“Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories. And telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.”
That quote comes from a favorite writer I shared with Mom. Alice Munro.
We all knew Mom as a respected teacher and accomplished artist. Most of us knew her as creative, a bit funny, and humble. It often seemed that she deferred to her more voluble and opinionated husband, my father Richard.
But I knew Mom as someone firm in her opinions even when she did not voice them, and determined about goals I saw her set and reach over the course of a lifetime.
When I was small and took swimming lessons (it was southern California after all), she took lessons as well. She was terrified of being in the water, but she conquered her fear to make sure her children were safe. And she learned to love to swim. I'm pretty sure Mom was the parent to organize our beloved beach outings to Santa Monica and Zuma Beaches.
I also remember when Mom learned how to drive. And went back to college for a teaching credential. And started to work full-time when Will, Susan and I were in elementary school. How many moms in those days did all the jobs of a housewife and worked outside of the house as well? It was lonely coming home from school to a babysitter or later an empty house. But in hindsight, Mom was a great role model. It never occurred to me that I would not have my own career, and make my own way in life.
Mom's two most important gifts to me were art and reading.
I guess I inherited her artistic talent and she encouraged me every step of the way. Along with my Aunt Edie, she took me regularly to the LA County Museum of Art. She and Dad enrolled me in special high school art programs.
I think we are all familiar with her beautiful watercolor paintings of the last 20 years. I was astounded recently to find portfolios of work from her art student days, paintings, life drawings, fashion illustrations—some of it Mad Men trendy, some of it as fresh as if it was created this week.
Mom loved to read novels more than just about anything. Reading was her biggest gift to me and my siblings. I hope I have passed my love of reading on to my own sons. Do you know that she kept a diary for decades of every book she read? She loved classics, contemporary literary novels and short stories, thrillers, and mysteries (P.D. James, one of her favorites).
Throughout our childhood, Mom took Susan, Will and me to the library every two weeks. I always checked out—and devoured—my full allotment of books. I think it was 10. The first thing I always do as an adult when moving to a new town is acquire a library card. Thanks to Mom, I rarely go more than a few weeks without reading a novel.
It was tough for Mom when she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. For a time she was able to read large print books. She re-read many of her favorites. She enjoyed books on tape but it was never the same. It was even tougher when Mom was diagnosed with dementia. It became harder and harder for her to track the stories. And it became impossible to for her paint anymore.
I feel blessed to have enjoyed Mom's company in these final months at the Rafael nursing home where she was loved and cared for, and always cheerful.
We kept sharing stories until the end. I will cherish those memories always.