I have a great mom. Not only because she raised me with love and an unswerving moral compass in a place where salmon skeletons and zinnia stalks make our shadowy backbones in the late summer sun. Not just because when I proposed last November going to a Joe Hill centennial concert in a boxcar in the scrub brush down an unmarked road hours from home surrounded by pierced and tattooed anarchist hobos protected by canine body guards around dusk, she was in with both feet. Not least because she is taking her health into her own hands now and working to strengthen her body in hopes of avoiding surgery.
The latest evidence that my mom is great came in the form of a phone call earlier this month that made me cry from a spontaneous kind of joy that bubbled up in me like a cold, clean spring. That’s another thing I inherited from Sue (and her father before that) – the ability to cry a river in its entire profile, whether from happiness or sorrow. “Happy Birthday!” piped the voice on the other end of the phone. Confused silence on my end. “But it’s not my birthday yet, not even close!” I protested. “I know,” Sue said. “But I just got your birthday present!” she burst out. I was worried.
This might be a good time to interrupt my narrative and explain that I can be funny about gifts, especially those given under the weight of expectation. Not ha-ha funny, but ungenerous in my reactions, a poor faker and a person who usually wishes to avoid getting gifts. Even from my family, who know me better than anyone. You see, unless you know me well enough to know what I would actually want (and many of those closest to me haven’t the foggiest), I’d rather not be given any material thing that I will need to feign interest in, invent a use for, find a space to store, forget about and later weed out of my life. My favorite gifts are usually time with the people I love and appreciate, who make a point to show up, in person, on the phone or in the mailbox, bearing good food and drinks and stories.
This gift from my mom is a brilliant illustration of what happens when someone knows me well enough to bypass the discomfort factor and override my general aversion to senseless accumulation of stuff – one that must be stored in three garages. “A complete set of Gourmet magazines!” she nearly shouted “From the 1980s to the early 2000s!” Hydraulics and boils and holes of tears flooded in and caught me in a happy eddy near the bottom of the rapid.
A dear friend and neighbor up our winding, country road has gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetite magazine for several years now. It’s another rare and sweet example of a value-added gift in my life, as it helps me to show up for my friends and family with good food, drink and stories. If I could, I’d trade it in for a Gourmet magazine subscription, as I prefer the simple approach in Gourmet to the busy and often ridiculous Bon Appetite style, by contrast (though it is almost always intriguing in its own chaotic, over-the-top way.) For whatever reason, however, the publisher of the two magazines chose to discontinue Gourmet and carry on with Bon Appetite. Like many of the things that bite me in my life, capitalism seems to be behind it. Sue and I had lamented this exchange of a foodie gold standard for a superficial, flashy fools gold of cooking, apparently enough times that she knew just what to get me.
In any case, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, partly for the decades of food files that came to me via my mama’s newfound fascination with Craig’s List, but more so to be understood and loved so well by someone. And I’m honored to get a chance to love her back for as long as this life lets me. Anyways, what are birthdays for if not appreciating our mothers?