WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, MY MOTHER WHIRLED around the house like a cyclone, always racing against time. Mom ran the family insurance agency by day, pored over paperwork at night, and raised three children all the while. She countered Dad’s absences with her nonstop presence, managing to be in three places at once. She brought home the bacon and fried it too, though sometimes she was not necessarily fully dressed. I watched, naive about the skill and talent it took to play her role.
Decades later, a few months after Mom died, I returned to the small town where I was raised. I sat at a picnic table with others who had come back for the town’s 100-year anniversary. An older woman peered at me from the other end of the wooden bench and asked, “Is that you, Kristine?” The woman had been among the members of the Lutheran church that I attended when I was a girl.
“Yes,” I replied, and when she asked about my mother, I explained that Mom had passed away a few months earlier. Maybe the woman said she was sorry for my loss, but I don’t remember. Her next remark erased any condolences that may have been expressed.
The woman said, “One thing I remember about your mother was the time we were packing up boxes in your house when you were moving. She was gone for a little while and then she walked by stark naked.” People around the table smiled nervously.
True, Mom tended to change clothes a lot, especially in hot, sticky weather. When she appeared in her birthday suit among women friends, it must have been a sweltering hot day. Mom must have been getting into something more comfortable. She might have been going for a laugh, but more likely she was just hard-pressed to accomplish all that needed to be done.
Looking back at the picnic table encounter, I wish I’d had been quick enough to give the lady a piece of my mind. In my imagination, I stared her down and said, “I’m not surprised at your story. My mother had more spirit than anyone I’ve ever met.” But at the time I squirmed and remained speechless, somewhat unraveled by the comment. I’ve been composing my reply ever since.
Mom took care of us the best way she knew how. Without question she let things slip at times, and on some occasions it was her robe. She was no more or less perfect than any other woman acting in a role that must be played 24-7. Mom fed, clothed, shopped and cooked for my sister, brother and me. She whirled through our lives day after day, sometimes dressed, sometimes not so much.
While getting dressed, if Mom needed something in another part of the house, she grabbed a bathrobe, but didn’t waste time putting it on. She hugged it across her full breasts while she dashed from her bedroom to the laundry room to get whatever she needed. I rolled my eyes and groaned silently during those moments.
We were all aware of Mom’s sharp tongue, but I was never brave enough to suggest that she cover herself. I thought, “Mom! Can’t you please get some clothes on? Good grief.” Unacquainted with the amount of work Mom handled without complaint, I felt certain I would never be like her when it was my turn to raise a family. It was only after raising children of my own that I grew to truly appreciate my mother.
Mom zipped around trying the best she could to get everything done when so much of the load was on her bare shoulders. If parts of her body were not fully clothed, well then, she must have been in a hurry. We all get rushed sometimes. I was such an ingrate back then. What I wouldn’t do now for one more day with Mom, one more chance to thank her for all she did for me (and many others). I aspire to be more like her, not less.
I like to think I transformed over time from a clueless child to a grateful daughter. In any case, I’m sure I could have told my mother more often how much I appreciated her. If anyone tells me the naked truth about my mother in the future, I’ll be ready with a fully dressed response.
This piece appeared in the Benicia Herald newspaper in August of 2015.