Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sometimes, I Miss

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, NJ.

Mamma Thelma would say to 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!", she finally replied, "Go fix it yourself!"

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

Standing at the refrigerator on a stool I'd dragged over from the kitchen counter, I pulled out a stick of butter and a carton of eggs. I pulled the stool back to the counter, plugged in the electric frying pan and tossed in a chunk of butter. As the butter began to sizzle, I reached for an egg and instructed Dave to put a couple of slices of Pepperidge Farm unbleached white bread into the toaster. Twenty minutes later were back at her door chanting, "We made breakfast!"

I didn't know that we'd pretty much be making breakfast from then on, but I wouldn't have minded.

When we moved to from Colts Neck, NJ to Wheaton, IL, 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 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 of high school, she went into the hospital for surgery. I could say the words "radical hysterectomy",  but I had no idea what they meant. When she came home, she was different.  I'd sit crossed legged at the coffee table, transcribing the orchestrations that danced in my head. Mom would lie down on couch behind me, watching as she fell to sleep. 

It seemed that she only ever slept on the couch.

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 you how to do it." It was the nicest things she'd ever said to me.

Mom mellowed. She became downright sweet. She'd hug me and kiss me on the cheek. She'd reach up and pat me on the head telling me what a good boy I was. I was a senior in high school, but it felt good.

When I left for college, she cried. I'd never seen her cry except for the time when Daddy John died. It felt… 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. I wrote several pieces with orchestrations and mom arranged to have an orchestra to accompany the choir.

By the time my girls were four and five, Granny Betty's house was the place to be. They were waited on hand and foot. She'd cook for them. She'd make them snacks. She'd secret them back into her walk-in closet to 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, or telling them to bring everyone else when she found out they weren't.  Every day, she'd make a meal for someone, anyone who'd come to mind, anyone she thought could use a meal. She'd wrap it up and send my dad out the door to deliver it.

I'm not someone who misses people. Yet every once in a while I see her. It might be in a dream, like last night. It might be in the voices of my daughters Joy and Eila. It might be in a song she'd taught me to sing when I was just barely talking.

I see her, I remember her, and I miss her. It's nice.

Happy Sunday,

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