Mothers Day 2006, we gave these gifts to each other while there was yet time. And I hoped that somewhere, my grandmother was watching.