Once again, Mother’s Day is fast approaching. No matter what our circumstances or history, this is a special day.
Often, there is a flurry of planning and organizing to get the day just right. Families gather or communicate by long distance using Skype or the telephone. Meals are planned at home or reservations are made for restaurants.
Sometimes, however, this day is one of adjustment to loss, working throughout memories of that special someone who is no longer with us. Each year, the red geraniums in pots on the deck remind me of one of my mother’s favourite plants.
Many of us process this loss by writing about our parent. As a poet and essayist, I have written many words, inspired by memories of my mother. At the suggestion of another poet, Sherry Marr, whose poem “Poetry Heals” so moved me this week, I am sharing this essay that I wrote a few years ago.
I Remember Mother –personal essay by Patricia A. McGoldrick
I am living in my mother’s dream home—no, not exactly that little red brick house in town, but I am living in a little two-storey adjacent to a Catholic church in a small city. And, when I look out my kitchen window, I am reminded of my mother’s dream and her wish to retire to a quiet village after a lifetime of hard work as the anchor of our rural and family life.
Her dream of attending daily Mass, visiting with friends, and reading a few books in between visits of children and grandchildren did not come to pass. Her death at a relatively young age short-changed her simple dreams but it did not erase a lifetime of memories that she left with her children.
Yes, I remember Mother. This was the name she preferred to hear from her family of eight although she did allow my younger sister and me to use the shorter form of “Mom” during our high school years. She, herself, always referred to us as her children, and not by the increasingly popular description, “kids.”
Like Mama in the legendary story*, my mother was the quietly firm but assertive, dominant force in our household and family life. Like Mama, she kept the books, although there was not much money to keep track of as my parents struggled to maintain a farm, which they, one day, would transfer to one of their children. This was a traditional dream of parents with a family farm. On this goal, my parents were agreed. And, it seemed very reasonable to them, having been blessed with four sons and four daughters.
While working to achieve the dream (which took its toll on a weak heart), my mother got pleasure out of simple things, and looked forward to frequent visits with friends and neighbours. She would often drop in to visit people who were new to the area or others who had been left behind by the death of a loved one. Mother never understood when the pace of life quickened so much that people did not have time, or take time, to meet a new neighbor.
Retirement dreams and good neighbourliness aside, my mother lived according to the conservative, Catholic tradition, which her parents and grandparents had lived and taught to their children. Hints of a culture far away were passed on to my mother and her siblings and, in turn, to my brothers and sisters and numerous first cousins.
My mother grew up with a strong sense of right and wrong. Pre-Vatican II Catholic teaching of sin and its near occasions were ingrained deeply in her mind. They were reinforced by an authoritarian clergy and highlighted on special occasions such as missions. When the heart of the Church opened up to its human congregations, mother was able to adapt, gradually. However, with the deterioration of her health, it was the old ghosts of “guilt” and “mea culpa” which preyed on a muddled memory.
To a 22-year-old daughter, this was so difficult to accept and comprehend. This “unconscious” struggle was unnerving to watch as a daughter, and it left a questioning bitterness in my mind for some time. Only after I came to terms with the physiological decline could I then begin to remember the positive strengths and memories, which lingered long after my mother’s death.
Yes, I do remember mother—her apple pies, strawberry jam, warm biscuits, learning the Our Father, prayers to a guardian angel, hugs when I left for university, saving dollars for music lessons, and, a kiss “good-night.” Most of all, I remember as I give a good-night kiss to my daughter, another Anne—spelled with an “e”, just like the Grandmother she never met.
In the early morning hours of All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, 1976, my mother passed away. Although she has died so many years ago, thoughts of her are never far from my mind. Family get-togethers at Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving bring back memories of her moist Christmas cake, crisp white Easter straw hats and homemade pumpkin pie.
Yes, these times with our growing children are special but, each year, it’s the month of May that brings back a flood of memories, particularly, during the year of the first spring spent in our first home. In that special house, with my infant daughter sleeping, I wrote these thoughts.
Published in Irish American Post Summer 2009, volume 9 Issue Number 2 at http://www.irishamericanpost.com/ in Featured Articles section, Poets Corner. Essay slightly amended for this 2013 post. (Earlier version published in The Record, May 11’96.)