I miss her.
I miss her at my door, goodies in hand. I miss her at her door, glad to see me. I miss her voice. Her smell. Her touch. The sound of her heels clicking across the floor. The sound of her laugh.
I miss the way my mother loved me. And I miss the way I loved her.
“Millions of stars in the heavens above.
Only one mother to cherish and love.”
I gave her a Mother’s Day card with these words in big, bold script when I was 10 or 11. And the words stuck and became a kind of shorthand we tossed back and forth right up until the day she died.
It was our special way of saying I love you: Millions of stars, but only one you.
My mother was my No. 1 fan. She loved me crazily, totally. I was her only child.
“Who needs any more when I have you?” she said so many times, when she was combing my hair, making French toast, ironing my dresses.
But it was a lie. I saw her hopes dashed, once, twice, four times, miscarriage after miscarriage bowing her, and then a baby boy who lived 20 minutes. But she believed the lie.
She sang around the house. Music eased her sorrow, so the stereo was always on, Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, Tony Bennett and Jack Jones, all part of our lives. On Sunday afternoons we watched black-and-white TV together, old musicals “Going My Way,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” We ate Candy Cupboard chocolates and in the summer, saltwater taffy that my father brought home from Nantasket Beach where he was stationed, a patrolman with the old Metropolitan District Commission. She never said, “You’ve had enough candy.” It was always, “Do you want more?”
She worked full time, as a milliner in Quincy Center, and she worked full time at home, too, polishing the refrigerator with Jubilee, hanging laundry, digging in the soil, planting bachelor buttons, decorating cakes for everyone’s birthday and anniversary. And taking care of me.
She never went to bed until past 1 a.m. when “The Tonight Show,” with Johnny Carson, was over.
I watched her put on makeup — she called it putting on her face, a phrase I didn’t understand because her face was beautiful, lipstick and rouge adding color, but only that. She had blue eyes, and soft brown hair, and teeth she thought were too big (the two top front ones) but were not. She was tall and slim and graceful.
My father taught her to drive the summer I was 10. She rolled down her window and turned the radio to WBZ. Once she got her license, she drove with the windows open and the radio blaring every time she could.
In 1964, when I was a senior in high school, we were on the Southeast Expressway and Barbra Streisand was on the radio singing “People” and my mother was doing what she always did — driving too fast and singing along. I turned and looked at her and whoever takes pictures of the moments we remember snapped all that I saw: my mother, hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock, wearing big white sunglasses, her hair blowing, her lips red, smiling and singing away.
She was 39 that summer. She would drive and sing, her hair blowing in the wind, healthy and able, only seven more years.
I remember the cologne she wore, Prince Matchabelli. I can smell it as I write the words. I smelled it every time I hugged her, I smelled it in her room where she applied it. I smelled it on me sometimes.
I miss her. I miss her at my door and in my life.
On Mother’s Day, you get to say these things. On Mother’s Day, missing is allowed.