I will lay down my heart and I’LL feel the power
But you won’t, no, you won’t
‘Cause I can’t make you love me
When you don’t – Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin
I realized today another way in which I am like my mother. We both have struggled to get the people we love to love us, mostly without success. I remember how my mother so wanted the woman she thought of as her best friend to attend my wedding. I didn’t actually know the woman but it was mostly a celebration for my mother anyway and so when the woman said she would not attend, I wrote her a special note to beg her to change her plans and be there, telling her how much it would mean to my mother. Still didn’t come. I know my mother was very disappointed but what can you do when you don’t mean as much to someone as they mean to you?
My mother loved some of our relatives, always inviting them for the big holidays, wanting to spend time with them, trying to get them to travel with her when she was widowed. There were visits from them, accepted invitations but I always felt like they came out of some sense of duty and not because they enjoyed her company. She loved her grandchildren and knitted or embroidered or sewed gifts for them. And she gave them money as gifts and to get an education, a start in life. In the end of her life, that relationship became the 10 minute visit to pick up the check for the birthday or holiday.
I guess the thing is that my mother was like me: opinionated, sharped tongued, quick to anger. Loyal to a fault maybe but that doesn’t really matter when people don’t feel like they can easily spend time with you. I have spent my life chasing relationships with people, calling, writing, making the effort to visit while most people never return the favor. I told myself that they really did like me but I was the one who had to keep it going. In the last few years, I have stopped, stopped chasing, stopped calling and mostly stopped writing and the silence is deafening. I have my husband for company and so it isn’t as important as it was for my mother who was a widow for nearly 30 years. But today, with the realization that there is another point where I am so like my mother, at the time of year that she loved so much, I wish so much that she were here so I could tell he: I know. I understand. I have been there, too. I love you.
“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
― Antonio Porchia
The photo above is one of my Mother that I love at least in part because of the story she told me about it. She was 8 or 9 years old and her mother had her wearing “sausage” curls, meaning her hair must have been very long but it was curled into long “tube” like curls. I have seen pictures of her hair like that but I couldn’t find now any in the photos I have. Anyway, her mother sent her alone to the hairdresser to then go on alone to the photographer on her bike (??!!!). She told me that she hated those long curls and she told the hairdresser when she got there that her mother wanted her hair to be cut short. Then she went on to the photographer with her new hairdo. I love that mischievous look on her face. Apparently, my grandmother was not pleased and there was some heavy punishment for her fun but that picture tells a great story.
My mother went to college to be a pharmacist in the big city and went back home after only one semester. She got a “D” in a class, I think it was Chemistry but she told me that she was mostly lonely and used her grades as an excuse. I have an absolute picture in my mind of her telling me this story – me standing in the doorway to her room and her sitting on her bed with her head hanging down. She did finish a degree later when we were still small. I remember the summer we had an au pair – even though we didn’t call her that at the time – while my mother finished her degree and became a teacher.
I don’t think she ever told me how she met my Dad. He was four years older so it probably wasn’t at school. She did tell me about the night they got engaged. They were going to the winter dance and went out to dinner together first where he popped the question and then went back to tell her parents who were going to be chaperones at the dance. Her parents pitched a fit. My grandmother went upstairs to her room. Her parents ended up not going to the dance. My father was apparently not at the social level her parents thought she should marry into. That never changed. A month after my Dad died – my parents had been married for something like 33 years, my mother’s mother told her daughter that “now she can marry someone of her own social standing”. Funny enough, my grandmother always insisted that my Dad had liked her. He was a quiet man. He didn’t talk much but I don’t believe her ever really liked her.
This picture I found really hits me. My Mother is the dark-haired “girl” with the white headband. She looks so young, so pretty. Who was she? What were her dreams? My impression of her is wrapped up in our fights and my prejudices about how she “was”. Probably none of it is true. I will always remember the smell of cookies baking. The trouble she went to make currant jelly that none of us could stand to eat. The efforts she made to cook nice meals (never much of a success in my opinion but what do I know). The image of her stitching in a corner of the sofa watching TV with one leg tucked up under and her whisky-voice laugh. She died six years ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. I miss you Mom.
