Once again, I found myself walking through my local CVS’s card section with that old tug. I should buy a Mother’s Day card. But I lost my mother many years ago and I’m the one who gets the cards. And then in the bakery section of Market Basket, I felt the pull toward the cakes decorated with pink flowers — maybe a special cake? No. And no flowerpot of geraniums and petunias, always a favorite with my mother. Or at least I thought they were favorites. It was hard to know.
Harriet Elizabeth Fitzgerald Percoski, my mother, said little about what she felt. Mostly, I think she was a stoic in the face of hard work and challenges. She was good to the bone without a molecule of drama. She did what it took to raise five kids. She married a local boy after she gave up her own plans for college. She never ever spoke of regret.
The regret was there. The overwhelm was there. I would find her prostrate on her bed, tears in her eyes. Sometimes it was just too much, her life of many children and little money. When she took to her bed, she was not waiting to be found, not expecting pity. She was taking a break that allowed her to get up, make dinner and get on with life.
There came a day when her life became just too much. She had, what was called then, a nervous breakdown. She collapsed and was taken away by the local volunteer ambulance drivers. One of my favorite aunts, Irene, showed up at our house and made us dinner that night and did laundry. My mother was in the hospital for nearly a week. Aunt Irene quietly took care of us by helping us feel sufficient. She taught me how to make hospital corners when I made my bed. You pull the top sheet out at right angles, do a sharp 90 degree fold, then tuck. I was proud the first time I executed the maneuver flawlessly. My mother came home. Life returned to normal. I’d learned two things: mothers can be fragile; hospital corners matter. The former haunted me for years.
When the Hallmark cards proclaim in ornate script our gratitude for our mothers, there is no subtext.
The tagline should be: You did it even when it felt impossible.
My mother was so damn smart and talented and hardworking. Even in death, I sometimes talk to her when I hit my own dark day or big challenge. She always shows up.
I’m the mom now. I’m grateful to be a woman in a time of support and friends and greater openness. I’m grateful to my mother and the women of her generation who were war brides and mothers to huge families.