I Learned from My Mother

I learned from my mother how to pack for long vacations, channeling the night-before excitement into neat piles of socks and secret surprises for the journey.

How to cook over a camp stove, and eat food I’d dropped on the ground. How to swim in my underwear, and bathe in a bucket.

How to identify turkey vultures, and not bother identifying juvenile gulls. And I learned how to walk very slowly, and savour every leaf and patch of moss. (Though I still walk quickly, like my father.)

And how to sit in an old lawn chair, under a canopy of beech leaves, reading, letting the day slide by with the arc of the sun, as if nothing needed to be done. 

How to conjure with guidebooks, and navigate unfamiliar cities with purpose. How to speak French or Spanish or Portuguese or Catalan with a phrasebook and wild abandon.

And I learned how to be calm, or how to hide my anxiety behind a slight smile (even from myself). 

And how to get older. How to keep up: 78 rpm, 33 rpm, mono, stereo, cassettes, CDs, iPod, Spotify. How to move now grudgingly, now happily from the car accident to the fall in the restaurant to the birth of a great granddaughter to Friday lunch at the diner with the old boys. How to lose things and laugh about it. How to lose things and cry about it.

And while I was looking away, I learned from my mother how to mourn a spouse, surprisingly missing.  How to throw out the hats and coats, but not all of them. How to pack up in Detroit and board the train for Vancouver, talking to every stranger about death and love. How to enjoy the enforced simplicity of unchallenged decisions. Order the new dishes. Fly first class. Take the whole clan for a luxury vacation to Hawaii. There’s only yourself to please.

We have too much in common, my mother and I. And I’ve learned from my mother how to complain about it, and laugh about it, and keep going.

Fortune Cookie

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