Sunday, May 13, 2012

To My Birth Mother: The Laughter Remains

Mom from Burning the Furniture
While I'm thinking about it, I want to thank my birth mother, as well. She died more than 20 years ago, but not before she left all eight of her kids with something of greater value than each of us owning our own country.

She taught us to laugh.

There were times when Mom had less reason to laugh than anybody I've known, but she laughed anyway. She cracked wise, she joked through poverty, death, clinical depression, bill collectors at the door, shut down utilities, substandard housing, not enough to feed her kids, the looks from people who don't understand that poverty is not punishment for being bad.

She poked fun at me when I made mistakes and at herself when she needed no reason for it. She sang and whistled all day to big band music and I still do that. People think I'm crazy. Mom didn't. She just smiled and mussed my red curly hair. She threw water on me when I wouldn't get up in the morning and put calamine lotion on my penis once when I got poison ivy on it. We both laughed. I was 10 and trusted her.

She told me Dad was sick when I knew he was drunk and  and said I was "my smartest child" when I wasn't feeling especially brilliant. She said I could do anything I wanted, but she hoped I'd write. She gave me a pen and paper and said, "Write letters." I have been writing since I was 6 because Mom said I could and should. The title of my memoir, Burning the Furniture, is from her (the photo here is from the chapter "Laughing with Mom").

She lived a hard life and she died a hard death, one where life support had to be turned off by her kids. She had smoked for years and was allergic to it. She couldn't breathe at the end. It was difficult to watch her try to laugh with an oxygen tube in her nose, her lungs rebelling and wheezing. But she tried. Her eyes teared with joy when, despite it all, she'd made us laugh at one of her final jokes.

I still love that about my mom.

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