Homer knows. Squirrel Queen knows. Big Daddy knows.
You see, this month is the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s significant. We love and we lose.
And we remember. And if we don’t, shame on us.
She was named after a box of shoes that my grandmother saw on a box in Michigan during WWII. She didn’t have a middle name because my gram thought her name was long enough.
You know, I do this every year, and each year, it gets harder.
It will be a decade. February 28th.
I’m going to get this out of the way. On that day, I will have to drive into the country to stare at the fields and meadows she loved, then go to her grave and lay down flowers. She liked flowers, but maybe, this year, I will play Beethoven or John Coltrane there.
Will that comfort her?
No. It will only comfort me.
So, anyway, I want to tell you the story, one I might not have told, about her. She was a musician and she studied music. She studied theory and how music evolved. She loved Miles Davis better than anyone and thought he was the epitome of progressive transition in music where there wasn’t a blueprint. She loved that. She thought Gil Evans was a genius. She made Homer and I listen to the blues and then Mozart because we may have lived in Hooterville but we were going to know THESE things. We needed to appreciate all music or we would have gotten a hard stare. We needed to be open-minded. And, this wasn’t a request from her.
It was mandatory.
And I thank her.
She loved her kids, she loved her husband and she loved music. As a child, there was always a violin, a bass, a cello lying about the house in Hootervegas although she was a singer and a pianist but the instruments were there because she was always in school.
I have no musical ability. I wonder sometimes if that was disappointing to her. I did other things. She encouraged me. This, of course, is of the good.
She was really beautiful. She was a petite woman that was the unaffected beauty queen of the local town who was more interested in politics than chiffon in 1960 but she was living in a small town and women didn’t do politics as much back then. She hid in the shadows. Not because that those options weren’t there, they were, but it meant a fight with a bunch of societal crap. And it did. Don’t deny it. She opted out but taught us (Homer and I picked it up, Mom, so you did your job well.)
I think she always canceled my dad’s vote out. And she made me watch Watergate and anything she thought might form me. At ten, it drove me crazy. Today, I smile when I write ‘not so much.’
She talked about feminism when it wasn’t even conceived in small rural towns. Did she make mistakes? Yeah. Did she teach me how to be an equal. Don’t even doubt it because I know I am. You know she did.
And she taught Homer and I to think for ourselves.
She was so shy. Painfully shy to the point it took her breath away until she sang on stage or she was at home with her family. Man, this woman could smile and it washed over all of us but she hated being in a group of people which is weird for me because I can hang in a church basement or at a nudist colony. This ability of mine didn’t come from her, I assure you.
Her shyness was her enemy and her largest demon. In the day, it was being shy, now I’m sure there are 20 different clinical names for it.
With that said, she created her life in spite of it all. She sang, won a contest and performed with the Everly Brothers because of it (Mid-South Fair Talent Contest, LWC), met my dad over a hamburger, fell in love and started her journey. She was a bit vain, who isn’t, but remained beautiful and curious and incredibly in tune to the world around her. She kept her hair blonde, because Big Daddy liked it that way. And her eyes were so blue they were deeper than the color of the ocean. I see these eyes in my youngest niece, Chuck, who doesn’t even know. She never met Jacque, how would she know? So I have to tell her and show her pictures. That’s my job.
Jeez, this is always hard.
She was completely confounded by me. I wasn’t traditionally beautiful like she and Homer were. I was different. I was eccentric. And she honed that in me.
You know, she loved me anyway and taught me swagger.
She smelled like sunshine. Dammit if she didn’t.
Homer was the good kid who would whip your ass in five minutes although I think most people think I’m the tough one.
I’m not. It’s Homer.
I was the kid that walked the line but wanted to dive into the deep waves of rebellion and free-spiritedness which didn’t interest Homer but, dammit, it did me. (And it did for my mom because she told me this before she died. It’s an odd thing between us. I never knew that I was her free-spirited one in her eyes.) I wanted to know those depths. And I did, delving into things that probably weren’t good for me but I was ambitious and bright enough to not go too far into the dark although it beckoned me. It was dangerous and sexy and I wanted the passion of it all. She knew this about both of us. And she guided, taught and only stopped me when I went too far.
Sometimes we went too far. We had a safety net.
Her name was Jacqueline. Named after a box of shoes and I find that to be so very compelling and charming.
The night before she died, my friend Mark, who my blogger friends met on Wednesday night in Nashville, came and sat with me in the hospital at midnight that horrible evening. He came. You guys need to know this for reasons I can’t explain. He sat with me as I sat slumped against the ‘dying room’ at the local hospital against the wall in the bright, fluorescent hallway at midnight and he tried to convince me that it wasn’t as bad as I knew it was, and despite it all, I knew in my depths that she was dying.
She was leaving and there wasn’t anything I could do.
And he tried to help.
That, my friends, is why he’s my friend. Even when I disagree with him in public.
And he did my mother’s eulogy in a packed funeral home where all I did was smile at people who apparently needed more comforting that I did, I smiled and I talked of things that were wonderful. I gave a hug and I said it was going to be okay to strangers and friends alike.
I didn’t cry for two weeks. When I did, I didn’t move for three days.
This, my blogger friends, will happen once a year. This is a gift, and curse, I give to myself.
So, I raise my glass to the woman who gave up so much for me.
Allow me a moment… as this is my blog and isn’t this what blogs are for?
I’m allowed that.