My mom would have been 60 today.
I wouldn’t have remembered if emails and phone calls hadn’t drifted across the deep, blue, Atlantic ocean and reminded me.
Sixty. That means she was 25 when she had me. The same age I was when I got married. When I hung up the phone and looked across the table at my baby Micah’s face – there she was staring back at me. The Dutch genes, all blue eyes and blond hair, staring baby-faced up at me. He is the image of my baby brother at the same age. Her youngest. What would she have made of my youngest?
When I was 17 I was cool for a brief, fleeting moment when the most popular boy in school developed a crush on me. I was the only one oblivious to the fact. My sadness made the rest of the world seem a little blurry around the edges. Not that I was oblivious to his coolness. Rather that I was submerged in the slow good-bye to my mother. Everything else was secondary. And since I felt like my existence had taken on a half-light quality, it was hard to imagine that others could see me when I was so seldom aware of my own outlines.
Then she came home for a brief period.
And I made up for lost time and at one swim meet had the chance to be a cheerleader. Our outfits were supposed to be made by our mothers. Mine, for once, was not in the hospital. And she sewed my teeny, tiny, green, polka dot skirt from scratch. I watched and waited by her side as she finished the hem. I remember the day in detail. It was warm and beautiful. I was impatient to get to the pool because I finally understood that there might be a boy there who would notice whether or not I arrived. She was slow finishing. She coughed a lot. It irritated me. The hankie she coughed into became more and more spotted with bright red every time she used it. I ignored it. I was ready to be normal. I was relieved to be spending time in the real world again.
So she sewed and coughed and dressed me and sent me off. We did not talk about how she felt. There wasn’t any need, really. We both knew.
Death and life side-by-side on a balmy South African afternoon.
She would have been sixty today if she hadn’t had something that made her cough the day she made my skirt.
A year after she died my dad gave me one of her Bibles. It had been his first and hers for the early years of their marriage. If ever I forget (like I did today) milestones in our separation, I have only to turn to the first page of that dog-eared text and read in her flowing cursive this reminder, “Promise for Lisa-Jo: Isaiah 65: (23 esp).”
And then I flip to that page and know exactly what she would think if she saw me surrounded by my own husband and sons. She would think that God had kept the promise he made her on September 1st, 1974 – one week after I was born:
“My chosen shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
and their children with them.”
She didn’t, we are, and ours will be.