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A couple of months ago, one of my sisters brought up the subject of Mother's Day.

Posted May 09 2009 11:24pm
    Her assumption was that it would be difficult for me this year. I thought about it and told her that I didn't think I'd have any trouble with it. "August is going to be the problem," I remember saying, "her birthday and all, you know." The "and all" is that it was never just that August 2nd was my mother's birthday. It was that the entire month of August was my mother's birthday month. In one way or another, if we weren't swamped with medical management (which happened in 2004 and may have happened with lesser impact in any of the other fifteen Augusts that my mother and I spent together), Mom's birthday was celebrated every single day of every single August, even if that only meant mention of it (and, it usually meant a little bit more: August, in our household, was THE MONTH for special dinners, special breakfasts, "Look what I found at the store for you" days). Mom wasn't just The Original Party Girl. I believe she invented The Celebration Sally. I remember parties like her infamous "Purple People Eater" party, for which she created the equally infamous "dime cake". That's right, she baked dimes into that cake and many others in the years to come.
    Our entire family picked up on Mom's knack for celebration. I think, for instance, it was actually my father who came up with the idea of Birthday Months. It didn't stop there. When one of my sisters had chicken pox in her teens we had a party, including a cake. She'd been complaining about how she felt "ugly", so we completed the celebration with a gift of a stuffed animal I found in a discount bin that was so dismembered it was impossible to tell what it might have been at its creation. I sewed round buttons for googly-eyes on the top of what was left and presented it to her as proof that there were, in the world, uglier beings than her. When one of us had a bad period we had a good party. When anyone did something the least bit cool, Party Time! Typhoon approaching? Typhoon Party. One of my mother's standard responses to just about any situation was, "Well, we'll have to celebrate."
    Mother's Day, in Mom's and my Latter Days household, was celebrated, of course. It didn't, however, have as much of an impact on me as her Birthday Month or The Holiday Season. We planned a special dinner which featured dessert. We always had fresh flowers, sometimes from me, sometimes from one or another of my sisters. There were gifts of an intimate sort and maybe a special or favorite movie. Most significantly, we'd spend the day (or a couple of days...that's one of the advantages of living in timelessness, you can stretch a day to your desire) talking about mothers in general and in particular, motherhood, mothers and children, Mom's pregnancies, family births and family memories. It was at the end of one of these days that I wrote my Mother's Day Tribute to My Mom. I know, these sound like memories that could knock me for a loop on an after death Mother's Day, but they're not.
    I assumed I wouldn't be celebrating Mother's Day this year since the person with whom I most enjoy celebrating it, my mother, won't be here. In fact, I've been in Ignore It mode since, well, I guess since her death. Then, yesterday [Oh, shit, look at the time! Make that Thursday.], the first biannual Post Office Food Drive Notification since Mom's death came in the mail. My mother always LOVED these drives, which take place on Mother's Day Weekend and some weekend during the holiday season. Because she reveled in them, so did I. Up until four years ago we'd spend the day before the drive (the drive is always on Saturday...the notifications always come in Thursday's mail) at a grocery store, usually Costco, shopping for our community. Mom insisted that we buy "the good stuff": Canned asparagus, for instance, instead of canned corn; seasoned stewed tomatoes instead of plain; Albacore tuna instead of "chunk light"; canned roast beef instead of Spam (which was a stretch for Mom because she was one of the few who love Spam, but she knew that most people don't); healthy cereals, including Grape Nuts, her very favorite cereal, which are usually more expensive, rather than the ones with "all that sugar"; hors d'oeuvre things like olives, green chilies, unusual pickles and fancy crackers; baking things like canned pie filling, condensed milk, baking soda and powder, flour; large cans of hearty stew rather than chintzy cans of anemic, concentrated soup; boxes of Mac 'n Cheese; tins of exotic teas, a can of French Market chicory coffee, bags of unusual types of chips. Part of the fun was imagining the look on strangers' faces when they discovered a box of Earl Grey Tea or a can of Jumbo Black Pitted Olives or a bag of 15 bean soup mix in their box. Suddenly, the imagined recipients were friends ripe for surprise and delight. We'd even discuss how one or another member of a family might react to a particular item. "The husband will like this," she'd say. "You know how men are."
    "Can't you just imagine what the kids will say when they see this," I'd say.
    I've always known my mother to be generous but I think her idiosyncratically extreme version of Food Bank generosity may have been connected to an unemployed winter I spent in Pinetop when one of my neighbors (I never discovered who) turned my name into a local Catholic charity for a food box over the holidays. I remember calling my parents and exulting over the contents, describing each item and what I would do with it, squealing over items that I never would have imagined would appear in a food box for people receiving temporary assistance. I always assumed food boxes contained the bare, necessary staples, like powdered milk and government issue "cheese product". My mother was as surprised and excited as I was.
    Over the last four years, though, as caring for her became increasingly intense, the short notifications made it impossible for us to participate for a variety of reasons. Occasionally she'd remember the food drives and ask if we'd participated. After the first awkward flirt with the truth, I'd lie and tell her we had. I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth more than once because I knew, from experience, she'd ask why, I'd explain the impossible logistics of arranging a store spree with 24 hours notice, her dementia would cause her to deny that there was any impediment to her, or me, or both of us going...ai, yi, yi, I didn't want to face having to finally shut down the conflict by saying, "Okay, okay, there's nothing standing in our way except me saying we're not doing it this year." And her anger and hurt. Besides that, it wasn't a complete lie. Over the last four years I've been donating money in her name directly to the local food bank during the holiday season. Although I'm sure she would have appreciated this, she still would have asked about our grocery trips for food bank donation.
    When I got the notice Thursday, though, I was ecstatic. Mom is no longer health impeded. "We'd" be able to do this, again. I spent well over an hour at Costco on Friday with Mom's food donation proclivities riding on my shoulders, whispering in my ears, the two of us filling a cart full of "the good stuff". What a great visit we had! Mom and I walked every food aisle and discussed the pros and cons of every item we considered: Checking to see if this was in glass or plastic (no glass containers allowed, anymore); looking for boxes, rather than sacks, of things like meal, rice, dried beans (no sacks allowed, anymore); debating the quality of this brand of canned salmon over that; wondering if we should get the bag of dried mangoes or dried pineapple...why not get both! We even visited every food sampling kiosk, something I slipped out of the habit of doing once Mom no longer went with me to Costco because it took too much time and I preferred to get in and out as quickly as possible.
    When I returned home I decided I had way too much to leave by the mailbox, so I called our local post office and made arrangements to drop the stuff off in the afternoon. The office manager was thrilled with our donation. Her exclamations brought in a few back office employees. I was encouraged to tell the story behind the donation, which I did...with a few shared tears, much shared laughter and a few more shared stories about Mother's Day celebrations in my three new acquaintances' households. I finished by saying, "So, now, I guess, my mom knows I lied to her the last four years about our participation in the food drive."
    "I think," said one of the employees, "you just negotiated her forgiveness today...until the next food drive, that is."
    So, that was our Mother's Day celebration this year. I'm pleased the opportunity presented itself. Chance and tradition conspired to bring Mom back for a walloping, grand Mother's Day. You can bet we'll be doing this again.
    This one's for you, Mom. And the next, and the next, and the next...

P.S. added 5/9/09 at 1410 MST:   There is an an addendum to this post over at Insane Grief which discusses my reactions to this episode after the fact.
    Later.
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