There was a loud pounding on my dorm room door. “Your mother is downstairs.”
Roused from a deep, Saturday morning sleep, my first thought was, “Why?” My second: “Oh, shit.” We had a family portrait session scheduled with a photographer – not the cheap kind you get at Sears, but a professional photographer. I hadn’t showered. I hadn’t done anything with my hair. My clothes – though clean enough not to smell of sweat and zombies – were rumpled. “Oh, shit!” I pulled things together as fast as I could, but it was not fast enough to suit my mom, and she was livid.
I’ll spare you the lecture. Suffice it to say, her nickname was “Master of the Eight-Hour Lecture.” Spent from lecturing, the icy silence that ensued was even worse.
Fortunately, the pictures turned out good in spite of everything. Here I am, all 5’11” of me, looking much shorter than my 5’5″ mother. I felt even smaller.
My mother always kept a calendar, and dates mattered. You could get by with almost anything – except for failing to remember loved ones on important holidays, birthdays, and milestone events like graduations or anniversaries. Or portrait sittings.
Eventually, she forgave me. Probably around the time she saw the proofs.
But this particular photo has always been a reminder of my failings – I would forget my own birthday if my husband didn’t start asking me, about a week before it, what I wanted for a present. At my age, it’s always the same thing: “A reprieve?” I never get that. Chocolate and tech gadgetry will do, instead.
After my Mom died, on Valentine’s Day, 2002 – no doubt to ensure that none of us would ever forget the date – strange things began to happen. I wish I could say that she appeared to me on the stairs, and that we had long, late-night conversations about life, aging, and women’s issues. I’m sure if she could, we would have, by now. Lest you think she was all fury and ice, she was my best friend, as well as being my Mom. But she has managed to make her presence known – on occasion.
You may think I’m nuts (and I don’t much care), but my daughter will vouch for this: Whenever my daughter or I did anything my mother would have disapproved of, this photo launched itself at our heads.
I have had this happen even when the photo is laying flat on a shelf, nowhere near the edge. God help any knick-knacks that stand in its way – it takes them with it. This has also happened to my daughter. Forget an important date? Get whacked in the head with the photo. Argue with your mother? Get whacked in the head with the photo.
You may wonder why I keep it on a bookshelf, near my desk. Why I haven’t packed it away in a box and stuffed it in the attic for safety’s sake.
For some reason, this has never been scary to me. And it hasn’t happened in a good, long while. I am tempted to blow off my Dad’s birthday in a couple of days, just to see if Mom will throw this across the room and smack me in the nose with it. (Just kidding, Dad!) I miss my Mom, and if that’s the best I can get, I’ll take it.
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