My Mother Earth
Oct. 6, 2003
MY MOTHER EARTH
Pat ruled the house like a mother hen, clucking at us to keep us all in line. She knew what was best and we just followed orders.
Like the Mother Earth figure that we keep on the windowsill near her plants, with her long dark grey hair, loving smiles and her arms spread to hold us in her hug as if it would keep us safe when she wasn’t there to watch over us, she was the most stable part of our lives.
Lots of people wondered how I could possibly live with my mother-in-law in the same house and actually get along with her. But it was easy to understand if you had met her. She was a quick judge of character and in all the years that I knew her, she was never once wrong. With just one glance she could tell more about someone than you could, even if you knew that person for several years. And though she was quick to take measure of someone, she was never unkind to anyone. The only times that people would be cross with her were the times they were on the receiving end of her sharp tongue; she simply didn’t feel she had the time or patience to mince words in her later years.
And the woman could talk. And talk. And talk. For hours on end she’d sit and share stories of her childhood, of her sons’ childhoods, of the birds she saw out the window and even the latest gadget they were peddling on the Home Shopping Network. It wasn’t uncommon for a telemarketer to call in an attempt to sell her something, only to end up in a two hour conversation. By the time she hung up with someone, she would know their entire life story, the names of their children, what sort of house they lived in, the health of their parents and how much they paid for canned peas the last time they went shopping. And that was to people she’d never even spoken to before.
She loved reaching out to others, probably because she was housebound for several years. She had a condition called Fibromyalgia which made it hard for her to walk. Since my father-in-law, Richard, worked full time and my husband worked at home, it made it easy for him to take care of her while Richard and I were at work. She would spend her time playing on the computer, talking on the phone, watching her soap operas, writing in her notebooks, making Pysanki eggs, gazing out the window at the birds or just puttering about in the yard, even though she was allergic to everything that grew and to sunlight. Pat had this big floppy hat that she would wear outside and it always made me smile to see her in it, knowing that she was going out to play in her flower beds and vegetable patches.
Sometimes she’d bring in fresh flowers and smell the house up with their fragrances, or bring in fresh tomatoes from the garden to add to the salad at dinner time. That was another thing she loved – cooking, even though it hurt her to stand. I’ll always remember the many times I’d come over to visit an overextended college student, surviving on little food and even less sleep and she’d feed me and tuck me in for a nap. Her need to take care of people extended not only to her sons but to their friends and girlfriends, too. She collected stray friends of her sons like a humanitarian would collect stray kittens. She’d keep them when they had nowhere else to go, nourish them and when they were ready she’d send them back out into the world. They were always welcome to return, and they usually did, most of them calling her ‘mom’ and meaning it.
She’s dead now.
Just thinking about her reminds me of how much I’m missing in my life now that she’s gone. But now when I think about her, I can think of the good times we spent together. I think of walking through downtown Plymouth and browsing the little shops there where we’d uncover treasure after treasure. I think of her teaching me to make Pysanki eggs. I think of her soft hand brushing back my hair from my face and checking my temperature when I was sick.
Most of all, I think of her funeral. It was a defining moment in our friendship, after all. Just like her, her funeral was unique and full of life. Instead of sitting around crying, we listened to New Orleans jazz music and laughed with friends and family, talking about the good times we had with her. It’s the funeral she asked for and I like to think that she would have enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed having her in our lives.