Mother’s Day

DSC02486Along with May flowers, Cinco De Mayo, Memorial Day, and a host of other special days, like Hug Your Cat Day on May 3rd, this month also brings us Mother’s Day. Held on the second Sunday of the month, it is a celebration in honor of mothers, grandmothers, and anyone who has mothered another person.

I am the daughter of Josephine Zabski who died on May 21, 2007. It was to her that every year in May, I would present cards, flowers, and/or other gifts. When she lived nearby and after she moved in with us, Bill and I would take her out to dinner. She could be very abusive and we spent some difficult times together, but we got through them, and I can honestly say, I miss her.

Bill’s mother died in 1978. Though neither one of us have mothers to honor in the flesh now, still on that day we always call them to mind and share a few memories. Sometimes sad, sometimes maddening, and sometimes hysterically funny … like the time we were sitting around the dinner table enjoying one of Mom’s absolutely delicious meals that she’d taken hours to prepare. My father was complaining about the number of deer hunters that trespassed on the land where he’d built and ran the Summit Lodge, in Killington, Vermont. Wanting to keep the guests who stayed at the lodge enjoying the fall colors safe, he’d posted the property with No Hunting or Trespassing signs. But still some hunters came, ignoring the signs, wanting to fill their freezers with venison.

Between bites of roast pork and sauerkraut, Mom said, “I don’t think that sign is enough. I think you need to get one that says, ’Trespassers will be violated.”

All of us, including Bill, my father, and my brothers choked on our food, and burst into nonstop laughter. Mom looked around the table wondering what was so funny. She didn’t realize she’d replace the word “prosecuted” with “violated.” Hurt and filled with shame, she ended the conversation with, “Well, you know what I mean!” We went on discussing other things, like the weather and the price of milk until we could get back to an easier conversation. Some of us continued to wipe away tears left over from Mom’s joke. Others made a hasty retreat to the bathroom to empty overly stimulated bladders.

mom1997Now, years later, it is still a very funny story and I still snicker to myself when I think about it. But I wish I could have been more sensitive at the time as to why she was so embarrassed. Though my mother was a very elegant and intelligent woman, she had only gone as far as eight grade in school. I think she often felt left behind by me, her daughter, a collage graduate, and my brothers who were still in the midst of their education. Only family members knew that about Mom’s schooling, but if you didn’t know, you never would have guessed. She could carry on a debate with the best of them.

Adding to her shame and vulnerability was the rise of the feminist movement, which completely confused her, despite the fact that she operated her own antiques business. But it was overseen by my father, who told Bill on his deathbed that, “You’ve got to take care of Jo. She doesn’t know how to write checks.” That was a flat out lie and we soon discovered all of the things that Mom knew how to do, that her husband wouldn’t allow her do, because she was a woman and uneducated.

This year, despite the problems Mom often caused in my life, I’d like to honor her spirit and the way she knew how to survive in a world that was not always a good fit for her. She may not have finished high school but she was someone who knew how to run a business and what to do when the going got tough. As I face my own life challenges, I think of her often and wish I’d told her that day, that what she said was funny, but in no way stupid.

Here’s to Moms all around the world!

You can read more about my mom and our days together in my memoir,
SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, to be published in September.
It is available for preorder on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

My Mom Lives On

DSC02486In October of 2012, I took a trip up to Long Island to scatter my mother’s ashes in the places she loved and had spent most of her life.  She had died in 2007.  Unable to deal with the anger and rage she caused me during her last seven years of life, I tucked her ashes away on the top shelf of a dark closet. It took me until just a few months before that trip to understand what had happened between us and why. I found forgiveness for her in a journey of memory I took through our history together. I found out things I hadn’t known about my mom or me.

As I scattered the last of her ashes in places where she’d spent time as an adult and a child, I felt lighter and happier than I’d been in a long time.  My rage was gone and I was able to pick up the pieces of my life and put it back together.

A month or so after returning home from that “letting-go” trip, I began reorganizing my studio. I found a small tin tucked away in a corner and upon opening it I discovered another tiny plastic bag filled with her ashes.  I took those remains and placed them on the  ground around a tree peony that grows just outside my  studio door.  It had been transplanted a few years earlier and hadn’t adjusted well to its new location.  At the time I asked Mom to help that beautiful plant to grow strong and tall.

This is what she did!IMG_1109IMG_1112

On Mother’s Day

Dublin Grave, Polaroid Transfer with Water Color.The ois

I wrote the following poem years ago when I was visiting Ireland, once a year, loving the peace and quiet of County Mayo.  I rambled through cemeteries, many forgotten and uncared for, learning about women’s lives by reading the few words on their headstones. Their lives were not easy.   Mrs. Heartwell shows up in many of my poems.  She can be a goofy clown, naive, sad, and joyous, but she is also very serious and filled with compassion.

on mother’s day

the light shines within us
like a candle
an eternal flame

reciting inscriptions aloud
mrs heartwell studies rows
of weathered stones
ponders praying angels
the one with broken wings
guarding tiny patrick

died in his mother’s arms
he was only three

beyond a drooping cedar
blood red roses
scent the path
where the queen of heaven
her tranquil face
etched with lichen
extends her arms
blessing sarah golden

brave soul entered
eternal rest
november sixth
eighteen hundred and ninety four
the mother of eight 

stumbling through thorny weeds
she finds
a rotting cross
bits of broken glass
rosary beads scatter
as she tries to keep
from stepping on
mary shepherd

gave her life 
for infant sophie


To all mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day
from me and Mrs. Heartwell!