Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memoir: Mommy

That day in the nursing home, when I visited my mother for the last time, enfolded the most precious moment I ever had with her. For an instant, our eyes met and pure Love dissolved all the barriers and gulfs we had ever felt between us. I knew her and she knew me as the Beloved. There were no words. They had passed from her ability quite a while before. The space of Love took over and we both knew it.
My memories of my mother are so sporadic and yet so rich. I idolized her. She was so beautiful and glamorous, sitting at her dressing table, putting on her makeup and perfume to go out to some fabulous party in New York. Or, perhaps, she was going to the theater. She was a producer and had been an actress. I would be in awe of her presence and her grace. She had a gold overlaid terracotta lamp with two figures in terracotta emerging from the base. I loved that lamp and it represented the mysteriousness of my mother’s toilette. I have just been given that lamp.
Then there were the window-shopping strolls down Fifth Avenue from our apartment to Rockefeller Center. All the magic of Christmas came alive in the store windows. FAO Schwartz was the favorite with the moving train tracks and giant stuffed bears. The enormous Christmas tree towering over the sunken ice skating rink with all the lights was enough to make my little girl’s heart dance. If I were cold, she would wrap me into her mink coat and snuggle me up. The smell of the fur mixed with her scent was the comfort and closeness that I craved from her.
Most of the time, my longing for my mother became an overwhelming theme in my life. My parents were traveling or working and my sister and I were raised by governesses. We had our moments of being trotted out to say goodnight to them and their guests. We would curtsey and smile and then be whisked away. Always the perfect children, seen and not heard.
Well, not exactly. I wanted my parents’ attention. I managed to attract it in some not so positive ways. It seemed that I was always getting in trouble. My gentle souled father would have to deal with me before bedtime with the hairbrush for my bottom and an apology in his eyes.
“Remember, this hurts me worse than it does you.”
My sister and I were very different. She was the shy and beautiful one with the long auburn sausage curls, Miss Goody Two Shoes. I was feisty and gregarious with a mop of unmanageable blonde curls. When no one was looking, she would do some really mean thing and then be a picture of innocence when I would react.
I actually have a photo of us sitting on a wall at my grandparent’s house. I remember the incident so clearly. Opa was about to snap the shot and she pinched me. I turned and scowled at her. The shutter clicked and for all time, there she is smiling at the camera, and then there is me, frowning at her.
My mother really wanted her girls to be in the best schools in New York and be groomed into debutants. We started early with our ballroom dancing school training. We would sit on the gilt chairs lining the ballroom with our white gloved hands folded in our laps and our patent shoed feet crossed at the ankles. Desperately hoping that the young boy that would come to ask me to dance didn’t have two left feet, I would appear demure and proper while, all the time, wishing I could dance the way I wanted to. I was, after all, a dancer.
My mother would take us out to the fanciest restaurants and then proceed to get angry with the waiters and yell at them in the middle of the dining room. We wanted to disappear into the floor, we would be so embarrassed. It was about then that I began to notice how much she drank. There were the cocktails, the wines, and the aperitifs every day. She also smoked a great deal. The doctor told her that she was killing herself but she insisted that she didn’t want to live passed sixty-five anyway.
As I grew older and became more independent, our relationship had a great deal more conflict. When I went away to camp and boarding school, I would tell everyone that I was homesick…sick of home. Yet, I longed for a word from my parents. Mail call was so painful, as I never received letters. Life became very lonely. (But, that’s another story for another time).
So, there I was, seeing my mother for the last time. I had my own children by then and had put her intense criticism behind me. I was just with her as she was. She had started to have strokes at age sixty -four and now, as she had determined, it was time to go.
What a miracle that Love cuts through all the histories and failings into the space of Oneness.
“I love you, Mommy.”
Prema Rose

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