Some things in life are sure things.
Like Mother’s Day.
I don’t know when the day was set aside to honor our mothers but I know it has been around ever since my mother labored with me for hours on August 2, 1959. At 5:40 P.M. at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Ohio all 9 pounds 12 ounces of me slid through dark into light and I took my first breath of this world.
“You ripped me from one end to the other!” she would tell me repeatedly over the years, laughing.
And she ripped me, her first-born, with her pendulum swings between dark and light, cutting and tending. But that complicated woman-child of extremes taught me to love birds, especially the orioles that come right before Mother’s Day, sure as spring, if you woo them with just the right sweet.
Mom loved her birds so much that she used to keep a BB gun by the back door. Every time she spotted a cat crossing our property line, off she would run for the gun yelling, “I’m gonna KILL than DAMN thing! People ought to keep their own DAMN cats on their own DAMN property!” I laughed at her, wondering if she would feel as justified and satisfied shooting at the cats if she had delivered the same line without all those DAMNS.
And the squirrels—she hated them too. “Those DAMN squirrels are on the feeder again! DAMN it!” And she’d go running for the gun again, sure as spring. She tried the bafflers but never succeeded in baffling the varmints. But she shot quite a few in the butt and off they scurried, scared as hell. I imagined what they wondered what they told their DAMN squirrel friends about that DAMN mad woman inside that house who was such a pain in the ASS . . .
So yesterday, I did as Mom always did a few days before Mother’s Day. I set out the oranges on front porch and back.
And sure enough! Within an hour, I saw the first Baltimore oriole of spring 2014! Sunset-orange breast with blackest wings flew to rickety old table where I had placed a ceramic white plate, just so, filled with freshly sliced oranges and a side of grape jelly, garnished with black-oil sunflower seeds—five-star style.
Apparently, the orioles remember that this farm provides their favorite meal, their necessary fare as they prepare for new life coming, sure as spring. How is it that a whole flock of male and females came swooping in from the nearby trees within an hour? They—just—know.
If only mothers were so predictable.
If only every Mother’s Day was a sweet day for storing up and pouring out sugared memories. But real life isn’t always so sweet. Neither are real mothers and their days.
Sometimes they’re both bitter.
And sometimes it takes years for bitter to become sweet.
I spoke with Mom on Mother’s Day morning, 2002, twelve years ago. Mom thanked me for the flowers I sent—a bouquet of a dozen red carnations studded with sprigs of baby’s breath.
“They’re GORGEOUS! But you said you weren’t going to send me flowers because of the bench! You fooled me!”
“Well Mom, you know what you always say about sending flowers!”
“I know, I know! Flowers should be sent to the living, not to the dead!”
We both laughed.
I had bought Mom a bench for Mother’s Day—a wood-slatted garden bench with original pale yellow paint, made in the year of her birth, so said the antique store owner. It was a house-warming present because she was two weeks shy of moving to Wisconsin to live by our family after having lived in Ohio her whole life. We wanted her close to us since my stepfather had died six weeks prior, leaving her alone. I wanted to sit with Mom by her new garden , on that old bench, the both of us enjoying her flowers and birds.
Before Mom and I ended our phone conversation that Mother’s Day morning, we both said “I love you!” And then . . .
Mom never saw her bench. She never moved into her new home.
Because Mom died.
In the evening of Mother’s Day, 2002, Mom became ill. She started vomiting. Her left arm went numb and her shoulder ached something horrible. Slight pressure in her chest caused her to call her doctor. He advised her to call 911 and report to the ER, immediately.
But the ER doctor didn’t perform a blood test or an EKG. Mom was diagnosed with the flu and sent home. She went to bed, her little red dachshund beside her on the floor, the only living creature left in her house beside herself. And shortly after Mother’s Day ended officially, she died. Right there in her bed, her heart gave out and she was gone. Gone home to be with God.
All the years came crashing in on me like an ocean wave too strong for me to withstand when I received the call from my sister the next day. I had waited years—too many years—for a good relationship with my mom. How could we end like this? I had sought God’s wisdom and guidance and sustenance and patience with all my heart, mind, and soul to love that tightly-budded rose of a woman with thorns all around, believing that love and truth over time would bring full blossoming of a BB gun brute of a woman.
But what is time? What does time matter in the grand scheme of love?
For five years before she died, at 65, she and I had a sweet relationship. It may seem that so many years of bitter isn’t worth the five years of sweet we shared. Not so. For in God’s kingdom, time collapses.
Time doesn’t matter.
Only love matters.
Because love eclipses all pain.
Love collapses all unforgiveness.
My mom and I—we were at peace when she entered her eternal rest. I remember this, this time of year, sure as spring.
And sure as spring, the orioles sing—right here still. Just like Mom, they will bring new life into this world. And their nests will empty out soon with babies readying their wings to take flight and go start some new life of their own—to find and spread some sweet somewhere else.
Love you, Mom!
Now, where’s that DAMN BB gun? I see a DAMN squirrel! Zach! Nick! Come quick!