For My Mother This Easter Sunday
Easter Sundays have always reminded me of my mother and her endurance and her faith. Nearly eight years ago, on a Sunday, I suffered a stroke. I won’t go into all the details, only to say that at the hospital I felt my mother’s spirit with me. Two days later, I left the hospital with no impairments, and I continue to do well to this day. On this Easter Sunday, in honor of my mother, I’ve decided to share this passage from my memoir, Gone the Hard Road, which will be published in 2021.
Just this morning, I woke, imagining that I heard the sound of my mother’s wringer washer churning as I often did in our farmhouse on Saturday mornings those days when I’d yet to start school and had to spend the weekdays with my grandmother while my mother was teaching. The sound of that washer was a comfort to me because it told me my mother was home and would be all that day and all the next one, those blessed Saturdays and Sundays. Suddenly, I’m remembering how she called each load of laundry “a rubbing.” “I did three rubbings of clothes,” I might hear her tell someone at church. Three rubbings of clothes, I’d say to myself. Now, twenty-five years after her death, I say it again—Three rubbings—just for the pleasure of imagining her saying it, and it’s as if she’s just on the other side of the door. For a moment, I feel I can open it and step through a veil of time between my bedroom and the kitchen of our farmhouse where my mother is putting my breakfast on the table and telling me to bow my head. “Say your prayer,” she tells me, and because I trust her, because I believe she won’t let anything bad happen to me ever, I do. God is great, God is good. I say the words my mother gave me, her bonny child, her Sunday’s child. I say the words, and for a moment I’m blessed with faith, blessed because she’s left no room, no reason, for doubt.
There will always be a part of me that will wish for the certainty of the boy my mother taught to believe. Even now, seven years after my stroke, I say my prayers and want to believe that God watches over me, keeping me safe and free from harm. I can’t forget, though, that my parents’ faith, nor their prayers, could save them in the end. My father’s heart stopped while he was mowing the grass on a hot day at the end of July. My mother, who rarely gave into emotion, wept over his casket. Six years later, she died in that nursing home, surrounded by her brothers and sisters. I received the word of her death by telephone on a cold and snowy afternoon in January. As I drove north from Memphis that night, the stars came out, and I thought about my mother’s spirit and wondered where it had gone. I wanted to believe it lifted into the atmosphere, became an energy that found its way to whatever attracted it—to rivers and leaves, to other people, to clouds and the very stars above me, and other planets, maybe, and if that was the case, then why couldn’t it keep rising? Why couldn’t it exist in a place called Heaven? Even now, as I recall the uncertainty that my father’s anger brought us, I remember the way my mother told me to count my blessings, to keep looking up, to trust in what was to come. I do, I tell myself again and again in the days following my stroke, until the voice inside me is no longer mine, but that of someone I don’t know, someone I want to believe. I do, I do, I do.
What a lovely excerpt–thank you! I was feeling my mother’s loss and presence this Easter, too. I struggle to accept the faith she and my father tried to instill in me. I want to believe . . .and yet.
Yes, Ellen, it’s the same with me. Always that, and yet. . . .
Thanks so much for reading my blog and for taking the time to leave this comment.
For me, it was the sound of my grandmother ironing clothes. First the thump of the iron as she pressed it hard against the shirt, then the hissing of steam. The air filled with the aroma of clothing that had dried on the clothesline in our backyard. I would be sleeping in the same room and awake to the sound and the steamy smell. At ten years old, I was with her when she had the stroke that took her life a few days later. She was 8 years younger than I am now. I just finished reading Such a Life. Such a book, Lee Martin, such a book!
Dear Kathryn. Yes, we all have those sensory memories that take us back in time. I love your description of your grandmother ironing. I remember my mother sprinkling water on shirts, etc, and then the hiss of the steam. I’m so sorry you had to lose her at such a young age. Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks, too, for your kind words about SUCH A LIFE.
Dear Mr Martin
A Continuing Ed writing class brought me to your blog and this current post. We just read “Sorry”. The essay reminded me of my own childhood, growin up in suburban Westfield NJ. In your blog post above, your description of your mom’s rubbings made me think of my dad, who died in 2012, and how we used to cook together. My dad was a chemist so he always used to say that his late-in-life love of cooking grew out of his desire to understand science and mix things together. Truthfully he learned to cook because after his divorce (I was 14 and moved in with him) he was too cheap to go out to restaurants (that sentence deserves a smiley emoji). But we did learn to cook – both he, at 45, and me at 14.
It’s so odd how one small thing, one minor comment can stick with you for the rest of your life. We were making something, I have no recollection of what, and the recipe called for Dijon mustard. So my dad dipped a soup spoon into the jar and pulled out a large glob of mustard. Knocked it into the pan or bowl, and then stuck the spoon in his mouth and wiped it clean. I was sort of shocked because there was still a lot of mustard on the spoon and I felt like it might be too much. I must have said something because he responded “What? I like mustard”.
So now, no matter what I’m making, if it calls for Dijon mustard, scoop out a big spoonful of mustard, put the mustard into the mixing bowl then wipe the spoon clean in my mouth like it was vanilla ice cream.
And every single time, it brings me back to my dad and the playful nature of how he said that he likes mustard.
Puts the sp into his mouth, then closes his lips around it and out comes a clean spoon.
I say lots of stuff to my daughters that I hope they remember for all eternity: Be humble, kind, compassionate and generous. Look both ways, always wear a helmet when you bike. But I have no idea what they will remember. If you were to ask my dad, what do you think is the most remembered line or quote that your son will remember you for, I’m not sure what he would say. He might say his stupid joke about the lady in the grocery store asking for spinach. He might say “the dog died”, which is another inside joke. I’m not sure. But I’m sure he wouldn’t remember the mustard thing.
Like a lot of my cooking, it brings me back to him.
Richard, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your father with us. It is amazing, isn’t it, what small things can take us back into the past. As you say, it’s also amazing what we remember that others don’t and vice versa. Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to leave this comment.
I learned about you a few years ago from the Brevity magazine. Your writing is so haunting. And compliments on writing so warmly about your mother. Mothers never cease to have an impact on us — even years after they depart. My lost my mother a few months ago, during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. I completely identify with this statement: “I thought about my mother’s spirit and wondered where it had gone. I wanted to believe it lifted into the atmosphere, became an energy that found its way to whatever attracted it—to rivers and leaves, to other people, to clouds and the very stars above me, and other planets, maybe, and if that was the case, then why couldn’t it keep rising? Why couldn’t it exist in a place called Heaven?”
I am positive my mother is in Heaven; I am assuming yours also went there. As writers and human beings, so are so alike — even though I am in India and you are across the Atlantic. It’s amazing how as writers we can never forget our parents and we often we end up writing about them — instinctively.
Thank you for your kind words about my work. I’m sorry about the death of your mother. I celebrate our shared experience.