It is the day after Thanksgiving and I am electing to enjoy a welcome quiet along with a return to Autumn's gentle warmth and sunshine. The Husband and Cowgirl are out raking leaves. The bulk of the holiday's accoutrements - the good china, silverware, serving dishes - have been cleaned and put away. I finished clearing out my mother's apartment over a week ago and there is little that demands my immediate attention.
Except for the ironing.
And that, I believe, is the only promise my mother ever made to me and broke.
Last year we hosted the big family Thanksgiving. Surveying the damage to my grandmother's table linens - cranberry sauce, red wine, coffee and gravy stains evidence of a good and rich meal - I decided to utilize the services of a professional cleaners. After picking up the cleaned goods, I called my mother immediately from my car. Such was my shock at the cost of an elite cleaning service. She too was stunned by the price (more than a dinner out at a nice restaurant, slightly less than the cost of my cowboy boots from the Tractor Supply Store) and she told me then "Next time I will wash and iron them for you."
So today I faced a new pile of dirty table linens and I knew This now is mine.
I have to admit, there is something soothing about ironing. Growing up, the iron board was always at the ready in our basement. As a child, my chore was ironing pillow cases and dish cloths. I tried to enlist Cowgirl's assistance."This was my job when I was a little girl." She just laughed at me and then tried the logic "I could burn my fingers" before running off to join her father in the leaf raking.
And that is how I came to spent an hour and a half engaged in the domestic form of meditation known as ironing.
The tablecloth was the hardest, it being so big and unwieldy to novice hands. I could hear my mother's voice "I'm sorry Lisa." She took her promises seriously. Yet ironing was the perfect task for me now that so many tasks have been completed. It gave me the time for my head to synch up with my heart.
What I am discovering in this process of grieving my mother is opportunity to grieve - which really is the flip side to celebrating - the many women who have mothered me throughout my life. For my mother was not only a very good mother, she was also a really good friend.
As I sift through old photographs, I am remembering all my aunties: my godmother (self-proclaimed fairy godmother, and she was), the older neighbor who was a mentor to my mother, and all the friends whose homes were second homes to myself and my family. One of the hardest tasks has been to contact the surviving friends of my mother - there are only a handful left - to inform them of her death. After the stunned silence, stories follow about what fun they had together and how my mother was always there for them.
Her friends all commented upon my mother's beautiful singing voice. If she had a secret dream, I would guess it would have been to be a professional singer. My mother loved to sing and she knew the words to all the old songs.
But I cannot remember my mother ever expressing an unfulfilled ambition or dream. Rather than dwelling upon what she hadn't done, she focused upon what she had accomplished. "I've lived a good life," she shared with me on what was her last day. "I did pretty good for a kid who only had one pair of shoes." And she did. She traveled the world, she read any book she could get her hands upon, she loved history, art, movies and music. She shared and nurtured that love with me.
My mother did not have a career outside the home. She was not a professional; she was not an entrepreneur or a ground-shaker; she was independent but she was not interested in changing the world so much as experiencing it. If anything, my mother was an artist. Her talent was with a needle and thread, although she excelled at creative cookery honed through years of scrimping and saving. She poured her love and attention into her family and her friends. I cannot imagine a more noble accomplishment: good friend, good mother. She was both to me.
Just today I read "Grief is love turned inside out." For me, there is this experience of all that I've known and loved being shaken out of me, spread out and visible with new insights and deep truths revealed. As I reflect upon all the angst and anxiety I've generated in my search for meaning "What do I want to be when I grow up?" and "What purpose am I meant to serve?" I see clearly what my mother's gift was and has always been: be present, be love.
So today as I finish the ironing, I sing out the names of all my aunties who loved my mother and by extension, loved me. I am grateful for the nurturing circle of women my mother gathered around me and I am grateful for the continuing spiral of friends who are my extended family. I know my mother's love lives on as long as I stand in that circle, adding and receiving love to that flow.
If there was one thing my mother would have been happy I shared, it would be the photos from her glamor days.
My mom was beautiful inside ... and out. She fulfilled the important promises, the ones worth keeping.