Friday, November 5, 2010

Passing Through, Passing On

When I was four, she broke her elbow against the doorknob taking a swat at me as I ran away and skidded out the backdoor of our apartment building in Madison.

Mamma Thelma would always tell her, "Poor Mark, ain't he pitiful. You be nice to him Betty!"

One morning when I was five, after spending half an hour banging on her bedroom door chanting with my brother, "We want breakfast!, We want breakfast!", she finally replied, "Go fix it yourself!"

I looked at Dave (who was four at the time), turned and marched towards the kitchen. I'd seen it done before. How hard could it be.

Standing on a bar stool, I pulled a stick of butter and a carton of eggs from the refrigerator, plugged in the electric frying pan, and tossed a couple of slices of Pepperidge Farm unbleached white bread into the toaster; twenty minutes later we were back at her door chanting, "We made breakfast! We made breakfast!"

Didn't know that we'd pretty much be making breakfast from then on.

When we moved to Wheaton, I went from being one of the kids in a neighborhood full of friends to being an alien living among aliens. When I told her about getting beat up after school nearly every day, the worry on her face was more disconcerting than getting beat up. I stopped telling her.

I learned the meaning of the word "random" as I waited for her to pick me up after school on band day, my book bag heavy with homework I'd never look at and my tenor sax almost as tall as I was.

By high school, I'd learned not to share too much and not to count on much. When I told her about the score I'd written for the orchestra and choir, she said, "That's nice, honey."

In my junior year, she went into the hospital for a hysterectomy. I could repeat the word, but didn't know what it meant.

When she came home, she was different. She'd fall asleep on the couch at night lying behind me as I sat cross-legged at the coffee table transcribing the orchestrations that ran continuously through my mind like a movie soundtrack for my life. The sound of her quiet breathing, the course warmth of the couch pressed against my back, the periodic crackle of the fire slowly turning to embers, me and my music--I'd never felt so safe nor so free.

She started asking me about what I was doing. She even came to one of the choir performances complaining afterwards that Mr. Ganzman had taken all the credit for the work I'd done, as if he'd taught me how to do it. It was the nicest things she'd ever said to me.

My mom mellowed. She became downright sweet. She'd hug me and kiss me on the cheek. Using my shoulder for leverage, she'd reach up and gently pat me on the head telling me what a good boy I was.

When I left for college, she cried. I'd never seen her cry except for the time when Daddy John died. It felt… uhm… weird.

At the end of first semester, mom wrote me a letter asking if I'd compose something for the Christmas Eve services at the Methodist church. She'd convinced the pastor to conduct a service with contemporary music and she was directing the choir.

By the time my girls were four and five, when they were at Granny Betty's house, they were waited on hand and foot. She'd cook for them. She'd make them snacks and vanilla milk. She'd secret them back into her walk-in closet and play dress up. She'd take them shopping and to tea.

By the time she passed away at seventy, she'd become an angel, inviting folks to Sunday dinner because they looked lonely in church and then telling them to bring everyone else when she found out they weren't. Sending my dad out everyday with a meal for someone, anyone who'd come to mind. Never being able to do enough for others and never tiring of doing.

I'm not someone who misses people, but there is someone I do miss.

Grateful Friday,


  1. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece, and for sharing it!

  2. I don't cry much either, but your piece brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the love and for letting us share in it.

  3. Ditto. And the photos really bring this piece alive. Thanks, Tef.

  4. Thank you guys for your warm words of love and encouragement!


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