When things are great between my mother and me, we will have Sunday dinner. Her husband will barbeque chicken for my kids, and she will send me home with leftover potato salad and cornbread. When things are good, she will walk her three little furball dogs down to the baseball field to cheer on my son and sit by me in the bleachers. When things are good, she will drop off a little Easter basket for the kids on my porch or give me a birthday present and a card that says she loves me.
When things are bad, however, she tells me in her rich Southern voice that she didn’t raise me like that. That could mean anything to religion to politics to my diet. Anything really so long as she doesn’t agree with me. When things are bad, she will call me and tell me I am the most selfish person she knows and who cares if it’s my birthday that I ruined her life when I moved out at sixteen. When things are bad, she does not even bother to call me or my kids—her grandkids—she just doesn’t call.
But she has been gone for seven days now. She is 2,485 miles from me now. My whole life she has lived less than 10 miles from me, and now she will be 37 hours and 40 minutes by car or a 5 hour direct flight and then a two and a half hour car ride.
She wants to go home. Back to the rich Carolina soil and thick Carolina air. Although she’s lived the last thirty-five years in the same San Gabriel mountains of Southern California, she wants to retire. Home, is all she keeps saying, her vowels drawing out like a sour song.
I do not blame her for leaving, for wanting to start a new chapter in her life, for wanting to return to her two sisters (her only remaining immediate family), for wanting something familiar and warm. In North Carolina she will be able to clear the weeds from her parents’ gravestones, to take care of an aging aunt or two, and walk in the dried-up rows of tobacco plants and corn stalks where so much of her childhood was spent. There, no one will ask her where she is from because it is obvious she fits right in. There she can watch the dewy mist of the cape roll in at night and watch the fireflies ballet on the banks. There she can spend her days quilting. There she can be buried in the family plot alongside her father since she was the youngest of five and her daddy’s favorite.
But in these seven days, I have missed my mom. It’s not likely that we would have seen each other this last week. Sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other. Sometimes the closest I get to her is driving by her car on my way to drop off my kids at school. But that was something, and something is always better than nothing. I know too many friends with nothing instead of mothers.
It won’t be the same without her, and I will have to find a way to climb on a plane every couple of years or try to remember to buy a Mothers’ Day gift weeks in advance and mail them or try to remember to send her goofy school pictures of the kids. Or try to be a good daughter long-distance.
But as much as I am sad to lose her, I am hopeful that this will mean a new start for us. One in which I can imagine her telling new friends at the quilting guild how proud of her daughters she is and mean it. Maybe she will send a nice text every once in a while and call me her “Big little girl” the way she used to when I was little but towered over her petite frame. Maybe she will start calling my kids on Sundays to hear them blab about their impossibly fast-moving lives. Maybe she will be willing to forget that I am a liberal atheist vegetarian and start loving me because she did raise me that way. Maybe we will never again mention the past except to share colorful, almost cliché memories of summer vacation mishaps or the time she made my sister Sarah eat all her vegetables for the next three meals until they were gone. Or maybe we won’t talk at all. Maybe we will sit on the phone with each other and listen to the other—really listen.