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For she’s a jolly good fellow….which nobody can deny

October 17, 2006

Truth be told she was not a jolly good fellow all the time. We never had that mother-daughter relationship that I hear other people having. That warm, fuzzy, hallmark card-gee-aren’t-we-both-swell kind of thing. I moved out before I graduated from high school the weekend after I turned 18 and moved out of state when I was 20. I traveled around coming back home a few times but never to stay until she died which I am sure she would be pretty pissed about.

Just a few years before she died I had come home for something or other…I can’t remember what and was coming in on the train from Boston. She worked downtown on Charles St. and I had asked her to pick me up. She said no. She said I could take a bus or a cab and that it wasn’t convienent because she lived on the other side of the harbor from the train station. I said I could come to her work but my train got in after she was leaving work so I should just take a cab or a bus. Another time I came home for my 21st birthday and I flew in from Key West where I was living. At first she was going to “surprise” me with a visit and we could party together for my birthday together. I suggested that would not be much of a present for ME, so could I come home instead and see my friends and family? Reluctantly and with some bitterness she said fine and didn’t I always have to do it my way? So I found the cheapest ticket possible and had to fly into Dulles. She would not come and get me and told me I can make my way to the city to see her. I had to take 1 cab and 2 buses in an unfamiliar city so that she didn’t have to drive the 40 miles to pick me up for my 21st birthday “present”.

At her funeral so many strangers came up to me telling me how my mom touched their lives. She had just changed jobs and the people she worked with were so taken with her that they divided her work possessions before they even asked me about it. Stubbornly I told her boss that I thought that it was not appropriate for them to go through her things without the families permission and she could just ask for everything back. She did and said she was sorry but not before she told me to look around for the stockings my mom was cross-stitching for her co-workers because christmas was in a couple of weeks and they were really looking forward to it and she had worked so hard on them. It was all I could do to not tell her what the fuck did I care if her co-workers of 9 months were sad because the stockings she was making for them would not be delivered. I thought to myself that my mother never meeting any children I might have and the fact that I am basically an orphan now kinda trumps their sadness in losing their friend of less than a year.

Just as I finished making her boss feel like shit I turn around to my Aunt, my moms sister, who had to come over to tell me that one of my moms best friends–friends (so a friend of a friend….) said that during my moms last party my moms BFF’s friend commented on a family heirloom vase and he told my aunt that she said if she ever died, he could have it. That vase was the subject of one of the first drawings I was ever proud of doing and it was so freaking special that my grandmother kept it …….I drew it when I was 8 years old and it had been saved for almost 20 years, but SURE, just take it cause if that is what she said, by all means honor her wishes.

Then another friend of the same BFF told my Aunt that he had always admired the “Blue Boy” painting my mom had. She bought it with her first husband, a man I have still never met, and kept it all those years. He wouldn’t “dream of us just giving it to him, he would pay us for it of course, say about $100?”

This was all at the fucking funeral. Had they talked to me I would have told them I more important things on my mind. Like how her body had become so bloated and all of her bodily fluids began to leak out and so they had to cover her up to her chin during her last hours because her bed linens were soaked and gross with blood and plasma. I thought about how she was so saddened that she was dying and so despondent that she would not even kiss me or look at me during her last days. I was grateful that she felt okay to kiss and be affectionate with my husband. I remember washing her hair the day after she came off of the ventilator and she relished the warm water and massage to her scalp. She commented on how when you are sick everything feels yucky and to have clean hair felt so great.

Not everything between us was bad. Some stuff was pretty great. I remember dancing in the kitchen and taking funny pictures to use up the last of the role of film. She pulled her hair down over top of her face and put on her glasses and became Cousin It. She was a fanatic about Halloween and always helped me dress up buying me whatever fabric I wanted and busted out the sewing machine so I could make my own belly dancer costume, court jester and charlie chaplin. My mom always would make me my favorite cookies and would make her famous chili whenever I asked. She never made fun of me for dressing like “annie off the pickel boat” as my grandmother would say. She just shook her head and chuckled and not in a mean way. She always told me how beautiful I was and admired my outgoing personality. Tears would well up in her eyes during my concerts at school and she helped me learn my lines for every school play I tried out for. She talked to me like I was a grown up well before I was. I was never told that I had taken out too many books at the library. I know she was proud of me. I knew I was loved. I knew I was cherished. I knew she meant it when she told me I was the best thing she ever did.

We just never got that chance to work things out properly. We were still at that point, maybe because I moved out so early, finding our ground together as adults. There is a point at which you meet your parents half way between what you accept as your past and what is your here and now. I can only imagine how strange it is to see your baby grow up to be an adult and act without regard to your every thought and approval. You raise your children to be independent if you are a good parent. Why is it that they are so disappointed when you fly away? We come home to roost. Some of us take a longer route home but we always find our way. It is strange to come to that door and find that no one is there.

Happy Birthday Jeanne Joyce Druery Birkenbach Shacochis O’Mailey. I hope you found a “Fred”.xxoo

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Melma permalink
    October 18, 2006 2:30 am

    This made me cry for you, Cole. One of the tragedies of death is that it sometimes takes away our opportunity to do/say important things. I hope it helps you to express those important things now. Of course your mother was proud of you; you gave her such good reason to be.

  2. amy permalink
    October 18, 2006 1:54 pm

    This was an emotional post to read so I can’t imagine what it took to write it/share it. I sometimes wonder why people do/say the things they do/say…hence the question post on my blog recently. I have no relationship with my father and have tried several times to open the door to one…which he ignores. Not even for the sake of his grand daughter. I’m come to terms and peace with his indifference to me…but I often wonder how I will feel when he dies not having said his peace to me. Thanks for sharing this…

  3. October 20, 2006 1:30 am

    Oh Cole. I don’t know what to say. The mother-daughter thing is so fraught with all the push-pull, seeing yourself in the other person and deciding you’d rather die than admit it, and wanting to get as far away as possible, and wanting just to land in that safe space one more time.

    I’m so sorry about all the pricks at the funeral.

    And I’m especially sorry you didn’t get to let the dynamics of your relationship with your mother play out, in their own time.

  4. October 20, 2006 3:01 pm

    Love is complicated, and death is awful. I don’t know what else to say, Cole, other than I know how much it hurts. My mother and I were dear, dear friends, but still there are things I wish I’d said to her before she died. Thinking about her death, as painful as it is, helps me come to terms with it. I write about it a lot less than I think about it.

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