It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I never got to meet you, to see your face save in a college yearbook, to have only a few relatives acknowledge my existence despite the DNA test that clearly links us, one to the other. What makes it more difficult is trying to figure out my heritage, my geographic roots before our family arrived in West Virginia, back in the old country which for most was Lithuania, but for some Poland and still others Russia, as though their village was loaded onto a horsecart and dragged around Eastern Europe always heading to the next pogrom. Couldn’t our place have settled on a country, rather than riding the tides of the insanity the leaders then?
I always imagined it would somehow be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way, but in an idyllic, picturesque manner, even if that denied basic reality. Reality, when it comes to origins discovered is overrated, for the normal percolation time is denied, and the impact is sudden with no restraints to temper the blow. Way back when, you learned by stories told by the elders, who know, or led you to believe they did without question, who painted word pictures, drew out fading photographs that barely seemed real. You believed them because they knew, knowledge directly proportional to their age. For me it was the inside of my cheek, a wait, and an email, and then news, place names barren of detail, Lithuania. Later, village names, and only then visions of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search for freedom and West Virginia. Details were added, but the picture was monochrome, a barren, wordless palette and no brush to be found.
It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.
Hell is a place where what you least desire becomes eternally yours, or so we were told as children, well not us, not the Jewish kids, for us Hell was our mothers’ finding that copy of Playboy we stole from our father’s stash our mother didn’t know about, and which he would deny, throwing us under the bus or any large vehicle she found
If we buy into Hell, and given that ours is an aging population, many of whom have landed in Florida and Arizona to avoid the winters that are hell on the ubiquitous arthritis, and all those who have joyously consumed the evangelical Kool-Aid, when the final bell rings, they may be surprised to discover there is far, far more of a chance of a snowball in Hell.
He expects that she will stop by and visit. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation though he knows she behaves as she chooses and that is not always in accordance with any standards of reason. Nevertheless, he waits for her visit which doesn’t happen. He will later get the courage to ask her why, she will say I had friends I had to see, and when he says “you were three miles away,” she will say, “but I had limited time to be there.” Months later she will ask him to come visit. He will say it’s a two hour, expensive flight and he can’t take the time away from work. She will remind him in her harshest voice that she won’t be around forever, that a visit even a short one, is the least a son can do for a mother, and when he reminds her that she couldn’t visit when she was there three miles away, she’ll say, “that was different I had friends I simply had to see”
We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:
It seems odd how often our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers make a slower retreat, slipping away while always still present, a death by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted on our psyche, small wounds that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars are only seen and felt from the inside. My parents never did things as expected, so my mother complained bitterly of the small difficulties of life, until the morning she suddenly departed, at the stroke of 6:15 while my father lingers, still happy in ever shortening increments, both of us knowing he is fading away and I may never know he has departed after he is gone.
When did we stop being of the soil and begin to fear it, to tell our children not to touch the ground, it is dirty where once it was only dirt, and we put in our mouths, from time to time if only to drive our mothers crazy. She says if you are going to plant wear gloves, and when she walks away I pull them off my hands and plunge fingers into the turned and dampened soil. This, I am convinced, is how it is supposed to be, how nature intended, before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch before we became the robots our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated. Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt from beneath fingernails, I watch as it flows reluctantly down the drain I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.
Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon or Porto looking into the faces of older men and wondering if this one was my father. the father I had never seen, never known. Was the one my Jewish mother described in detail to the social worker who took me from her shortly after she gave me life. It is many years later, now, my mother has a face, discovered in the twisting path of a double helix, good West Virginia Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind. I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear it is a lovely city, but the faces will all be alien to me, and there I will dream of my day touring the Highlands of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might be kin and which Tartan I can now rightfully claim is my own.
I have never visited the grave of my mother, either of them, which seems most odd primarily to me. The mother I never knew until it was too late to know her is buried in Charleston, West Virginia a place i intend to visit, grave site included in the coming months, to see where my mitochondrial DNA was planted and grew into the odd shape that greets me in the morning mirror. The mother i knew so well, who could always find ways to frustrate me when I was certain she exhausted every possibility is buried next to my sister, placed there by my brother who couldn’t quite get the funeral together, at least not the one she would have appreciated, with the near famous all pump, never the right circumstances so into the ground she went. I will visit there too, someday perhaps, but helical gravity will always pull me to the Mountain State.