Hauling out two beds, sheets, towels, a night stand and a dozen serving dishes, Erik said, “It seems like we should be asking permission from someone.”
My brother shrugged, “Take it. Mom would want you to have it.”
And it’s true, I can almost hear her whispering–“There are extra blankets in the hall closet. Take those too. And my blue vases. Don’t forget the big pasta bowls.”
My brother wraps up dish after dish for me, but asks that I leave him the strawberry plates– simple painted dishes that my mother served him breakfast on in the rough years after his divorce. The red-rimmed bowls and plates are a tangible symbol of her love.
They say that when you lose your mother, you lose your home. In many ways that is true. We no longer have family gatherings or holidays together. My mother’s house is on the market right now– tidied and shined for strangers to wander through and critique the paint color.
Stepping into my mother’s house is like visiting her heart– light spills in from great wide windows, the kitchen is open and inviting, guest rooms abound and the beds spill over with comforters and plush pillows. Every detail, from a graceful pot rack to the ladybug towels in the bathroom, reflect her exquisite taste. As I wander through, I whisper, “Hi Mom.”
I would have liked to see my brother live there forever. He greets us with enthusiasm, offers the kids ice cream stocked in the freezer especially for them and, in the summer, rushes to open the pool. Like my mother, he urges me to the garden to admire the roses, irises and raspberries, then takes me on a tour of the house to see the wall mural in his son’s room and the new bedding he chose with his daughter.
Today, I’m readying my house for my sister and her family to visit. I have a large house, but it’s never been good for guests. Our bedrooms are occupied by small messy people and our basement had a toilet but no where to bathe. Houseguests have endured an uncomfortable arrangement of sleeping on camp cots and waiting for my boys to leave before they can slip upstairs and shower.
Ah, but after many years of planning, running out of money, doing a bit ourself, undoing it.. we have a glorious shower. The tile man finished yesterday, Ben and I put in about thirty hours of furious organization and cleaning, the plumber left just a moment ago and I’m piling my mother’s freshly washed towels on the bed. I’m enjoying scrubbing every surface, fluffing pillows and filling a treat basket (a la Christie) for our darling guests.
When visiting, my mother often made little comments such as, “This can opener is awful.” “You need more clean dish rags.” or “Don’t you have a better soup pot?” My sister and I rolled our eyes at these suggestions, occasionally took offense and murmured that she didn’t understand our budget constraints. But now I understand that she was simply trying to make us better homemakers, teach us skills that slipped through her fingers as we were growing up.
I don’t feel motherless. I feel her with me, protecting me, advising me, cheering for me and my children. Let’s face it, after forty years as her daughter, I know her opinion on virtually every subject and although our relationship wasn’t perfect, I know how she felt about me at the end. I feel loved.
And I think she’d be thrilled that she’s supplied the beds and towels and blankets for my sister’s visit, for this literal expansion of my home. As we giggle and shop and cook for Ben’s farewell this weekend, I know she’ll be with us, nudging me to use fresh basil, bake one more batch of shortbread cookies and set the table with her glorious dishes.
My heart and home are becoming more like my mother’s– open and welcoming, a table full of food, guests tucked into every corner, thick towels and down comforters.
For that, I am grateful.