by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
July 15, 2002
A MOTHER LODE OF MEMORY
SAN DIEGO -- Amazing what a few glasses of wine, Chicken Marsala and a good friend can do for the soul. I met Jackie's daughter at the Italian restaurant on the corner that used to be somebody's house, feeling too tired to see anyone. And had it been anyone but her I would have canceled. This lady was worth pushing through for.
As the sun dropped behind the dry hills of Ramona, the candles on the red checkered tables started to glow. I sipped my Chardonnay and looked at this thoroughly lovely woman. I took in the nuances of her face, the shadows and lines. Her skin had an olive tone her mother's did not. Jacqueline Bisset's double, I thought.
We caught up on the months that had come between us. She a teacher in Bozeman, Montana, and I'm a nurse in San Diego. The biggest and best news of the evening was that her mother had found a boyfriend in the retirement home. She'd stopped packing nightly and talked less and less of leaving as she slowly allowed her heart to be tethered in Montana.
A dutiful aughter had come down to clean out her mother's home and preparare it for sale. She'd avoided the unpleasant task as long as she could.
Facing rooms full of her mother's clutter and her own memories had been hard. It was like swimming upstream in a polluted river. She had to come up for air often. Somewhere in the disaster inside the house were her father's and grandmother's ashes. Finding them was all she really cared about.
We were surprised to find ourselves doing the same thing at the same time: sharing daughterly responsibilities. I was sorting through my own mother's things that had come to live with me in exile from a storage bin up in Ventura County that was too expensive to maintain. I had no ashes to exhume, but plenty of memories.
There was the metal art of parrots made from tin cans that her own boyfriend of the perennial white shoes had given her. I remember how much he liked Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Chet Atkins and Shake 'n Bake chicken. I would have thrown them in the trash but for some stubborn sentimentality.
There were the mountains of electric blankets in mustard yellow and brown and putrid pink. Attendant white electric cords serpentined everywhere. Old hampers were full of pieces of fabric that smelled funny. Mildewed Christmas decorations straight out of Tuna Christmas. Roadrunner placemats, broken address machines. Vacuum bags for vacuums long since vanished into the Great Vacuum that take us all away; weird candy dishes, and an orange lamp base with the most repulsive shade; there was lot of junk.
But the books, the books and the cuckoo clock saved the day. Grandpa's cuckoo clock came from the Black Forest. My brother and I had exchanged words over its fate and by some delicious default, it ended up in the garage. I was sure he didn't know of its migration to my house and I wasn't about to tell him. Of course, on some future visit he'll see it on the wall and we'll come to blows - just like old times. Maybe we'll even exchange small metal projectiles aimed at one another's heads. Family: it just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.
On my second glass of wine, I shared my mixed feelings at going through my mother's things. My friend had to wash down her own resistance. Soon we found ourselves laughing and feeling rather naked at the thought of people going through our things in the not so distant future. No doubt they too will marvel at the odd things we deemed so valuable.
Pictures of people I have loved who they won't know. Blankets and linens stained with life's sweat and fear and love. The drugstore items I tried to maintain in order (mostly in vain) inside drawers, hallways and closets. Lamps that traveled along with the family through my many moves, like household pets, ugly, faithful and taken for granted. Chipped china. Foggy crystal.
Plastic fruit: now I am back to Mom's stuff, as I have not succumbed even in middle age to the buying any for me. We tried to eat those grapes on more than one occasion. I remember they were chewy. I remember excoriating her over her poor taste in domestic art.
Georgia O'Keefe and Mom would've gotten along I think. They both liked plastic life forms. It was me, persnickety purist that I am, who was slow on the uptake.
It's been two days now since my friend had to dive in; I haven't heard from her, and so tomorrow I will go over and see what room she is labors in. I'll ask what surprises have surfaced, what treasures were found, what seductive horrors she has discovered mutating in fertile decay.
Tomorrow night we will go out again and drink the juice of pressed and fermented grapes and fortify ourselves for the next trip down into the great swamp, the sublime and primordial bayous of mother memory. And that will be the last one, won't it?
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in the San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.