The lady called Mom
Twenty-five years is a long time to spend with someone, and not know anything about them but their name. It’s sad, but it’s true.
I had only been married for a year when my veil of naiveté started to be revealed. My mom and dad weren’t just parents, they were much more. They were people — people with dreams, flaws and quirks just like normal folks. Just when I was getting to know my Mom, she suddenly was taken from us.
The one thing in my life I truly regret, the one thing that can’t be changed, is that I never really knew the lady we all called Mom. She was the one who cooked all the meals and did the laundry, shuffled us off to school, and tended to our many wounds from our adventurous youth.
What she did all day while we were trying not to listen to our teachers, I really never knew. She has remained a mystery — that is, until last weekend. I helped my Dad clean out his basement and uncovered a treasure trove of memories I never had.
A lone 60-watt bulb spilled dim yellow light across the floor of the basement. Musty odors of dirt and damp cardboard boxes, along with a lifetime of memories wafted up from below as we descended the narrow steps. Dad paused to catch his breath at the bottom and took time to explain some of the items we were to move for the yard sale.
Against the far wall stood the behemoth of an exercise machine that had been stored in the garage of 110 Flamingo Street. I had never seen it used. The odd looking machine stood upright with a wide leather band still attached to either side. Mom had asked him to buy it after twin Brother Mark and I were born.
Dad laughed, “The machine never really worked, but she still kept in shape. Running after you and your twin was all the exercise she ever needed.”
The kiln was stored under the steps. It seems while we were at school, Mom made pottery. She spun lumps of clay into vases and ashtrays. That would explain why we had so many of both around the house.
We had to ask neighbors for help to move it up the stairs and out onto the lawn. Even though I don’t smoke, the lone ashtray found inside is now on my coffee table.
Mom was also a painter. A box of unused canvases and her easel stood against the wall next to the hot water tank. The paints had long been thrown away, but her brushes were still neatly wrapped in oil skin.
The easel and canvases made it to the lawn. The brushes I gingerly placed in the front seat of my car. I think I’ll try to find my inner artist.
Under a small tarp we uncovered a stack of rusting, red and blue real-estate signs. Mom’s name was on every one. Somehow between raising five kids, taking care of a husband and a house, pottery and art classes, Mom still had time on the weekends to sell houses. What an amazing lady.
And so it went the entire weekend. Dad took the time to examine the contents of every box, explain its history, deciding what to keep, and what to move up to the lawn. In doing so he helped me to know the person who, until recently, I only knew as Mom.
The illness that ravaged her body is one people try not to think or even talk about. Having been a firefighter now for over a quarter of a century, I think about it often. Cancer claims one life in every four. Still, I consider myself luckier than most. At age 83, Dad is alive and well. So maybe it’s a fate I can avoid.
Every morning my Dad receives a call from me, most days several. He goes to the gym three days a week, afterwards a short trip to the bakery for day-old bread, then across town to the nursing home for a visit with his ailing wife. Finally late in the afternoon, he returns back home where he feeds the birds with the bread.
Yes, I know his routine. I’ve had time to get to know the man I call Dad.
And now, after last weekend, I’ve been lucky to have known her also. The Lady I called Mom.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]