Sunday, May 9, 2010

for the girl who grew up by the name of karen brennan

When I think back upon my childhood it is difficult to say, “Here, precisely, was the moment my mother taught me grave lessons about patience, or discipline, or self-sacrifice.” What I have are vague memories of small kindnesses, dropping a bag of groceries onto the doorstep of a hungry family’s home; bringing a meal to someone who was ill – curried chicken and broccoli! meat loaf and mashed potatoes!; bothering – for it is often such a bother! – to care about ordinary people, and I mean really care, enough to ask the grim grocery clerk how her day was; or to visit with the mail man; to help the little boy in the park tie his shoe.

Likewise there weren’t many ‘brass band moments.’ We never lunched at Claridge’s; never visited the Louvre; never strolled through the Borghese Gardens or the Tuileries, never rode in a glistening elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and looked out over the stultifying city, beautiful beneath a halo of stars.

But I do remember small moments… playing with my porcelain tea set in the stenciled nook; riding my blue and white Superwoman bike with the banana seat and the streamers coming out the handlebars… I remember piano lessons and ballet lessons and walking three blocks to the park in my plaid flannel skirt and white eye-lit blouse, you swinging me on the swingset and braiding my hair.

I remember the Humboldt State Park, with its dizzyingly high slide carved into that enormous tree trunk; and the animal-shaped French fries we used to eat from the concession stand in the Zoo next door. It was you who introduced me to “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” films full of so much joy and imagination, which I still relish and relish introducing to my children.

We planted strawberries in the back yard; and watered and picked the sweet peas that grew in tangles up the garden trellis. I remember standing in my blue-collared shirt and purple jellies, holding a bouquet against the shed door – the one with the heart cut through it.

I remember spending hours setting up army man kingdoms in the bark between the two trees where the striped hammock swung. We were happy there; and safe, riding our bikes to the 5th and L market to buy Nerds and Laffy Taffy and Lemonheads with pocket money we earned for doing household chores…

One thing is certain, you always took me seriously. To you, my small problems, being about the size that I was, were just as big as any big man’s problems. My hardships – whether I came home crying because I’d received a red chip at school; or had fractured my femur — always invoked your tenacity – that fighting Irish spirit, always fighting to endure.

Summers you took us to upstate New York, to “the Brennan mansion,” and the pond where you used to lifeguard as a girl. We learned to swim where you had learned to swim; and we bought colored popsicles from the ice cream man that dripped and stained our bathing suits.

Christmases were always memorable. The tree blinking rainbow colors between the two French plate windows. Striped stockings always jammed full of treasures, an orange and a candy cane prized alongside whatever small trinkets you had wrapped in tissue paper … Breakfasts of eggs and jam on toast, hot chocolate, orange juice. A fire in the hearth.

No, these were not great or glamorous moments. But they loom larger now in my memory, more immense and worthy of celebration, than any of the ‘grander’ moments I have lived to see. And I know that none of them would have taken place if you had been absent… No, the same thread runs through them all: you loved us; and your love expressed itself in thousands of infinitely small ways that, taken together, became very, very big.

I love you, Mother. Happy Day.


Joseph Anfuso said...

Well--no big surpise here--I cried my through this entire post. I remember each of those "small moments" you captured so well. I, too, have been the beneficiary of Mom's kindness and tenacity and, above all else--LOVE. I can't imagine a better mom or wife, Heather. And you've done well to remember and honor her on this, her special day.

our family said...

What a beautiful post and picture! She looks so much like your sister.
Happy Mother's Day to you, too, Heather!

Judy said...

"bothering – for it is often such a bother! – to care about ordinary people"

This phrase is stuck in my head.

Of all the posts on your blog that I have read to date and reflect back on ... the importance of siblings, treading water, capturing the moments with my little ones, cancelling my big ideas to follow the heart of my little ones, patience, sacrifice, the images of Christ ... I keep going back "bothering ... bothering about people". -
A tribute to your mother, filled with so much to think on, be grateful for, and yet at the end, this is where I return.
It is so easy to think, say, live out ..."oh, but to do some of those things just really isn't who I am" ... and excuse myself from "Bothering" - but it's what I've been called to.
How else will I be transformed but if I take the time to "bother" as Christ did? - As our mothers did?(do!) How else will I teach my sons?
It is a daunting challenge, and yet one filled with a clear conscience and no excuses.