My mother, holding her first granddaughter, 26 years ago.
It was one of those gifts you look at stunned beyond words realizing someone took so much time to make such an amazing gift just for you. It was a gift filled with hopes and dreams and fun and sadness and tears and stories of years gone by. But mostly it was a generous gift of love from my mother.
Mom wrote in a journal every day for three months leading up to my 40th birthday. Each day she wrote at least a full page, in her neat, tiny, and very distinctive hand writing, telling me stories about being her daughter. Some stories I knew by heart already but cherished having them in her handwriting. Some were prayers for my good health and happiness. Some days Mom asked questions about my expectations and dreams for the future. Other times Mom questioned decisions she'd made and the impact they had on the woman I've become. I am my mother's daughter and the journal she wrote for me was, and continues to be, an amazing and cherished gift.
It took me nearly three weeks to read the entire journal cover to cover, although I could have easily done so in an afternoon. At first I read quickly, ending up in a puddle of tears or fits of laughter with each story she told. But the more I read, the more I wanted to stretch my mother's words for as long as possible. So I forced myself to slow down and read only one page at a time, even if the page ended in mid-sentence.
Some of the stories, I suspect, were difficult for Mom to share with me. Others I knew she was smiling as she wrote. As for the stories asking me questions about my life today or my impressions of my childhood, well, I still haven't answered all of them, at least not in writing. We've spoken about many of the stories in the journal but some questions I don't have answers to yet. Not that there are any deep dark secrets to unearth. That's not it at all-- I had a great childhood. It's just that some of life's experiences haven't unfolded completely and aren't finished enough to answer properly.
When I was transferred to San Francisco for my job 24 years ago, I detoured from New York,where I was living at the time, and spent the weekend in Ohio with my family before heading West. It was back when family and friends could walk passengers through security and to the gate when flying. Mom took me to the Cleveland Airport and told the story of how she stood looking out the window for a full 30 minutes after my plane was out of sight. She said she simply could not move and wondered how I was strong enough to make such a bold change.
I remember that day clearly. Mom insisted on coming to the gate instead of dropping me off curbside. She always said she needed to "flap her arms to help the plane take off" and that day was no exception. Saying good-bye, and walking down the ramp and around the corner to the plane was the longest walk of my life. Mom had tears in her eyes and would have understood if I did too, but that's just not "me", so I waved one last time and kept a smile on my face until the plane was in the sky. I was okay, but I was really, really sad to be saying good-bye to her. And the truth is, I was able to make that major life change because Mom raised me to be a strong and independent woman.
Mom's journal also remembered the time Dad brought home a gallon of black olives and told us kids to eat them until they were gone! Dad, frustrated that the black olive dish was always empty before we actually sat down to dinner, thought he'd teach us a lesson by "forcing" use to eat all those olives in one sitting. Ha! There were five kids in my family and a gallon of olives was a drop in the bucket to us. Heck, the first fifty olives went on all our fingertips before we even took a bite! Mom remembered us teasing Dad about that for years.
Mom recalled Saturday nights when, as a young girl, I'd shower and shampoo my hair so she could set it in pin curls to look nice for Sunday School the next morning. She remembered the countless dance recitals she attended, usually on the hottest days of the year, in an auditorium with no air-conditioning. She told me about each of my grandparents and the details of the day I was born. And she told me countless times how much she loved me. But I knew that already and have never doubted that fact a single day in my life.
So this journal, this piece of my mother's heart that I carry with me, means the world to me. There isn't a day that has passed that I haven't looked at, or thought of, the journal, it's that close my heart. Sure, sometimes a month or two has passed in the 11 years since I've received it that I haven't opened to a page and read, but it's right here with me.
This precious gift, my mother's journal to me-- answers the oft-asked question, "If the house were to burn down, what would you take?". My answer would be "my mother" even though she doesn't live with me. I'd take her journal.
What would you take?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna