Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life


My Mom cried to me over the phone about her fear that she would never get to hold you in her arms. I reassured her with platitudes about how she would feel better if she would get out and walk and exercise. I didn’t hear that Mom was sitting on the side of the bed every morning, crying. I didn’t hear that she felt tired and too weak to step up onto a curb. I didn’t hear that she thought she was dying, though she told me.

The call came at 11:00 p.m.

“Mom’s heart stopped in her sleep.”

“Heart stopped? Is she dead?” I hoped for one answer, but knew the truth.

I would have driven the 800 miles with you so that she could have seen your dark eyes with their glimmer of green—your mint-chocolate eyes. She would have chuckled at your ability to burp like a seven-year-old boy, and maybe, for a moment, have felt better.

I spent the rest of that night cradling you and apologizing to my Mother for all the things unsaid and undone, telling her that I really did love her and praying that God would give her the peace and love and care that she had needed so desperately from us over the last year—care, I thought, that I had not always provided. I hoped with all my heart that God and Heaven really did exist and that Mom would get her deserved rest.

Your Daddy, you and I made the trip to the home of my youth and ate the requisite dinner with family: the three children, the three grandsons, the sons-in-law, the widowed father, the new granddaughter, and the absent Mother. That night the gaping hole, which will never be filled no matter how many tears I cry, became real.

How am I supposed to raise my child without my Mother’s help? I wanted so much to share this experience of becoming a Mother with my Mother. I wanted my Mother to know you and you to know her.

The other day your Daddy asked his mother some advice about you. I winced and choked back tears. I should be asking my Mother those questions.

Mom said that my in-laws were the kind of grandparents she would want for you if for some reason she could not be around. They are good grandparents, but they plus Dad are only three. You should have four.

I have this incredible experience of my Mother: “after Easter” baskets filled with half-price candy shipped to my college dorm every year, taffy pulls that stretched across the entire kitchen, the washing machine belching soap out its top and down the hall and Mom and I paralyzed with laughter at the catastrophe of soap bubbles. I have this experience of my Mom, this person who shaped my life but whom you will never know. How can you know your Grandmother?

When I was a little girl, my Mother’s mother and I mailed letters and poems back and forth. Every letter that Grandma sent to me contained a one-dollar bill and a poem. I still have the letters and poems, but you will never even have that kind of opportunity to know your Grandmother.

I used to spend hours in the sun, picking the wild blackberries that grew along the dirt road where we lived. I would fill the refrigerator with bags and buckets of blackberries. Mom never complained, even though nobody in our family ever actually ate the blackberries.

One of our traditions was Mom’s failed divinity candy. Every Christmas the red-and-white checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook came out, and every Christmas the divinity would not “set” in the Georgia humidity. My Mother loved divinity. It always failed, but the gooey mess was fun to lick from your fingers.

Once I walked into the kitchen as Mom was stirring cocoa powder into melted butter to make fudge. I begged to taste some. Mom smiled wryly and handed me a spoon, “Well, if you insist.” Cocoa powder and butter with no sugar is pretty bad.

Perhaps you and I can make fudge—even divinity. We can use the recipes from my Mom’s old cookbook. I have it now, and you can read her notes and see the dribbles of chocolate and cake batter on the pages and hear the stories.

Mom always wanted me to be a writer of stories. Perhaps that is how you will get to know the part of you that is my Mom. I will tell you the old stories, and together we will write new ones of our own. And my Mom, who will always be missed by me, can still be cherished by you. I hate it that she never saw your smile in person, or heard your heart-melting giggle, or held you in her arms.

But maybe she has. When we returned from Georgia after her death, I was pacing and swaying with you in your bedroom, trying to get you to settle down. The moon shone in the window behind me, and on the wall was the shadow of a mother. Only it wasn’t my shadow. The silhouette was my Mom’s—not the shape of the elderly and sick woman who left this world, but the youthful, late 1940’s, wasp-waisted young woman in a pleated skirt. And she held a baby.

© 2007, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “And She Held a Baby

  1. sylviamorice says:

    Michelle,

    So sorry to hear that your mom didn’t get to meet and fall in love with your daughter. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother thought the sun rose and set with my children, and I am thankful they got to know her and experience her unqualified love.

    Your mother would be proud that you are indeed “a writer of stories” that other people read and with which they can identify.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      Hi Sylvia,
      This was the “article” that got my blogging and non-science writing started. It was a difficult one to write, but in writing it, I realized how incredibly blessed I am to be able to share these stories with my daughter (and others), and to have had such a loving example of motherhood in my life.

      Michele

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