she was. those words taste strangely. she is my mother, regardless of her status with life or death. do i have words for her? do i have memories?
on the scale of one to ten, as a mother, she was about 5. on the same scale as a friend, she gets 12 minimum. but i had to leave home, learn to be independent, and to be me to know this. our relationship was that of a close friendship. now i mourn a friend first, a mother after that.
i remember a day. i was less than 5 then. i somehow managed to get my right index finger into a motor – and it was instantly minced. the pain was so intense i could make no noise whatsoever. my mother noticed that my chattering had stopped, turned, and there it was – a kid all in blood. i remember her picking up some kindlings, collecting whatever pieces of my finger could be salvaged, putting it all together, and calling the neighbours for a car to take me to the hospital. ever since, all through my childhood, she’s picked me up, dressed my wounds to the best of her ability and let me run.
i remember another day – i was about 16 then – i was working, gathering hay in the barn on that day. the truck load came in, filled with hay bales, and i went up to unload it into the barn. i slipped. it was a 6 metre drop from there right onto some stones and building rubble. i did manage to catch on to a rope that held the bales in place. my mother was watching the unloading from the window, and saw this. she did not scream. she did not panic. i only heard her take a sharp breath, and then – talk to me like nothing important had happened, like i was not hanging there by one hand over a certainty of broken bones. then she said – i think there is a foothold a little to the right. and try to catch on to the other rope, it’s not far your right hand. …- and thus she walked me through catching on to the load, and eventually climbing up to safety. later she said – she’d been so afraid. and then, afraid to scare me with her fear. so she’d done what had seemed to be logical. and this is ow she has been, all my life. afraid – and logical – and in action, and letting me be me.
she grew up in siberia, where the deportations moved her family. but her stories had no bitterness. she’d lacked things and food, and was treated like an enemy of the people. yet all she ever spoke of, was the good things that came her way. the healing waters of the ob river. the ginger cat basil. the strange fish in the ob. the school, the people who helped her in spite of the powers-that-were. she taught me the practical forgiveness.
i remember getting her her first red (sort of ginger tabby) cat. we called him basil. he was a huge softie with all those claws and character a ginger of 4 kilos and a hunter character could muster. ever since that – for almost 20 years, there has been a ginger – or orange – or red – cat in her service, always loyal, always at her side.
she had the warped sense of humour i have inherited. the dry irony and the need to play with words, just because they have been spoken carelessly by someone. she joked about anything. she was cheerful in spite of how hard it was – in spite of the pain, and lack of movement, and increasing deterioration of her health. our last jokes were about her funeral and things connected with it. i think her death – trying to walk away from her bed to somewhere unexpectedly – was her last joke. a great one at that (even if it does bring tears to my eyes).
she had great pleasure in growing things. she knew the flowers and the garden plants, and vegetables. she exchanged the seeds and seedlings and roots and suchlike with all who cared to want any. her passion was flowers in all the shades of yellow, preferably with margins of different colour, chrysanthemums and begonias, and tea roses. and, of course, tomatoes. she talked to her plants. the plants responded.
she was bad at pretences. her power was that of the truth. her strength was that of being there. of listening, of creating a place for others to be themselves, without judgement, without prejudice. she was a shelter to many, a refuge to those in need, a fortress for the unprotected. she gave freely, not thinking of what will be left, and what she’ll get in return.
she is my mother. she was my friend. i love both dearly. and she is a part of me, just like i was a part of her. her journey now is complete. mine is only half-way.