Tag Archives: memories

The Scent of a Mother

10 May

 

mom holding me at beachWhen I was young, it never occurred to me that my mother would grow old someday. She was just my mom—a pretty woman with soft, shoulder length brown hair and a lovely smile. As far as I was concerned, she would be there forever to take care of me. If I was sick in the middle of the night, she would be there to open up the pull-out couch in the living room and let me lie down with her until I fell asleep. Every day when I returned home from school, there would be a snack set out on the table, complete with a folded cloth napkin. After helping me and my brothers with our homework she would then battle it out with us at the piano where we’d whine and cry until we learned to play the B-flat Major scale—and play it well. All this and she still managed to have dinner on the table every night promptly at 6:30.

 

Back then, I thought she was perfect. I loved the smell of her so much that often when she was out running errands and I felt lonely and afraid, I would sneak into her bedroom, open the top drawer of her dresser where she kept her bras (back then she referred to them as her bureau and her brassieres) just so I could inhale the sweet perfume of her clothing. I’d play with her scarves, try on her jewelry and try to decipher the love letters my dad wrote to her when they were dating. She was a beautiful mystery to me and imagining a life without her made my head spin.

 

My mother pregnant with me.

My mother pregnant with me.

When I hit adolescence and my world turned inward, my mother began to embarrass me with her stretchy polyester pants, orthopedic Dr. Scholls shoes and out-of-date haircut. Even the freckles on her forearms made me cringe. I hated that she drove a weird, foreign car that sounded like female genitalia (‘66 Volvo wagon) when everyone else’s mom drove an American-made car. I hated that my mother was so friendly that just for the heck of it would initiate a conversation with anyone she came in contact with. Once, when we were shopping at Sears, I accused her of being overly talkative with the sales clerk just to embarrass me on purpose.

 

My junior high school girlfriends told me I was lucky to have such a mom—that she was the “cool” type of mom—someone who had absolutely no problem answering their questions about boys and sex. At their urging, she would come into my room, sit on my bed and join the conversation.  On hot summer evenings, she’d let us go skinny dipping in the backyard pool until it was discovered that my brother had assembled the neighborhood boys in the yard of the house next door so they could spy on us through the holes in the fence.

 

Mom in the kitchen.

Mom in the kitchen.

My mother wasn’t the perfect mother—the truth is, there’s no such thing. Yet, in every single childhood memory I carry, my mother’s presence is there, supporting me, cheering me on, and loving me with her unconditional and overflowing love. This has always been my truth and more than anything, I hope that I’ve been able to pass this on to my own children.

 

Today, I think about my mother as I wonder how many more Mother’s Days I’ll have to spend with her—ten, maybe fifteen if I’m lucky. I’m sure that when she gave birth to me, she didn’t stop to think that I would grow up to be an adult and have my own family someday. She certainly didn’t imagine herself approaching eighty years old. She simply held my tiny body against her warm chest, inhaling that sweet, powdery baby smell and marveled at the perfection of me, imagining that I’d stay that way forever.

 

The other day, I saw my youngest daughter in our bedroom, holding my pillow against her face.

“Isa,” I asked, “What are you doing?”

She looked up at me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Just smelling your pillow,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it smells like you,” she said.  “And it makes me feel safe.”

 

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Remembering Grandpa

20 Oct

muertos 4The other day, my eight year-old daughter, Isa said something that stuck with me: “Mommy,” she said, “Isn’t it sad that I’m not used to saying the word Grandpa?”

It’s very sad, indeed. Isa has never had a grandfather, as René’s father and my father both died before she was born. My father has been gone for almost thirty years now and it seems as if I think of him more often as I grow older myself. It’s become a regular occurrence that his memory comes to me when I’m reading or writing and I don’t know the meaning of a particular word. I think to myself, Oh, if only Dad were here—I could ask him—because when I was a young girl, every single time I needed to know what a word meant, he always knew.

My dad still shows up in my dreams sometimes. I’m the first to admit that because of his alcoholism, I’ve carried the weight of a heavy resentment toward him for many years. But now in my dreams, I’m no longer the victimized and martyred little girl as I used to be. I’m just a daughter who’s over the moon to see her daddy again. And as if I’m still half his height, I stretch my arms up high to hug him, the soft cotton material of his Brooks Brothers button up shirt brushing against my skin. I bury my face into his neck, the scent of nicotine and Old Spice coming off of him like a stale and comforting perfume. I always ask him the same question: “Where have you been all this time?”