A trusted friend is the best relative. – Buddha
My cousin was just here with a friend of hers and I showed her around Germany. Actually, she was my mother’s cousin but we always called her cousin. She was an only child and her mother and father died pretty early so she was always included in the family holidays, especially at my uncle’s, my mother’s brother, because they were nearer the same age. At any rate, she was always part of “the family” for us.
During the course of her visit, she gave me a “gift”, she called it. It turned out to be a hat, mittens and scarf set that my mother had knit for her and given her for Christmas. It must have been ages ago. It was still in the box my mother wrapped it in and the store the box was from hasn’t existed in years. And it all smells of mold and moth balls. It is clear to me that she never opened the box again after unwrapping it that Christmas. She just put it away in the attic or the basement or wherever.
I know she meant to do something nice for me but this has all made me very sad. My mother really liked her cousin and I believe she felt a close connection with her. But from the conversations that we had on the trip and from this “gift”, it is clear to me that the feelings weren’t reciprocated. It comes up for me now that my mother’s cousin actually didn’t “like” my mother, which actually explains a few things. When my mother got interested in cruises and travelling, she asked her cousin many times to join her on a trip and was refused or just kind of ignored (it is a family trait). And when my mother died, there wasn’t much sympathy that came from that direction. At the time I hardly noticed because of my own grief. It comes up for me now that it was so.
The thing is, my mother was choleric, she was erratic, she could be vicious and mean. She learned all those things at her mother’s knee (who was also all those things) and I certainly learned them from her. But she was also fun, loved to have a good time and laughed with a deep belly laugh that made everyone laugh with her. And she didn’t spend her time making knitting projects for just anyone. My mother was a really fine knitter but she never made me hat, gloves and scarf. She was reaching out in the only way she knew how. And it fell on deaf ears.
I don’t mean to make my cousin wrong for not liking my mother, her cousin. You can’t choose your relatives like you can your friends. But I feel a communion with my mother that I have never felt before. I know so well the biting sorrow of loving someone who doesn’t love back. Of trying to “court” someone to like you even if it is hopeless. I so wish my mother were alive right now, so I could share that with her. Another way we are/were so alike.
“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― 14th Dalai Lama
My mother was a very creative person. When she was younger she would paint decorative designs on cupboards and trunks with designs and she did a lot of handwork. When she died, there were several boxes of fabric and several unfinished needlework projects left over, some of which I am planning to finish for her.
When I was young, she tried to teach me everything she knew but I wasn’t an especially good student. I still remember the first sewing “lesson”. We bought a beautiful glazed cotton and cut out the dress together. Being the impatient person I was and still am, it was all going way too slow for me and so I tried to finish it on my own, ending up sewing together pieces that weren’t intended to be together and generally making a mess of it. My mother lost patience with me at that point and sent me to my fraternal grandmother – who worked as a seamstress out of her home – to help me repair the damage and get the thing done. She complained bitterly that I was frantically trying to finish the outfit I planned to wear for my wedding just the day before. Definitely not her style of doing things.
My mother was a master at embroidery and would always sigh very loudly over my French Knots (still can’t do them and so I avoid them altogether). For knitting, we started a sweater together when I was 13 or 14 but again it all went way too slow for me and I gave up somewhere in the middle of the front piece. There were still the arms to go. I don’t know whatever happened to that yarn or the pieces. I did finally get the hang of knitting when a co-worker in New York who used to hide behind her cubicle wall knitting with needles about the size of pins explained to me that knitting is something you do with your hands to pass the time and at some point you end up with a garment. That seemed to make sense and I have happily knit quite a few things since then.
Needlepoint and crochet I learned from friends. My mother knew how to do those things too but maybe she was just too frustrated to try and teach my after the other experiences. But when I was older and was doing my own handwork, she loved showing me her newest projects and the kits she was thinking about buying from the stacks of catalogues that she received. These are memories I cherish. The needlepoint pillow I made for her a few years ago with her colors of moss green and rust and covered myself with cotton velvet came back with me to Germany when we emptied her house.
Back when I was young, doing handwork was still something to be proud of, at least I never thought of it any other way. I’m not so sure that anyone really appreciates it anymore. At least that is how it seems to me. But maybe that is just the crabby old lady talking.
Ann Johannsen died on June 5, 2011. Love you Mom.