If I always looked upon myself as a pale reflection of mother, it wasn't because she
wanted to create that image in my mind. She was a booster of others; never of herself.
It was I who made the comparison, not her. And she would have been annoyed to
hear me say any such thing. She believed in me with all the intensity that I believed
in her. It's simply that she was a living wonder.
My earliest memories are of mother lying beside me and helping me to spin the tallest tales until I fell asleep. We'd take turns to embroider adventures for the much married and divorced Countesses Nipoofnic and La Foote. And, when we weren't creating stories, we'd be drawing pictures on each other's back to make the other guess what we drew. Mother never made it easy. Her art training had been during the height of the Art Deco period, and she saw the world in a few simple lines that had to be finished in the mind of the viewer. She taught me to imagine almost before she taught me to count.
Art was everywhere. On sunny summer days she'd smooth a spot of dirt and turn it into a canvas. On walks, she'd point out architectural features of the buildings that we passed. Statues would set her off to explain how insistent lines could make you finish missing pieces in your mind. She taught instinctively and constantly because she loved knowledge, and loved sharing what she knew.
The problem for me was that she knew everything. She was, herself, a goal that was unreachable. Her memory was so vast that she had almost complete recall of all of her college classes. She absorbed information, and naturally organized it, so that she could always call it back. I was lucky to find my way from home to school and back again.
Her mind never trod the ordinary paths. Her eyes saw visions well beyond my sight. But, because of her, I learned to value the unique; to find peace within my own vision, even when it matched not another living soul. She taught me to trust what was in me. And I can never thank her enough for that.
Her teaching was never dry, or dull, or boring. She read with an exaggerated, histrionic style that made everything she read the purest fun. She hardly ever spoke without an underlying laughter in her voice, and what she said was always founded in the deepest of kindnesses. I didn't know then how rare it would be to find someone so fascinating, who found the rest of the world fascinating, too. She listened to each person with her entire attention, and did what she could to make life better for those whose paths she crossed.
Her charities were small, but constant. And always anonymous. She was so poor that she worked constantly to make ends meet, and yet she always had something for someone who needed it. Found money always went to the church. A crumbled hundred dollar bill found on the sidewalk went into the poorbox as fast as did a shiny coin.
Mother lived life thoughtfully, not accidentally. She always said that she raised my brother and me from different books and one day in a psychology class, I found my book. There on the page was what she had always carefully explained when I had misbehaved. That I was a good person who had done a bad thing. I was never bad. What a very comforting way to think about myself. Whatever balance I may have comes from, I know, in part, that very blessed book and from that very blessed woman.
Thank you, mother. I'll always miss you.