Some experiences are so deeply etched into our memories that we never truly forget them. Often an image of our mother comes to mind, soon followed by enough remembered details to flesh out the long ago events.
Mother’s Day brings back my earliest memory, beginning in October 1938. I was 3, the sixth of a brood soon to be seven, and I had Mother all to myself each weekday morning.
Mother was a youthful beauty at 35. She wore loose flowered blouses, pearls and an opal ring. I followed her everywhere. Upstairs, downstairs, beside the telephone table while she talked with Grandma, on the floor by her little pull-down desk where she made her lists and paid bills with checks.
On several mornings each week we did the shopping. Rampola’s Market on Downer Avenue smelled of apples and melons. Mother walked around the produce, stacked attractively in the store’s center, letting the friendly grocer know what she had on her list. The butcher, like an artist showing his wares, held up choice cuts of meat. Only the best for Mrs. Desmond. Once she had placed her order, we left, confident that all the requested items would be delivered before three that afternoon. With her big family, Mother was one of Rampola’s best regular customers.
The next stop, Hayek’s Drugstore, on the corner of Downer Avenue and Capitol Drive, included a Sealtest Dixie Cup for Mother’s little girl. It came with a small wooden spoon. You pulled the tab to remove the top and there was the orange sherbet nicely frozen and very tempting. But it was for later, which meant after lunch and naptime.
Mother had photos to pick up, a prescription to fill. We waited, sitting so close together I could smell the fleur de bois cologne she dabbed behind her ears. She played little word games with me that sometimes made us both laugh. Mother’s laugh was like a lilting brook. Happy. Bubbling over. People loved being around her.
Some mornings we drove to the farmers market to buy flowers to replenish those drooping in her vases at home. I can still hear Mother discussing gladiolas and iris and mums with the white-aproned women behind the stalls. They wrapped the bouquets in green tissue and a helper carried them over to our car. They all knew her, Mrs. Desmond. She was special.
Best of all was her singing. Trained as a coloratura soprano, Mother sang all day long. If she didn’t know the words she’d tra-la-la up and down the scales like creek-water flowing, rising and cascading then rising once again to an exquisite melodic trill. I never grew tired of her singing, especially when we sang nursery rhymes together. Even today her voice, so beautiful, brings a poignant ache to my heart and I weep while listening to a scratchy tape recording of her glorious “Ave Maria.”
I know what heaven is. A morning with my mother when I’m 3 years old.