I spent most of Friday, Dec. 28, which would have been my mother, Mary Ray’s 93rd birthday, reading letters like this one.
I missed her too. Even those times when I would be called upon to help her find her misplaced dentures.
Most of my mother’s notes were chronicles of her life as an empty nester, her reviews of cultural events, her updates on neighbors, friends and relatives and her travels.
“Wish you could’ve been at Uncle James’ on Sunday past. It was beautiful,” she wrote in a card dated Aug. 23, 1977. Then she listed the relatives whom I’d missed during her trip from Pittsburgh to New Jersey.
“Cousin Mollie said she had a magnificent time. Diane and her daughter were there; John, Jr. and Larry and family. Peanut [my cousin Robert] has a son named Lyle – looks just like him.” [It's actually Kyle; we're now Facebook friends.]
“All of Aunt Evie’s sisters and some of their families were there.” She referred to my cousin David as “The Lover,” and mentioned my cousin Michelle, whose eldest son was just a “fat baby boy of 10 months,” back then.
She loved her grandchildren: “You wouldn’t believe that my little Xmas tree is still up,” she wrote on Jan. 24, 1978. “Waiting for a visit from Chano and Lamman. They didn’t get over for the holidays, but boy did they enjoy the toys everyone sent them.”
“Today is M’Balia’s birthday, so they’re all here,” she wrote on Aug. 30, 1976.
In each letter she shared her worries. “Ellen will need some rest!!!” she scribbled along the side of a note dated Sept. 18, 1976. (I believe she was referring to the fact that my sister Ellen-Marie had just returned from a trip to Tanzania.)
“They’re trying to work out their difficulties. I’ve suggested a professional counselor,” she wrote about another relative and her husband.
Then there was my mother’s love life: “Uncle Fred has his house almost completely painted outside and wants me to select new furnishings, drapes and carpeting,” she wrote in one letter. In another: “He went on a Northwest trek with the AAAs from Western Pa. “Timing was bad for me, so was the cost, and he couldn’t afford it for us both.”
She never ended a note without dispensing some advice: “Glad the job is shaping up,” she wrote shortly after I’d taken my first job in Boston. “Don’t make any hasty moves until you thoroughly investigate any situation. Some sorority sisters might help.” [I assume she was referring to my search for housing.]
On her troubles with high blood pressure, she wrote: “It’s something that runs in the family. We seem to be victims of stress. Please watch it!”
She also was generous with her praise:
“Your March article in Essence is excellent. Keep up the good work.”
“So very happy for you, (Always) but particularly now as you join the Boston Globe staff.
But to her, being a good friend was as important as any professional accomplishment.
“I’m so proud of you, particularly as a very caring person. Pam and others are lucky to have you as a friend!” she wrote in May of 1988. “Continue to care about others and to render assistance in some small way when you can. Sharing our knowledge and comfort with our fellow man is truly our purpose for living on this universe or any other. You will be blessed manifold!”
It was as if she was talking to me from the grave, setting the stage for my New Year’s resolutions.
“I’d like for you and Ellen to keep the family home for a while. Daddy worked hard to acquire it. It took all his savings for a down payment. You may find it worth your while one day,” she wrote. She ended that same note with, “P.S. Don’t mourn for me. I enjoyed life and living and loved my family dearly! Mom!”
That note was not dated, but based on its other contents, it was written in the 1970s. She definitely got a lot more living and loving in before she died in 2002.
Well, ok, then Mom. I hope you are resting well, dispensing your wisdom and comfort from whatever “universe” you happen to be on.
Happy New Year to all, and here’s to “manifold” blessings in 2013.