Sometimes it’s the small things that hold the most meaning in our lives. They show up as everyday actions, expressed through the simplest gestures and the gentlest of comments. Yet make no mistake, this is what love looks like.
This Mother’s Day my mother wants only an ice cream cone. She says, “that will be enough.”
Mom opens the passenger door and slides onto the empty seat. She smiles from under her new straw hat. “Do you like it?” Her words sound timid.
My fingers reach to adjust the brim of woven straw. “It’s jaunty, Mom. Wear it lower on the forehead.” She pulls back. In that moment I catch my tone.
A memory returns. It is of a different mother.
This mother waited in the car or stood on the street. This mother adjusted and rolled the brims of her sweet babies’ hats, made certain they were safe.
This mother’s children scampered down the steps from school or daycare, their small heads bobbing, their hats askew. Her fingers reached forth to roll and adjust. She was the mother who smoothed the cloth, caressed a cheek.
Voices warbled as chubby little hands rifled through backpacks to produce a rumpled painting or a sample of schoolwork. “Do you like it, Mom?”
I always did.
There is something achingly similar in the whispered words of young and elderly. The shy questioning notes that search for reassurance and approval. The eyes wide, searching.
My mother’s voice calls me back to the present.
“Do you like it?”
I nod. “It has flare, Mom.” I smile and tug it closer to her ears.
A truth snags hold. Some days, I am mothering her.
While I steer, Mom shares a happy story. She speaks of a friend. “I was just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Francie.” Breathless words continue, “ She tells me there’s a new park bench across the street and insists we go and sit on it. Christen it.”
At first she resisted this adventure. There were excuses. The dinner, the six o’clock news- Francie persisted.
My mother sighs. “I told her, dinner could wait.”
I nod. “Good choice, Mom. Sometimes we need to lose the plan.”
My mother’s world is small. She plans each day around breakfast, lunch and dinner. She eagerly awaits the Friday paper, the daily news and me.
She explains how they ambled to the nearby park and sat on the wooden bench. “Two old girls,” she laughs. “Francie told me I needed a straw hat. When I told her I didn’t own one, she pulled a floral pop up umbrella from her bag.”
Mom acted the part, raised her hand above her head, lifted her hat and shook loose her fine grey hair. In that moment she was twenty-five. I glimpsed the shimmer in her eyes and felt the swish of hair.
She is beautiful.
My hands flutter and smooth the top of her head. She eases the hat into place. “Francie held the umbrella over my head,” she says. “I felt like royalty.” She pauses and raises one hand. Fingers lower the car’s visor.
“I’m looking for a mirror.”
I lift the cover to reveal one.
She gazes at her reflection. “Do you like it?”
“You look pretty, Mom.”
Sunlight streams through glass. She looks in the distance. Swiftly her fingers reach. She shuts the cover over the mirror and lifts the visor.
“We’ll do something for Mother’s Day,” I say.
“Nothing fancy, just take me for ice cream. That’s enough.”
Silence fills every bit of space. A silence so vast it reminds us of all we never said. A veil of crepe settled over memories, the years spent tip- toeing around the shards that filled up spaces. Somehow we managed to hold to one another. I told her, “You are worth so much more.” I vowed that she would never break again.
The car pulls to the curb and I watch as she walks the short path to the front door, see her turn the key in the lock and notice that she looks back to wave good- bye. This is her signature.
It is the hug I will not receive, the kiss on the cheek that is missing and the spoken words I will never hear.
I imagine my mother walking through the lobby and checking her mailbox. She stops at the elevator and pushes the button. As the door opens, she smiles.
Her finger touches the second floor light. She stands and absorbs the familiar creaks and groans of the pulleys that lift her higher.
At the second floor the elevator stops and the door clunks open. My mother exits and begins the short climb up the three stairs to her suite. Her veined hand grips the rail as she slowly places one foot ahead of the other. She hears the familiar sound of voices chattering down the hall. Laughter rings, a television booms. She inhales the spiciness of turmeric and smoke that seeps from beneath a door. On her head is perched the new straw hat. She smiles.
If I wait long enough my mother will appear in the apartment’s window and look down upon the street.
Our eyes meet and I see her, a beautiful woman wearing a straw crown.