Friday, December 19, 2008


I avoid writing about losing my mother. Even as I sit here my mind battles me (“No one wants to hear about this. It’s such a downer.”) My fingers rebel -- reaching for the backspace button every time I get a sentence down. My eyes well up. I keep my neck tight. When I allow it, the grief is close to overwhelming. And now, here I sit, in my cube at work, dabbing my eyes with a tissue, my mind racing to locate a private place to cry place in this huge, over-populated building. (See. This is a downer. And can I say that it is inhumane to have a work place with no safe place to cry!)

But today is her birthday. And year after year I let days like these sail by. Her birthday, the day she died… Anniversaries that mark an absence. Anniversaries that measure time-away.

When my mother died I inherited her sewing machine. And it’s a beauty. A top of the line, for the times, Bernina that lived, most of my childhood, on the floor of the guest room closet, only coming out for a quick mend here and there. In the last twenty years I’ve hauled it from town to town, taught myself to sew on it, manhandled it, misused it, broken countless needles. But, such an excellent machine, it refuses to quit. And now I use it to bust out puppets, dolls, tiny pillows for teddy bear heads. The stuff of childhood. The creations of mothers.

The sewing machine has a little storage area and, ever since I’ve owned it, my mother’s “storks” have been tucked in the top drawer. I dug them out the other night and put them down on the table next to my “storks”. (My storks were snatched up, new and shiny, back in my estate sale shopping days in Michigan. I thought of my mother immediately, grabbed the scissors, and in the next moment felt grateful that I was raised to recognize a quality pair of indispensable scissors when I saw them)

When I saw the two pairs of scissors on the table, side by side I was floored. And, as it always seems to be with death, I was sad in a new way. Her scissors are old. They are fragile, no longer useful. They are rusting away. And, doing the math, I realized my mother would be turning eighty this year.

Most of my life I haven’t really understood the appeal of fairy tales. Or, honestly, the function. They’ve always seemed old fashioned. They seemed indulgent and hokey. If you listen to a professor I worked for at the University of Michigan, they are all Freudian and perverted. But something about my mom's storks seems so fairy-tale-ish to me. I feel like a little girl, frozen in time, desperately clinging to a pair of magical, disappearing scissors.

I've been wrangling with this last paragraph. I had something philosophical (mildly) and distant and melancholy. It was about death and myths and what the living are left with. But the truth here is a simple one. I miss my mom. Despite that fact that I have no idea what it is that I'm missing anymore. I just miss my mom.

still life


Amy Louise Skorheim said...

And here I am at work, reading what you write, feeling tears well up in my own eyes, with likewise no place to spill them.

We all walk around with our histories buried beneath our skin. And when we stand next to others, we have no idea what ghosts live inside their heads, so I’m glad you didn’t hit the backspace button.

Writing is a funny thing, offering such ironic consolations: from sadness comes beauty.

Red said...

I'm so sorry for your pain.

I remember having dinner at your house when were were little. I remember thinking "My Mom isn't this organized and she doesn't have this many people to feed".

That picture of your Mom is how I remember her. She has such a great smile.

laflorablanca said...

kate thank you for sharing that...although i knew that piece of your story i'm honored to get a glimpse of your heart's experience of it. i wish we (and I) as humans could do this more, it would be a more raw but real world.
incidently my mom's birthday is the same day...

love you!!

MARY JANE said...

Hi Kate! I'm Red's Mom and was so fond of your mother. She was a terrific lady and it shows in the way you have written about her. She was so excieted to have a girl after the boys. We used to compare notes on our special girls born on the same day. Just remember that there are many of us who remember and think of your dear Mother.

Clutterchick said...

Thanks for the comments everybody, and for sharing the memories of my mom.

sarah said...

I remember meeting you, not long after your mother died. I was going thru a hard time myself and you gave me a gold coin to wear around my neck. I think it was from your mom? Anyhow, it meant a lot to me and reading your post reminded me of how dark that time was for you. What a celebration you have now in terms of your life, your daughter and recognition of your mom's anniversary... Merry Merry and hope to see you soon. xxooo Sarah

Susan Borie Chambers said...

Just read this, Kate. I love listening to you, and that tabletop vignette, with the scissors and the pictures, just about broke my heart.