What a beautiful story. Wonderfully written.
| Dividing the Iris
I love beauty, because someone took the time to point it out to me. Not just in general, but by name. Along the road... “These are buttercups, hold them under your chin and I can tell if you like butter.” (“But , Mom, you already know I like butter!”) In the field... “How many times do I have to tell you not to trample the wheat to pick the johnny jump-ups?!” In the woods... “They have three petals, that’s why they’re called trillium. ‘Tri’ means ‘three.’” By the creek... “Yes, it looks like fire, and that’s so you don’t touch it! It’s poison sumac.” In the yard.... “The iris have to be dug up and divided so there will be more blooms next year. Here, let’s do it together.”
I believe in God, because someone planted seeds in my mind. I never didn’t know that God was real. After all, Mom had seen an angel in her room and had no doubts. I remember sitting close to her as she read about the curse on Adam and Eve. The illustration was an antique etching that showed the angel with the flaming sword, forbidding their return to the garden where they had walked with God. Their faces made me sad, and scared. I knew I wanted to be inside that garden as much as they did. When I was eleven I asked for a Bible for my birthday. It came in a childishly exquisite purple box, with an image of Jesus welcoming the children on the cover. Jesus loves children. I knew he loved me, and I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to die and go to heaven.
People tell me I’m creative. Well, if I am it’s because someone showed me early on that there’s more to life than the humdrum, though there’s plenty of that and always should be. I learned creativity through the box of colored chalks that mysteriously appeared every Halloween, transforming us into princesses and pirates. I learned it through the turkey-shaped cookie cutter turned upside down to make Santa shapes at Christmas. (The tail was the beard and the turkey neck was his hat.) I saw creativity modeled by a mom who learned to play guitar from a teacher on TV, who made watermelon pickles in giant crocks, hid her poetry in the buffet drawer, and painted our claw-footed bathtub bright pink.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever grow up, because I learned so much about playing from a grown-up. Mine was a childhood of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land and Uncle Wiggly and Michigan Rummy and Monopoly and Password and Operation and chess, game after game. (Boggle hadn’t been invented yet.) Or we’d all play outside... badminton, or Jarts, or croquet, or baseball, or swimming in Spring Creek. In the summer there’d be road trips, and all the car games on the way there and back. So tell me, can you think of a three-letter word that starts with M and means, “Someone who couldn’t go a day without solving a puzzle?” You guessed it.
Education, I knew from the beginning, was of utmost importance. We all make mistakes and Mom was determined we wouldn’t make the same ones she had. No child of hers would ever throw their books down the stairs at the truant officer and tell him where to go. In fact, I always knew I’d go to college just like I always knew there was a God. It was one of the seldom-talked-about realities of the universe. You obey your teacher, you do your homework, and at the end of the school year you exchange all your A’s for roller coaster rides at Crystal Beach. And it wasn’t just the A’s that mattered. You had to learn stuff. And if you were willing to take the time, Mom could usually help you learn it. She was interested in just about everything. If you were studying the Revolution, or apartheid, or the price of butter in Holland, she’d already read the novel about it and could recall every detail. Math was another story. That’s when she’d point to the den and say, “Your father’s in there.” Her love of reading was legendary. I don’t recall ever seeing her read a book while vacuuming under the bed, but I’m sure that must be where I learned how to do it.
Mom taught me a lot about fearing authority, especially hers. Sometimes I thought she was unreasonable. She seemed to want to protect us from everything, even school basketball games. I wondered what she was afraid of. Obviously she knew more than she was telling, though she told us a lot. Some friends’ houses we weren’t allowed to visit. We were threatened with disownment if we ever got married before graduating college. When cornered by teenage reason at its peak, she’d throw up her hands and say in no uncertain terms that she didn’t really care what we did. Followed by, “Just don’t come crying to me.” Actually I did go crying to her sometimes, and that’s how I learned one of life’s most important lessons. No human being, not even a mom, can dry all our tears and heal our deepest hurts. That’s the helpless feeling that makes a parent say they don’t care when really they care too much. So whether she knew it or not, Mom taught me to go crying to the One who cares for us perfectly, and has the power to do something about it... God, our heavenly parent.
Some experts believe a person turns out to be who they are through two major influences, heredity and environment. In the lives of those around her and through one or both influences, Mom loomed large. I hope I reflect the best of who she was and what she gave me.
In memory of my mom, Pat Gage
Janury 21, 1932 - April 30, 2007
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