By Jefferson Weaver
I went looking for my mother the other night.
Logically, I knew I wouldn’t find her; I won’t see her again until we meet in Heaven, but I looked for my father after his death, so to I had to look for my mother.
I hadn’t intended to go on such a quest; it just happened. I was looking for an antique book in an antique dresser when I came across a red pocketbook. Mother loved the color red; indeed, she wore it whenever she could, and she wore it well. She was buried in a red suit. I wasn’t sure how many times that pocketbook sat beside Mother in a choir loft or at a fancy dinner somewhere, but it even still smelled like her perfume, a fragrance she hadn’t worn in years.
I haven’t gone by the cemetery lately, even though I should look there, too. Southerners do that, as I’m sure most of you know. Mother isn’t there either, although what remained of her sick body and dementia-ridden mind is buried a few inches from the Old Man. They always did something together on Valentine’s Day, and it’s appropriate that they were reunited in Heaven on that day.
The last time Miss Rhonda and I drove past Mother’s house, I didn’t tell my beloved I was looking for Mother. It was a house just big enough, without being overwhelming. It was a house my mother fell for the day she saw it.
The house is still there, the home is long gone. Without someone to defend the shade trees and nurture the flowers, what was my Mother’s house is gone now. Two rocking chairs and a porch swing are on what Mother sometimes called her “other” living room, but the chairs and the swing look too perfect. One would be afraid to sit there and visit or laugh or solve a serious family problem as the cicadas chirr in the twilight and the owls begin waking up for their evening’s work.
Mother loved owls of all kinds, and I went looking for her in some of the many boxes of her owls. We have a few out on shelves and mantelpieces, and have given a few away through the years since her death, but there are still literally thousands of owls to be sorted, sold, or shared. She loved her owls. But even as I handled one of her favorites, one Papa went to great lengths to find, I knew she wasn’t there, either.
I looked in the jumbled collection of family pictures, too. Based on past experiences, I passed on by the half-century old photos of a bobby-soxer turned bathing beauty– pictures that that spurred my niece to say “Grandma Lois, you were hot!”. I’m sure there are men my age who are comfortable with the fact that their mothers once fit Anna’s description of her grandmother. I just happen not to be one of them, no matter how much I agree with my niece.
I went by those photos, on to the time when Mother was rarely seen without a chubby little fellow perched on her hip or restrained by a home-made leash. She was still pretty enough then that the Old Man had to have a word of prayer or three with some would-be Lotharios.
One thing that made Mother so pretty was the fact she made so many of her clothes. I went looking for her amidst the rumble and tumble of fragile, outdated patterns, sewing magazines, and boxes of what are so quaintly called notions. Mother’s skill with a needle and thread was such that traded dresses for eggs, chickens, vegetables, babysitting, housekeeping – and her customers always felt like they had the better deal. Except for Mazie, my babysitter, but Mazie is a column for another day.
I went looking for my mother in other places, too, places a mother of five would seem out of place even just 20 years ago. We drove past the Arts Center to which she dedicated so much of her life.
I remembered the laughter there on the day we buried Mother, when tables were spread about the ballroom and living room and her family wandered the velvet-covered staircase and cried a little in her office. We even instinctively cleaned up after ourselves, much to the dismay of the ladies who hosted the luncheon. Our mother would have been proud.
In a way, the Arts Center was even sadder than her now-homogenized house, although I understand the center has a new director with big plans.
Down the street is the old movie theatre, which became a playhouse, then again fell on hard times. Mother was one of those who fought and scratched and kicked and clawed to save it.
Today the theatre’s doing pretty well; on many an evening, all the bulbs in the marquee are burning, and people wait to buy tickets to a play. That’s what Mother always wanted. The theatre staff named a scholarship after my mother, which might have embarrassed her, but would have pleased her, too. A scholarship was a more practical use of the theater’s money than some old brass plaque.
I went looking for my mother the other night, as I looked for my father years ago, but I knew I wouldn’t find her.
She was already there with me, as she is every day, when I straighten my tie, take my hat off as I enter a building, or hold a door for a lady. My mother is there every time I sing, or hear a country ballad, an opera, a special hymn or almost anything from a musical.
My mother is there every time I spot a jonquil pushing its way defiantly through the February soil, and silently cheer it on, since spring is on the way and soon the jonquils will have a riot of colorful company.
My mother is there every time my beloved Miss Rhonda makes pancakes, cornbread, biscuits, spaghetti or a made-from-scratch cake in one of Mother’s big bowls.
My mother is there every time I hear an owl ask “who-who-who cooks for you”, and she’s there every time my roosters crow or the geese honk or the hens cackle in outrage.
I went looking for my mother the other night. I know where she was, but I had to try. When she left us on Feb. 14, 2004, she left a lot of herself behind, too.
But no matter how much she left with us, it doesn’t stop me from missing her every single day.