Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been ninety-two. I can’t picture her as an old lady; she was vigorous up until the day she collapsed on the golf course. I’m pretty sure that’s the way she wanted it.
I was born on her twenty-first birthday. I once, looking for some love, asked her,
“What was the best birthday present you ever got?” I thought she’s say, “My darling baby girl.”
She replied, “I guess it was the blue bike I got when I was eight.”
“Hey, what about me?”
“Oh, right. Well, you were nice too.” Fishing for compliments never pays off.
It was nice sharing a birthday with Mom. She was energetic and creative and I’d always have a great party. Then Dad would do something nice for her. The year I turned nine and she turned thirty I had the first slumber party of all my friends, and the next night Mom and Dad went into the city to have dinner and see The Music Man. They brought home the cast album and I can still sing every song.
I have many gifts from my mother. One of them is Myopia. And I ‘m grateful for it.
When I met Arthur he was directing a play that had this line,
“The whole family was blind as bats; around that dinner table there were thousands of dollars worth of ground glass.”
“That’s funny, don’t you think? But unrealistic.” Arthur said.
“Well,” I said. “Maybe not…” That was a pretty fair description of my family’s dinner table.
When I was eight Mom noticed that I was squinting and a new ritual began. Going to the eye doctor was important enough that I could skip school and Mom and I made a day of it. We’d get dressed up and take the train into the city. It was the Long Island Railroad, so we probably arrived at the late great Penn Station, and how I wish I could remember that.
First the appointment, which was no big deal because eye doctors don’t give shots. I’d pick out a frame, choosing for myself; my first pair was plaid with little scottie dogs at the corners.
Afterwards we’d go out to lunch, maybe to the Automat, and then shop for a new winter coat. No little brothers, just Mom and me.
When I put those glasses on I was amazed at the change. Now I could see every leaf, every blade of grass without squinting. Maybe my love for drawing fine detail stems from that moment.
The new sharpness defined my other way of seeing. Without the details the glasses provided I became more aware of color. I could shut out the world and turn inward, to my dreams and my imagination. That didn’t serve my school work but it certainly helped my art.
Mom and I were both adept at whipping off the glasses when a camera appeared. In Junior High I only put them on in class. But it was important to me to see who was walking down the hall so I learned to identify a person’s posture, body shape and gait. This came in handy when I studied life drawing in art school.
That’s a lot of benefits from what might have been a disability. So thank you, Myopia.
And thank you, Mom. We had lovely times together.
But as I grew up we found plenty to disagree about. She was always in charge and rarely in doubt. She moved straight ahead, never had second thoughts, and certainly never asked what I thought. Even to her choice of paper towels.
She used Scott Towels and I preferred Bounty, which are far superior.
“You know, Mom, at the Printmakers’ Workshop we have to clean up heavy printing ink with Benzine, and we find Bounty to be wonderfully absorbent and you can wring it out and re-use it. Really, you should try it.”
“Well, I don’t use paper towels much.” So why were they sitting on her counter?
On my next visit, when I saw she was still using Scott, I said,
“You know, you get much more for your money with Bounty.” No answer and the next time I visited, there were the Scott towels. Flimsy, un-absorbent, throw-away-after-one-use, but she was committed to them. Why wouldn’t she take my advice when I was so obviously in the right?
After Dad died she told me she was considering moving to an assisted living community, but she wasn’t sure.
Then she said, “Maybe you could come with me to check it out.” I looked at her and thought, without saying, “You’re asking me?” She never asked my advice. It felt like the beginning of a whole new way for us to be together. But we never had that chance. A month after that conversation Mom collapsed on the golf course and died eleven days later.
Now that she’s gone she lives inside me. I think about her all the time, and replay old conversations. For instance, I go with Mom to inspect the assisted living facility. We look around and she says,
“Well for Heaven’s sake! They have Bounty towels here!” She turns to me, her eyes shining with enlightenment, and says,
“Oh, Barbara, you were right.”