On this, my first Mother's Day without a mother, I am discovering that Mom continues to teach me life's lessons as I prepare to sell her house. It is only a house now, no longer a home, and while it looks like the same darling dollhouse on the outside, inside it is missing its heart and soul.
I was 7 when my parents bought the little house on Walnut Street. After living in a two-bedroom apartment, a home with three bedrooms and full basement seemed spacious to our family of five. Even after our family became six, the house seemed big enough, although I now look back in amazement that my parents reared four daughters in a home with only one bathroom. Even more amazing is that I don't remember much squabbling about bathroom time.
But I'll never forget Dad singing opera in Italian at the top of his lungs while shaving. If he had confined himself to Figaro and Pagliacci and not also entertained us with his war songs, I wouldn't have scandalized my fourth-grade teacher by sharing one of the latter at school. I carefully edited from the song the word I recognized as a vulgarity; unfortunately, I left in a word that referred to the naughty body parts of a hairy baboon.
I'm convinced there was no better place to grow up than our home on the Kaw. Imagine having a three-tier back yard so deep that it ended at the river ... actually, IN the river because the pre-levee deed stated the southern boundary extended to the middle of the Kaw. Forbidden to go to the river, I went there anyway and paid the price for my disobedience.
As a child, Mom was baptized in Oklahoma's Cimarron River and developed a fear of streams when the Baptist preacher immersing her stepped in a hole and nearly drowned her. According to Mom, Grandma Maude was mortified that her young daughter struggled to the surface and, coughing and retching, sloshed to the bank. That experience didn't sour Mom on religion, but forever after she kept her distance from rivers and expected her children to do the same.
She'd be glad I haven't had time lately to visit the river. My free hours have been spent tidying her lawn instead of working inside because while I'm outdoors I can pretend she's busy at her computer e-mailing family and friends. I've spent a lot of time in that yard -- playing as a child and mowing the grass as a teenager. And just in case my boyfriend -- now my husband Ray -- happened to drive by on the way to visit his grandmother, rest assured that I was a well-coifed and spiffily-dressed yard worker.
What a contrast that is to my current appearance as I rake and bag leaves from the towering sycamore that once held our swing. The best I presently look is when I have my head and upper torso in a paper leaf bag trying to bat it fully open.
I recently discovered that pulling a dead robin from under the yews caused me to scream loud enough to bring Mom's neighbors outdoors. My screams again brought them outside when I mistook a serpentine-shaped root for a snake. But when I felt something crawling up the back of my arm and discovered it was a humongous spider, not one neighbor responded to my screaming -- proving that I, like Peter, can cry wolf one too many times.
I've asked Ray to scan Mom's lawn with his metal detector before the house is sold to see if he can recover any of the coins my sisters and I threw in the many tiny wishing wells we dug into the lawn, lined with pebbles and filled with pennies. We might have long ago salvaged the pennies, but Ray may turn up a few sardine cans that served as coffins for the smallest of the dead critters we found and buried with hymns, tears, flowers and funeral orations.
Another lesson I've learned while readying Mom's house for sale is that enduring a root canal without anesthetic would be more pleasurable. Mom once said she wished she could leave something to my sisters and me. She meant material things, and I told her that I thought inheriting money or possessions was the worst way to get them because it required that someone you love had to die.
I hope she now knows that she left her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren rich in the only things that truly matter: love, laughter and a sense of family. And today I hope she can hear me whispering, "Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you. You were the BEST!"
Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.