A beloved reunion took place during the wee hours of this morning. My best friend’s Mom, and an iconic figure in my life, walked through the pearly gates of heaven and took the hands of those who journeyed before her. Oh, what a sweet embrace that must have been!
To know this woman was to know love. Her entire life was a selfless sacrifice of time and devotion to her family and loved ones. Like most women of her era, she worked tirelessly to make a home that others were always welcome in. Her kitchen was the nucleus of her world; the coffee pot was always on, a plate of something delicious thrust in front of you and she was always ready to drop everything and make time to catch up on the latest news.
My earliest memory of her was being awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of a vacuum cleaner attacking the rug in the room where I slept. Ma, as many called her, was rather nocturnal. She did some of her most industrious work while others slept. Despite my initial shock, over the years I found comfort in the nighttime noises of the house. Lulled by the sounds of hands hard at work, my time spent under her roof was a cocoon of love and safety.
Her home was my second childhood home – my own mother will admit getting me to come home was often a struggle – and I loved to spend days on end with my BFF and her family. We were given free reign of the kitchen at a very young age and there, amidst the chaos, my love for cooking was born. Ma let us walk to the neighborhood grocery store and put anything on her ticket, opening the door to endless hours of cooking and laughter. To this day, I do not get together with my bestie without some sort of cooking together being a part of our visit.
But the gifts Ma gave were so much more. She believed in caring for others was a lifelong responsibility; her own Mother lived in a small trailer in the side yard and never worried about her future security. Ma cooked, cleaned and tirelessly cared for her own Mother. It was a lesson her own daughters learned and repeated selflessly.
She opened her home to anyone who was tired, hungry or just needed a place to temporarily call their own. It was always the place to stop by and you never knew who might walk in the door next. Endless hours of laughing, singing, watching old home movies in that kitchen flood my mind. Long after her children were grown and gone, she cooked three full meals each day, never questioning that she would have someone to share each and every one with. Her capacity for giving warmth and shelter to those she loved was immeasurable.
She loved animals and many a year, she thought cat food for the countless strays she fed, was a practical Christmas gift. Pets were always welcome – from the giant dog Rex, who we could ride like a horse, to her beloved parakeet that would perch on her finger and kiss her on the lip. She fed and cared for any animal that crossed her path; including a brief pass at taking in a pot-bellied pig who took up residence in the kitchen. She had a name for every pet and time to show each and every one of them love.
Her talents were many. She played a wicked cordovox, periodically playing shows and performing on local radio. She was the original queen of upcycling, turning found objects into unique works of art. Her biggest patron, her husband and the man I called Pa-Daddy, was her muse. He would invent the projects to spark her imagination and she would rise to the challenge! Paint, beads and old jewelry, sewing, wallpapering…I don’t think there was a project she ever shied away from.
I did not see Ma in recent years. I am embarrassed that my own brief visits home did not include a stop at her house. The one thing she always had for me – time – I selfishly did not give in return. I know she loved me and knew I loved her deeply, but hate that my good intentions never turned into action. That is her last lesson to me: do not squander the time and love you have been given. I hate that I am learning it the hardest way possible.
I will miss Ma deeply. I see her face in her beautiful daughters and in the talents they have each replicated in their own lives. Her sons and grandchildren will equally carry on her many gifts and talents; a testament to a life well- and selflessly-lived. My heart breaks for them all and I am sure they find some peace in knowing she is no longer suffering from the ailments that her body gave residence in recent years.
I am sure early this morning, Pa-Daddy met her at the gate – in my mind in his blue bathrobe and distinct red leg warmers (a necessity his diabetes required) – and said, “It’s about d$%! time, Ma. I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee in years and I cannot get anyone to iron my shorts!”
Yes, Ma, go find peace in your well-earned rest. And just as soon as you get a moment, please get started marbelizing the pearly gates! I cannot wait to see what you will do with the place! I love you forever.