ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — My mother was not one for sentiment. She did not coddle us, did not sing us lullabies or kiss us good night.
Her love was more pragmatic, measured out in the spelling bee flash cards she made on the backs of cigarette cartons. Her love was in the hundreds of books, a veritable library in our house, that she read to us and urged us to read once we knew how.
It was in the steady staccato of her typing in the night, the chatter of late-night news on the television, sounds that comforted me like a security blanket, because they told me she was there in the next room.
These things my mother gave me came in words and in an awareness of a world she wanted me to make better in whatever way I chose.
The things our mothers give us are as unique and as important to us as our mothers themselves, each one a reminder of who they were and who we are. On Mother’s Day, it’s good to reflect on those things.
For Ramona Vallejos, her mother’s humorous words were among those things her mother gave her.
“My mom always had laugh out loud sayings,” she said. “My favorite: ‘Mija, I wish I’d been born rich instead of so good looking.’ I use that phrase often.”
Words are also among the things Aubrey Hovey’s mother gave her – and still does.
“My mom swears I didn’t get my writing talents and extreme documenting obsessions from her,” Hovey said. “Yet one of my fondest memories is of her taking out my baby book, pulling out a pale green piece of torn paper and reading it to me. It was a note she wrote to me about what it felt like to be my mom. I discovered she did this with my little brother, too.”
Hovey’s mother, Michele Moore, adds a special touch – her doodles.
“She creates them when her mind is too full of worries and concerns and solutions,” Hovey said. “I love them the most, because seeing them is almost like looking into her beautiful, bustling mind.”
Beauty, especially in the flowers she adored, is what Dawn Stracener’s mother gave her. Beautiful flowers are what her mother asked her to remember her by.
“Last year at Mother’s Day during the family lunch at my house, my mom asked me to plant a pink rose bush for her after she died,” she said.
Six months later, her mother, Ruth Gould, passed away at age 93.
Today, Stracener plans to plant a bush of pink roses in her mother’s honor.
“She loved pink roses, and every birthday and Mother’s Day I would give her a dozen,” she said. “Every time I look at her rose bush, I will feel the love between us.”
What Kathie Leyendecker’s mother, Trudy Lawler, gave her was a family, adopting her as an infant from a Catholic Charities Foundling Home in Kansas City, Mo., and bringing her home to Santa Fe. A brother and a sister were also later adopted.
“My mother loved Mother’s Day as much as she loved us,” Leyendecker said. “We three kiddos knew we were special because we grew not under her heart but in it.”
Rebecca Aguilar’s mother, an undocumented worker, toiled in the fields of northwestern Ohio picking tomatoes and picking her time to rise up and demand better working and living conditions for migrant workers. She gave her daughter the skills to sew her own clothes, upholster her own furniture and speak her own mind.
“My mother taught me life is not about getting rich but being enriched with experiences,” Aguilar said.
The thing John Saavedra’s mother gave him was the grace of letting go.
“My mom passed, and it seemed a passing, her death,” he said when she died in December 2006. “I was with her and, as was my custom, that last week had been praying the evening prayer from the Book of Hours. Suddenly, she gave a death rattle and stopped breathing. Devastated, I wept in huge gulps of breath, held her hand. Then, just as suddenly, she took in a gasp and was breathing again. It was almost funny. She fooled me, messing with my head. Laying on her back, she opened her eyes, turning her head toward me. Her eyes were full of love and forgiveness. It doesn’t matter, they said – all the hurts, the small betrayals, the spite, the anger. Eventually, after what seemed ages, she turned peacefully, she sighed and passed.”
Lynn St. George’s mother died unexpectedly in April 2009, just before the onslaught of Mother’s Day advertising, which made the loss seem all the more excruciating.
“Each ad was like a knife in my heart,” she said.
But her mother gave her things, each with memories St. George holds on to. In the days after her mother’s death, St. George said she and her siblings were tasked with the chore of cleaning out her mother’s house and collecting those things – the goblet she asked St. George to buy her from a wine tasting though she didn’t drink, a silver ladle with the initials BGO, the broken bone-handled carving set held together with nails that sliced the family roast on Sundays, a pack of letter-writing materials bound with a rubber band and identified by a yellow Post-it as “my famous cat stationery.”
St. George wrote in a poem about what her mother had left her on that first Mother’s Day. It ends thusly: “These things from her life are here, in my home, near me, near my heart. I will reach out and touch them, I will think of her daily, I will remember and keep her close and near, and never forget that she was.”
The things our mothers give us do not always seem to be gifts at first blush. For some of us, mothers are the unknown vessel that bore us, perhaps nothing more, perhaps something worse.
But even those flaws, those hollows give us reason to rise, to remind ourselves of who we are in spite of who they were, to make our world better in whatever way we choose.
We embrace Mother’s Day – and, if we are fortunate, our mothers – as a way to celebrate the life they created, that most glorious thing they gave us.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.