My friend's mother died just the other day in her 90s. My mother died relatively young, at 76 of lung cancer, although she never smoked a day of her life. She was just beginning a new phase of life at the time, one without my father with whom she had been married for over 45 years. She was excited to travel and meet new people and had begun to plan for many new adventures when death suddenly, and very uninvited, interfered.
I found my mother's diamond wedding ring this morning while searching for my son's birth certificate in that place we put 'important papers and things'. Her ring was a replacement one, bought in 1974 for $847.00, a .87 carat diamond in a gold band (my father had kept the original appraisal).
I had just dropped my diamond ring at the jewelers for some minor repair so I slipped her ring on my finger and suddenly a wave of my mother rushed through me. I remembered her more vividly than ever, and found myself longing to see her once more.
It was as if she was in that ring, or that my hand - much older than before - seemed to evoke my mother itself with her ring upon my finger. The ring was very simple and elegant, a lot like my mother, who prided herself on excellent taste and a penchant for manners. I think they called it being 'ladylike' when I was a child in the 50s. Whatever it was called, by the time I reached adolescence, I rejected it wholeheartedly - it was the 60s and anti-establishment was the norm. I saw her etiquette as conformity and went about braless, breaking rules, and swearing up a storm.
When I became a mom myself in the 1980s, her politeness emerged again as I reminded my own children to please
Chew with your mouth closed
Don't talk while eating
Keep your elbows off the table
Don't end a sentence with a preposition
That, Hey! is for horses
And spoon one's soup away from oneself.
I used to cringe about my mother's controlling nature, then I laughed about it with my sisters, and then I analyzed it excessively in therapy when I realized it had rubbed off on me.
I now see that her emphasis on control was a pattern of survival in a small Midwestern, blue-collar town she never liked and a marriage that wasn't so full of love and happiness. After she had moved to California in her mid-60s, she embraced her love of adventure, travels, new friendships, books, excellence in culture, and family. She had impeccable tastes for the 'good life' and spent time honing it with Gourmet magazine, Town and Country, and Conde Naste Traveler plus a wide range of newspapers and books.
I only wish she were alive today so I could tell her how much I now appreciate her, just the way she was. I've heard that we are more apt to remember the positive virtues of deceased loved ones rather than their negative traits. That just might be true because every year since she passed away, I seem to miss her a little more.
As I roll her ring around my finger, her images, words and small but simple touches wash over me. I never thought I'd say it with so much honestly, nostalgia, and love all rolled into one - I really miss my mother.