A Letter from Mom
By: Bill McFadyen
It has been five years since I told her “Happy Mother’s Day.” I doubt she remembered the last one, as dementia had eroded her ability to retain things. In fact, during those last few “Happy Mother’s Days,” she was struggling to appear nonplussed hour by hour, while inside she was embattled with the forces for and against reason and reflection and purpose.
At the time of that very last salutation to be happy because she had fulfilled her ultimate life’s goal of being an effective mother to three boys, escorting them into manhood with her expectation that we protect our name with good deeds and our souls with constant faith, she was anything but happy. There was absolutely nothing that any of us could do to reverse or rectify that. She knew on some level that the universe in which she existed was at best tangential to ours. She strove to re-enter ours, while in fact it only worked to any degree when we made the effort to live inside hers. Wherever she was that day, whatever town, whatever year, whatever reality, we had to try to assimilate into it with her. It was joyless travel for everyone.
For the first few years since my mom died, I have told people that I was struck by my inability to really miss her. Though I was never a total stranger to her, I was no longer the son in whom she found joy for my mostly-staged outlandishness. She raised us to fit with and inside of the original universe. I spent a lot of time “tormenting” her with my committed bachelorism and my shanty dwellings and my emigration to Hawaii for a couple of years. She pleaded with me in opposition to all of these, but deep down, she liked it. She maybe even loved it.
But I did not miss her. I think that because we lost so much of her in those last few years, it was a relief that she found her way out of here two weeks after Mother’s Day for no explicable reason. She was not sick with the flu. She did not have a racing heartbeat or shortness of breath. She was whatever normal for her had become. Yet fifteen days after Mother’s Day and fourteen days after the death of our dad (no longer her husband but now her dear friend with whom she shared the successful history of raising three sons), she simply did not wake up. As I said, for several years, I did not miss her.
This whole recreational writing thing started for me in 1983 as I was a few months before graduating college. It was really not I that started it. It was Andy McRee, who wrote a Captain’s log (a James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise–style log) chronicling a road trip with pals to (I think) a concert at P.B. Scott’s in Blowing Rock. It was hysterical and (for me) inspirational. So I started my own.
I kept it all through the rest of that school year and the following summer in Fayetteville. It was on the den table in Maui until 1985. It came all the way across the country after I bought the Ford truck in Bellingham, Washington. It went to Shelbyville, Tennessee, to the Walking Horse Celebration I do not know how many times. It went on duck hunts, deer hunts, dove hunts and surf fishing trips. It went on dates with girls. It stayed up late with me in good and bad times. It woke early and saw many a rising sun 16 feet up in a tree or from the back seat of someone else’s vehicle.
It is retired now, living under lock and key. I suppose one day it shall serve to educate my children, if they care to know that much truth, of all the sins I committed and of the loves I lost and found and of the laughter that so frequently defined my early years.
I opened the Log recently searching for memories. Searching for inspiration for this Musing, I suppose. Looking maybe for who I was back then and juxtaposing it with who I am. There I found my mother. My original Mom; the one that parented us boys every day.
I found her in her flowing handwriting. For most of her life, she used a fountain pen – the kind where you would load in a plastic vial of ink – the kind where you had to hold the tip of the pen in a certain position to effect the continuous staining of the paper. Mom had the technique down. Her cursive is expanded and rounded and unique. I can spot her handwriting from a long ways away.
It is undated and I have no notes to myself as to when she sent it. It is filed in the Log between when Molly Garber was born in 1990 and the opening day of deer season in 1991. The two pages are unfolded, inferring that she either delivered it or sent it in a large envelope. In the fog of the years, I see dimly that she sent it while I was on Maui in 1985 and I stuck in something to save, finding it later and formally Logging it. That chronology is unsubstantiated though.
The find was poignant. It was copied at a time for her when divorce blistered her self-confidence but her dignity demanded that she press on. I am not sure if it was after she was remarried to our beloved Pop Pop or not. I do know that she was counseling her unconventional son. She was being Mom.
It is funny to me that the pages have red clay mud spots all over them. It is microcosmic of my journey. The sweetest of things, a poem copied by my mom and given with all tenderness, spotted by its recipient’s red mud.
The mud enhances the treasure rather than soils it.
Most of you know something of the poem. It is the famous one by Robert Fulgham – “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The one where the sandbox at Sunday School was the greatest of classrooms. Where you hold hands crossing the street and wash them before you eat. Where you indulge in cookies and milk. How you are to apologize for transgressions. Put things back in their place. You learn and think and draw and paint and sing and dance every day.
Without transition, as if it was part of the poem, she closes with two paragraphs of commentary. She talks about what a beautiful world it would be if we all cleaned up our own messes and we had cookies and milk in the middle afternoon and then took a little nap.
God bless you, Mom, and a truly Happy Mother’s Day now that you can fully grasp what I am saying to you. Thanks for that letter back then. Thanks for helping me miss you now. It feels just right.
I think I will have an Oreo.