Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Mother Loves Blue

She grew up next to the ocean in Norfolk, VA. It seems as if every conversation I have had with her during the last few years has included some reference to the beach or the sea or an ocean voyage. Just today she was telling me about a cruise she is going on with her friend Betty in May 2010. Her favorite painting that hung in her office throughout her entire career features beautiful sand dunes with a hint of blue ocean and blue sky beyond the dunes. When she was 82, I took her on a cruise and we were able to rent a little beach shelter on the cruise line’s private beach day. She wanted to go in the water and I watched as she slowly made her way down to the shoreline. I had offered to walk with her, but she wanted to do it by herself. As soon as the water was up to her ankles though, the sand became too mushy and she lost her balance and plopped down on her bottom. I raced down to the water to help her up. I asked her what she wanted to do, prepared to do anything for her in that moment, even swim into the ocean with her, a prospect that terrified me. I hate the thought of unidentified things brushing against my leg. Too many viewings of Jaws have left me expecting a sudden attack from a Great White Shark. But Mother, embarrassed by her public tumble, wanted to go back to the beach chairs. After a few moments in the chairs, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and confided that her fantasy was to run into the ocean as she had done so many times as a young girl. In her mind, she was still that young girl, running free, unencumbered by age or physical restraints.

My Mother loves blue.

Her favorite ring is a turquoise and sterling silver ring that she bought while visiting her Aunt Ruth in New Mexico back in the 1960’s. If you know her well, you know that she always has that ring on. She has many rings, but wears that one the most. It is a huge ring and her hand is small, but it looks like it belongs there. She also has another ring which features a small aquamarine surrounded by diamonds. She bought it with a portion of the money that she inherited from her mother when she died in the 1970’s. By today’s standards, that ring isn’t all that fancy, but Mother kept it in the safety deposit box at the bank for the longest time, only bringing it out to wear on very special occasions. Now, she simply keeps it in her jewelry box. At some point I told her that she ought to wear that ring every day. Why not enjoy it all the time? But taking the ring out of her jewelry box and putting it on means the occasion is very special and she likes doing it that way.

My Mother loves blue.

Unfortunately, Mother also frequently gets the blues. She suffers from major depression and has throughout her entire life. She takes anti-depressants and does not want to. So every now and then she stops taking them. But eventually another low point will come and she will go back to the medication. But perhaps because she was trained as a counselor, Mother is not the type to be ashamed of being depressed. She served as a kind of poster child for the Mental Health Association of Georgia, the year that the organization featured the illness. She was interviewed and appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discussing her struggles and even toured around the state doing public speaking engagements. After each trip, she would come back and tell me about whatever group she had spoken to and the interactions that she had after each speech. The stories were very colorful and sometimes quite poignant. I like to imagine that she touched a lot of lives through her frank and unashamed discussions about her own experiences, not just that year, but always. Certainly it helped me!

My Mother loves blue.

When I moved into a new house in 2008, Mother sent me a check to buy some new towels. She says one should always buy new towels at least every other year or so. I went to lots of stores and looked at a lot of towels. My own decorating schemes usually feature jewel tones, but I was curiously drawn to a particular set of blue towels. My master bathroom is devoid of color. The huge walk-in shower is surrounded by glass, so there is no need for a shower curtain. The large picture window has the look of stained glass, but is all just patterns, no color. The towels I kept going back to were a beautiful marine blue. I finally bought them, two bath towels, two hand towels and four wash cloths. Mother always tells me to buy more wash cloths because they don’t last as long. When she came to visit for two months that winter, I gave her the master bedroom because it was on the ground floor and I know how much she hates climbing stairs because of her trick knee. She worries that her knee will give out halfway up or down a flight of stairs and she will fall and break a hip. During the course of many visits to the nursing home where her mother spent her last year of life after breaking a hip, Mother and I had been powerless to prevent her from slowly giving up on life. Mother does not want to repeat that end of life story. When Mother saw those blue towels she exclaimed about how beautiful the color was. I didn’t realize until that moment that I had bought the towels for her.

My Mother loves blue.

Mother is a Blue Devils fan. That’s Duke University, for you plebes who don’t know. Mother roots for Duke during the men’s basketball tournaments every year. Of course she lives in a house with two Duke graduates, so she almost has no choice in the matter. She really struggles when the North Carolina Tarheels, with their powder blue and white uniforms, are in the finals along with Duke. They are her secret favorite. She always experiences relief when one or the other drops out. Duke and Carolina can always be found in her brackets, though, most often fighting a heated battle to the triumphant victory of one or the other of the two. But anyone who knows Mom knows that her favorite sports team is the Atlanta Braves, who don’t sport a speck of blue in their uniforms! Mother is fond of telling people that she has been a fan of the Atlanta Braves since they were the Atlanta Crackers. When she and Daddy were studying at Emory University, Daddy could get in to the games for free because he was clergy. Mother could get in for free on Ladies Night. So they went to a lot of Ladies Nights games.

My Mother loves blue.

But when I think of her, she is a kaleidoscope of colors with her rich life experiences and her broad knowledge of so many subjects. She jokes that she is a jack of all trades, master of none. But that is not really true. She is a well-read and smart woman. She could have done or been anything during the course of her life. She chose to be educator, counselor, missionary, mother, musician, music lover, minister, world traveler, healer, speaker and avid reader. She is many things to many people. She is my greatest critic and my greatest champion. She rescued me when I needed rescuing. She laughs deeply at my stories and antics. She loves me greatly. And I love her. Sometimes I like to think about her as that little girl, on a beach somewhere, running in the surf, arms outstretched, hair flying, legs covered with sand, the smell of sea salt in her nostrils. Each year when I go on vacation, I look for her in the blue ocean, in the blue sky and in every young girl I see running on the beach.


immersion said...

Oh! Absolutely sweet!

JRobin said...

Sweet post. Thanks for sharing your mom with us.