My mother died in 1985. I don't think about her very much. She's in the back of my mind, but rarely appears front and center. This morning, though, I wanted to devote some of Mother's Day to memories of her.
That turned out to be difficult.
Almost instantly I got into some pretty weird reminiscing. My mother, Carolyn HInes, was a complex person. As am I, I guess -- or I would have kept my Mother's Day thoughts simple.
She divorced my father when I was four, as I wrote about in "One hour with my father." (That's the total time I spent with him, ever, after the divorce.) My mother raised me by herself, not easy in the fifties and sixties.
Especially given her drinking problem, which flared up into obvious alcoholism about the time I entered high school.
Since my clearest memories of my mother are from when I was older, the drunken, mean, angry moments that I can easily recollect got all mixed up with happier moments when I tried to ponder what my mother meant to me.
A pain in the ass. Like when, during my teenage years, she'd yell from her bedroom into mine when I was trying to go to sleep, muttering nasty alcoholic crap that I couldn't tune out even with a pillow over my head. It got so bad, when I'd drive home from a date with my high school girlfriend, who had a pleasingly normal family, I'd pass a liquor store and think "I should throw a rock through the glass and steal some stuff, just so people would know that seemingly well-adjusted star student Me actually is screwed-up beyond belief but I do a damn good job of hiding it."
A loving mother who was creative and intelligent. Like when I was in elementary school and she'd write a 20-minute play on her old typewriter, making enough carbon copies for three or four of my friends and me to learn our lines. We'd rehearse in our living room after school. Then the original play, which always was funny and well-written, would be put on by us in a classroom during the Three Rivers (California) school Halloween Carnival. Kids and their parents would buy some cheap tickets to see us act, sitting in those little desks that adults could barely cram themselves into.
Many more memories whipped through my brain this morning, of course. Confusion filled me. I realized that I didn't know who my mother was. Not really. I had no idea how Carolyn Hines experienced the world, how life looked from her perspective.
All I had were some selective memories of the thirty-six years we shared this Earth, about half of which were in the same house and half apart. I couldn't come up with a coherent Mother's Day thought, a greeting card sort of succinct statement that I could recite to myself and feel like I'd expressed my feelings toward her.
Good/bad. Happy/sad. Love/hate. Compassion/anger. My recollections of her kept bouncing back and forth in a Yin/Yang fashion, never settling down into a harmonious This is how things were with my mother.
After ten minutes of this I got tired of the craziness. I was beginning to veer off into even stranger psyche territory. I was getting obsessed with thoughts of missed opportunities, not only with my mother, but also with other people who meant a lot to me when I was growing up.
Enough. Stop it. Calm down.
I told myself to get a grip on myself, one of those self-referential inner commands which don't make any logical sense yet still seem effective in getting out of a polluted stretch in my stream of consciousness.
I decided to focus on one honest moment -- which my analytical acronym-loving mind recognized as an OHM. Nicely Hindu. Meditational. A mantra to calm my Mothers Day mental meanderings.
Several candidate memories presented themselves to me. I cast aside the negative ones. I wanted my One Honest Moment to be a happy one, a Mother's Day recollection that made me feel closer to my mother, not more distant.
She'd had another stroke. My wife and daughter had driven down with me from Oregon to visit her in a charming home-based care facility right there in little Three Rivers. My mother wasn't able to walk on her own. We talked with her for a while in her room, then asked her if she'd like us to take her outside. She did.
With the aid of a wheelchair, if my memory is correct, we got my mother into our car. Then I drove down to a bridge that crossed the main fork of the Kaweah River, leading onto Dinley Road, which followed the river downstream. I stopped at a turnout next to a small beach that I remembered from my childhood days of roaming the river.
My wife took a blanket down to the riverbank. I opened the passenger car door, leaned down and picked my mother up, cradling her in my arms. She put her hands around my neck. My mother wasn't big on hugging. This was an unusually intimate physical moment for us. But it felt so right.
I picked my steps across the river rocks carefully. I didn't want to stumble and drop my mother. That wouldn't be part of her stroke rehab program. I managed the short walk to the river just fine. My mother wasn't very heavy. We'd switched roles. I was carrying her like a child; she was trusting me to get her safely to the blanket.
It was a deeply moving experience for me. A great choice for my One Honest Moment.
What I've learned on this Mother's Day is that what matters most to me aren't grand overarching all-encompassing recollections of the way things were or how someone was. Instead, it is discrete moments which were so meaningful to me, a few seconds of a memorable memory have much more of an impact than days, weeks, months, and years of forgotten or barely recollected everyday experiences.
There are moments. And then there are moments.
I had lots of each with my mother, both good and bad, happy and sad. Today, I chose to focus on one. One Honest Moment when my mother and I were genuine, real, connected, intimate.
So what if those moments were few and far between with us? One Honest Moment is worth a gazillion (maybe more!) of un-OHMs.