I’m not going to lie. This has been the hardest day of my life to date.
In 62 years I’ve lived through a lot.
So that’s saying something about the agony of today.
Chronic pain; numerous surgeries; life-changing accidents; rejection; multiple types of skin cancer with subsequent disfiguring surgeries.
It’s a lot.
But it’s all paled in comparison to the unstoppable ache in my soul today.
This is the first Mother’s Day I’ve ever had without my mother.
The sadness surrounding me is like a cloak made of a heavy black depression that weighs more than anyone should bear.
Even during the times our relationship wasn’t perfect, Mother’s Day was always something I never forgot. Cards, small tokens, even just a phone call was all she ever wanted, just a reminder from me that she was my mother and I loved her.
My mother wasn’t one of those moms who demanded and expected hearts, flowers, and expensive gifts.
She was a simple woman with simple tastes and desires.
One of her favorite gifts, and the one she commented on every year on Mother’s Day, was a ceramic house I made her in third-grade arts and crafts class in school. I’ve looked at this item over the years and have always wondered, why the hell did she love it so much?
I know the answer now.
At least, I think I do.
We lived in apartments from the time I was born until I was in the sixth grade. That year, my mother and stepfather bought their first home. It was a tiny one-bedroom bungalow in a beach community on Staten Island. Low rent district, because it was in a flood zone, but a real house nonetheless.
And yes, I said one bedroom. They slept in it, I slept in the living room on an old Castro convertible – remember them?
The entire house couldn’t have been more than 750 square feet. It had a small fenced-in backyard that abutted a wooded area. The houses were separated from each other by three feet ( 1.5 feet on either side), which meant you could hear and see everything going on in the next house. Railroad track houses they were called. One room falling into the next.
I don’t know how much the house cost in 1971 but they had a sizable mortgage for the time. That, I do remember because money was really tight during those years. Those were the times when we didn’t eat vegetables because we couldn’t afford them, powdered milk was the only kind they could buy because of the cheap price, and we ate boiled potatoes five times a week and plain macaroni as our main meal on the weekends.
My mother loved that house.
Why? I think because it was the first real one she ever lived in. Her entire life until that moment had been spent in apartments. First as a child, then as an adult.
This was the first home that was truly hers and not owned by someone else.
I’m not gonna lie and say everything was honky dory in that house. It wasn’t.
The water pressure was practically nil, which meant taking a shower and actually getting soap and shampoo off you took five times longer than it should have. And the water was never really…hot.
The stove was an old burner flame one and the pilot light went out routinely 3-4 times a week. I learned how to light an oven at an age no child should. And with matches, not an electric lighter.
The walls were paper thin which mean no privacy. In the bathroom…in the bedroom.
You get the idea.
There was one thermostat to control the heat and it was in the living room so that meant in order for heat to register in the bedroom the temp had to be turned up high. I never went to bed without sweating.
And forget air conditioning. They couldn’t afford one. Summers were…difficult.
But my mother loved that house, despite all the issues.
And I think that’s why she loved that ceramic house I made her so much.
At the time I made it, we were still living in apartments where roaches were our roommates, junkies looking for a fix roamed outside the front doors, and crime lived in the lobbies.
That little ceramic house was my mother’s hope for the future; her dream where we would live one day. Safe, sound, and far from crime and urban squalor.
The funny thing is, that very first home in the beach looked an awful lot like the ceramic one.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, moms-to-be, aunties, sisters, and step-moms. If you’ve still got your mom with you, call her, give her a hug, tell her you love her.
I wish I could do every one of those things…