Johnny Mathis is playing in the background. I set it to play. On purpose. Because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. And my Ma is Johnny Mathis’ music. So on this weekend every year, i take some time to listen to him croon and think back to the better memories i have of her. Aaaaahhhhhhh… “Chances are, ‘cuz i wear a silly grin….” There are other things that remind me of Ma: The unmistakable scent of Aliage, Easter peeps, antique shops… But nothing draws me straight to memories of her like Johnny Mathis. He was her favorite, so to me, he reeks of nostalgia.
My Ma wasn’t perfect. In fact, at times she was a train wreck. When i was younger and less understanding, i harbored secret stashes of poisoned anger. But as i’ve aged and become aware of my own frailties and failures, it is easier to step around the black tar and concentrate on the patches of green grass that grew, if sporadically, theatrically fabulous. Both the oily sludge and the fragrant lawn offer lessons, but given that it’s Mother’s Day, i’ll let the cool blades tickle my toes and leave the sticky, smelly gunk to my therapist. Contained within the emerald sod are lessons that i have taken to heart. These things are as pure Ma as “The Twelfth of Never”.
Even if you are on your last dime and have little to your name, share with others. Ma would literally give the coat off her back or her last slice of bread to any soul who needed it. Didn’t matter if they were King Arthur or a fallen addict. Ma would invite them to the table. She’d make them a pallet or offer them the couch. They became family and were treated as such. This proved, more than once, not to be the smartest move for safety or security; but it was indisputably the truest move for her heart. I can’t come close to her example, i’m far too cautious with who i open to. But i do try to take the idea to heart.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. If some new ethnic food set up shop in town, Ma was one of the first customers. It could be rumored that they were slaughtering raccoons for the meat in the stew, the Health Department could have given them a stack of warnings, and Ma would give it a shot anyway. New, exotic fruit in the produce section? She might not know what to do with it, but she’d buy one and figure it out. If a Martian landed in the back yard and offered a pulsating, radioactive sandwich, Ma would take a bite. She loved new taste sensations. The adventure of it was thrilling to her. That thrill lives on in me the same way. The simple act of a new food experience brings such joy, if you let it.
When confronted with a person of difference, help them accentuate their own personal positive. I remember one evening long ago, i was dressed in a black plastic jumpsuit, ass-kicking boots, slicked hair, with a spider web painted on my face, ready to go dancing at the club. Ma took one look at me and frowned. But instead of telling me i looked like an idiot or that plastic didn’t constitute “clothing”, she told me that my spider wasn’t glittery enough. We washed my face, and she spent half an hour painting me a new web… complete with a stunning, sparkly spider making its way down my cheek. And as she did so, in her own version of “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”, she told me that there was no shame in being a freak, as long as i was the best freak i could be. I need to OWN my freakiness. Make that spider so damned beautiful that no one could dare tell me it didn’t belong there. That philosophy has worked for me and my weedlings. When we make choices outside the norm, we make them decisively. We own them. And we dare anyone to tell us we’re wrong.
The other side of that token: Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Or rather, when you feel you are wrong. My idea of wrong and yours may not be the same. But if i feel i have screwed up, i try to say so and fix what i can. It isn’t easy. In fact, it sucks. I do a lot of stuff wrong. That makes for an awful lot of apologies. But a clear conscience is a valuable reward. Only differing opinions on whether i am wrong make it difficult. Well, that and expecting other people to do the same.
No one is beyond hope. No drug addict, no alcoholic, no -ic of any kind is so far gone that they don’t have a chance at being a free soul. Everyone has a monkey or two on their back. Don’t judge the monkey and don’t assume it is chained there permanently. Have faith. I watched my Ma shed King Kong himself, so i know that it is possible. You don’t have to be the zookeeper, but don’t be afraid to offer an encouraging word. Words can build foundations of determination, and that determination helps in sedating the primates long enough to pull them off.
God moves mountains, but he expects you to bring a shovel and help dig. Faith gives you strength, but action gives you results. No amount of prayer will get the war won, but fighting without a higher purpose will gain you nothing. It is no simple task sometimes to combine these two things, but it’s the only way to reach the goal. It is made easier when you surround yourself with people who do the same. Then you can help each other dig and the mountain gets moved all the faster.
Be yourself. Even during the darkest of times, Ma was always Ma. Authentic. True. There was no Diva Ma, no Bitchy Ma, no Charming Ma. There was just Ma. One could argue that there was Drunken Ma and Sober Ma, but even between those two masks, she was still Ma. Still herself. I never had the foresight to ask her if she really was that comfortable being herself, or if it was a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of thing. But whatever the reason, it showed me that there is a certain comfort in predictable authenticity. Both for oneself and for others. The masses may not adore you, but they know and can bank on what to expect from you
at any moment. Life becomes much easier for everyone.
Are these lessons the ones i should have taken from her? Are these the types of things that make Mother’s Day worthwhile? “It’s Not For Me to Say”. But so much of me is derived from Ma. A lot good. Some, not so much. And that’s ok. It makes me, well, me. And that, my friends, is “Wonderful! Wonderful! Oh, so wonderful my loves!”