I realized on Thanksgiving Eve that my mother had died 30 years ago, that night.
Which means that tomorrow, 30 years ago, I returned to Kent State and tried to answer everyone’s casual question, “How was your Thanksgiving break?” as gently as I could. I spent a lot of that week comforting my friends, who didn’t know what to say because they were just kids, after all. Whereas I was a four-day veteran of having lost my mother.
“It’s all right,” I had to tell them.
But I don’t have to comfort you—we’re grown now, and we’ve all had a few Hindenburgs explode in our life, had at least one of our Titanics sink.
So you know how weird grief is, and I can just tell you what happened this weekend—whatever happened this weekend.
I drank a fair amount. Too much, truth be told. At least, my mother seemed to think so—and she knew of what she spoke—and she found ways to tell me.
All weekend, I kept hearing my mother everywhere.
My pal Joel Hood, a speechwriter, uses Facebook to share funny dialogues from his family life, with his wife Sherry and their young daughter Amelia. This one sounded to me like it was torn from one of my mother’s novels, where the kids are all the only ones smart enough to be sardonic.
Sherry: “I’m so thankful for our family.”
Me: “I’m thankful for our good health.”
Amelia: “I’m thankful for the TV.”
I was channeling my mother, too, when another Facebook friend wrote, in a certain context:
“People are amazing. (Not all, maybe, but most.)”
And through my hands, Carol Murray commented over the hum of her IBM Selectric, “I’d say about half.”
This, I just dreamed up on my own in half-sleep on Thanksgiving morning:
The other day I was in the shoe store and I heard a man’s voice saying in a stage whisper, “You don’t pay me enough to do this job sober!”
I laughed. And then I thought about my own job, and I thought, “Yeah!”
The neighbors’ three-month-old puppy died on Saturday, I think from eating sticks, and they tearfully buried it in the lawn. My mother would have liked that sentence, and put it into a novel. Maybe as the opening sentence, or the closing one.
Later that afternoon I stole what my late friend Eddie Reardon told Studs Terkel was the reason to go on living, no matter what: “That last piece of cherry pie.”
(The night I told Eddie the story about the night my mother died—it was near closing time at Laschett’s—Eddie reached across the table and took my right ear in his right hand and said, “You’re a good boy.”) Eddie was one of a number of surrogates who I have run into over the years who I immediately and absolutely understood were there to remind me my mother still lives.
My mom was 52 when she died. “What a shame!” all the grown-ups said. “She was so young!”
I was 21. I remember thinking quietly, “Yeah, but what else was she really going to accomplish after 52?”
This was me, yesterday, at 51 …
Does that sheer grace and athleticism remind you of someone?
Mom, it’s not that you’ve been gone too long for me to miss you.
It’s that you’re still right here whenever I need you.
This Thanksgiving being only the latest example.
It was so great to have you here.