Lately, I think of my dad every time I walk through the living room. It’s that time of year again when we set up our altar for Dia de los Muertos—Day of the Dead, and his photograph is the focal point of our altar. He’s surrounded by skulls, candles, marigolds, pan de muerto, and most importantly, by the smiling faces of other relatives and friends who have also left this earth.

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I think he would be surprised by the number of faces placed next to his: his two younger brothers; his granddaughter, Gillian; the many faces of Isa’s young friends who’ve all died from cancer. He might be a little bit pleased that on this altar he’s still the patriarch—the grandpa watching over them all—a part of something that we who are still here on this earth have yet to understand.

It feels good to remember that in more ways than not, my dad was a decent man. He was flawed, as I am, but he did the best he knew how to do, just as I’m doing the best I know how to do. And despite his imperfections as a father, he must have done a few things right along the way.

After all, I turned out pretty good.

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Time to Remember

23 Oct

I almost didn’t do it.

Halloween will be here soon, and we had already decorated the front porch with strands of cottony spider webs and dangling skeletons. We’ve been planning our costumes for weeks now and a tiny witch’s costume and black hat dangle spookily in the closet when it’s not being tried on over and over again. Bright orange pumpkins, swollen with seeds, sit on the hearth waiting to be hollowed out and turned into grimacing goblins.

It’s that season again, when the days shorten and the change of light paints shadow pictures on the sidewalks as the sun settles lower in the sky. I knew that there was still one thing left to be done, but I thought that I just didn’t want to do it again this year. My husband, Rene still hadn’t brought it up, so I figured that we just weren’t going to get around to it.

Selfishly, I was relieved that he hadn’t said anything, because I just didn’t feel like digging through the shed to look for all the boxes. The thought of having to sift through all of the stuff was more than just a bit overwhelming. Besideswhy do I always have to be the one who does everything around here?

Then last Saturday evening, my oldest daughter, Nora said, “Mom, I’m going to set up the altar—want to help?” and I suddenly realized that I did want to help.

We moved tables and covered them with white cloths; we emptied boxes of candles and vases and arranged them around the centerpiece of a grinning papier-mâché skull. My daughter Isa and her best friend, Tali helped tape tissue paper onto an arch that stretched across the window in a rainbow of pink, orange and yellow flowers. Lastly and most importantly, we lovingly dusted off the photographs and placed them on the altar. The following day, we took a trip to the farmer’s market and bought bunches of fresh marigolds and gladioli and came home and filled up the vases.

Isa and Tali helping to set up the altar.

The altar was ready for Dia de los Muertos. It’s time to remember.

I’d been trying to ignore the importance of this celebration because I’d been thinking all along that it’s only for Rene that we do it each year. After all, it’s his Mexican culture, not mine.  Yet in the process setting up the altar; through the act of looking at all the photographs of the people who have died and really thinking about them, I always realize how important this celebration is to me.

Time has a way of robbing us of that deep connection we once had with our loved ones, no matter how devastating their deaths were to us. People die—even children die—and yet somehow life manages to continue on no matter what. Our memories fade and those of us who are still here on this earth tend to let those memories slip into the recesses of our consciousness. As we move on with our lives, we forget to remember. And in forgetting, we lose that sense of emotional connection that we once held so deeply in our hearts.

I want to remember these people because in doing so, they continue to stay alive.

Lexi died last February, so this is the first time she's been placed on our altar.

Lexi Krasnoff died last February, so this is the first time she’s been placed on our altar.

Rosie Chavez was a star who still shines brightly on our altar. We left her some red lollipops.

Michael “T.T” McGrew and Jessi Modeen both died from their cancer. I never met Jessi, but found out after Isa was diagnosed that her mother, Denise used to live three houses down from us and I babysat her when she was a child. She always loved my name, and gave it to Jessi when she was born.

It’s impossible to forget little Jeffrey Zamora! Rene’s parents, Herlinda and Elias Mireles watch over him in the background.

Our altar at night with all of the candles lit. My dad is right above the skull.

Our precious Gillian Winters.