A sip of bourbon and a push of her glasses, she can relate, it seems, to whatever trouble you’re having. Or whatever funny moment you found yourself in the middle of.
Where she grew up, boys she dated, meals she burned and how she knew, beyond a doubt that she was pregnant again and not just disturbingly sick with a stomach virus. She’ll regale you with tales about high school, summers cooking, cleaning and learning at her grandmother’s house and how my infertility probably stems from her own mom’s struggle to conceive, carry and eventually have just her.
An only child with enough wisdom, vitality and knowledge to fill half a dozen people.
Life might have been lonely for her growing up but when my mom starts telling the stories you realize her life was anything but boring. Nursing school hazing, the cross country trip that doubled as a honeymoon and really how many of you know where and when you were conceived? Because I do.
It’s those stories that are woven into the fabric of my life, the epic tellings of where I came from. I know how my parents met in elementary school and how they fell in love much much later after my dad came from Vietnam; I know the family secrets on both sides and have seen inside the groaning crevices of their childhoods. So that when I think that perhaps I had a hard time growing up I remind myself they had it worse. They had it worse and yet made a house and home for us, where we all grew up together, navigating the hurt of the past, trying desperately to heal it with laughter, dancing and trips to the New Jersey shore.
We were a family of people who talked too much. A short story takes us at least fifteen minutes and a long story? Well maybe I ought to offer you some bourbon too. Like many traits, it’s a gift and a curse. Sure we can talk to anyone, but the truth is that “anyone” probably wants us to shut the hell up. Wound into my DNA is the urge and ache to be amazed and interested in the lives of other people, passed down to me by the greatest storyteller I know.
And that kind of memory and willingness to share is a useful outlet when you lose people. Even in the middle of our enormous grief and unimaginable loss we’ve learned to keep people (my grandmothers, my dad and of course, now, my beloved brother Benjamin) alive by talking about them, divulging their memoirs, becoming the mouthpiece of their narrative.
It will never be the same as having them here of course, but I’m glad for the loud, boisterous and unapologetic way in which we convey our feelings, grateful for the words that come together to form their anecdotes. From the time I was little one of my favorite things to do was simply eavesdrop on the stories I heard dropping from every corner of my family tree like small leaves carpeting the floor of our life.
She is a master at it and I was an engaged apprentice soaking up every last lesson in an intricate game very much like photosynthesis.
I might know every history by heart, but somehow, when she starts telling stories…I settle in, settle down and smile.
****Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for teaching me about the power of words and the healing that comes from telling a really good story.****