“It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us, but we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding.” Rev. Maclean – “River Runs Through It”
One of my earliest memories of my mother was of her hands. My mother had a fair complexion, but her hands were quite tan. She kept her nails clipped short and unpolished. She considered hand lotion an unnecessary luxury and consequently, her hands were somewhat rough. The most prominent feature, however, were the large blue veins that bulged prominently from the tops of her hands. These veins snaked from her wrists to the three middle fingers of each hand. Subsequently, I have learned that some women spend good money to try to rid themselves of these protruding veins, but I did not know this as a child. I thought her hands were beautiful. They were in stark contrast to my own pale, smooth hands. With the advent of adolescence, I began to lose appreciation not only for my mother’s hands, but also for her as a person. I vowed that I would be completely different from her and set about doing everything within my power to achieve this goal. It took her death for me to finally realize that she is indelibly a part of me.
My mother was a loving, if somewhat distant parent. She had a keen mind, but only finished one year of college. She often worked two jobs as I was growing up. What free time she had was spent pursuing left-wing political causes. Abolishing the death penalty. Marching with the farm workers. Championing the Irish hunger strikers. From the time we were in strollers until our pre-teens, my sister and I were brought along to protests and sit-ins. When I got older, I stopped going — how could one look “cool” marching around in a circle, haranguing perfect strangers to not cross a picket line?
I questioned all her choices. Why did she stay in a marriage that had ended long ago? Why did she insist on smoking despite the fact that it killed her father? Just once couldn’t she purchase our clothing from somewhere other than the Purple Heart Thrift Store? We fought well into my early adulthood. I did my best to distance myself from everything she stood for. I voted Republican and made sure she knew it. I forbid her to smoke in my car. As soon as I began earning a paycheck, I applied for a Macy’s credit card (which I quickly maxed out).
After my daughter was born, we reached some form of détente. My mother adored being a grandmother and was ideally suited to it. Her second home became the Emporium baby department. No second hand clothes for her granddaughter. Still our relationship was complicated. As much as I tried to take to heart the words of Rev. Maclean, I found myself more often than not frustrated and worried about my mother. She eluded me and I her. I wanted to fix things that she didn’t want fixed.
In her last years, she became a confirmed homebody and spent her days tending her garden. She planted, weeded and nurtured the soil, with her trusty pack of cigarettes nearby. Her lifelong cigarette habit finally caught up with her and she passed away in 2004. I moved into her home the following year. These days, as I tend her garden, I think of her often. I am now able to acknowledge our many similarities. We both have coarse, wavy, impossible hair. We both have very definite ideas about what constitutes proper subway riding etiquette. I have even come around to her political ideology — with some tweaks. As I mix my hands in the same soil as she did, I look at my hands and see blue veins protruding. I see my mother’s hands. I am my mother’s daughter.
We wish you all a very restful and pleasant Mother’s Day. Please share your thoughts and memories of your mother or grandmother in this thread as well as your plans for this weekend.
Anya has written for Imperfect Women since 2009. She dutifully follows current events and pop culture and loves having a platform to share her imperfect opinions.