When my father was alive I would go with him to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave once a year on her birthday. This was his idea, not mine. He brought flowers. He talked to her. He brought flowers and talked to her regularly.
He scolded me for not doing the same. “Mom isn’t in the ground, Dad. She’s everywhere,” I said.
He didn’t buy this.
I seldom visit her grave now, but her birthday was last Wednesday and I wanted to note this, to honor her somehow, but not with flowers and sadness. I wanted to celebrate my mother’s life, the good parts of it.
She sang in minstrel shows. She wore big hats and frilly blouses and clip-on earrings. She drove with the windows open and the radio up high. She loved theater and people and Johnny Carson and Whitman’s Samplers and Turkish taffy made at Nantasket Beach. She made the best coffee. How was that possible in an old pot, not a Keurig, that sat on the stove most of the day?
I wanted to celebrate all these things, to think about my mother at the kitchen sink — she was always at the kitchen sink — with her back to me, humming a song, sensing me near, turning around and smiling.
And so I decided that on her birthday, I would do all the things she loved to do.
I would fill my house with music, her music, the volume high, and then get dressed to the nines and go somewhere she would have liked.
I found Barbra Streisand and “The Kind of Man a Woman Needs,” and remembered as I listened how my mother sounded singing this.
I played “Second Hand Rose,” and remembered how she sang this song at the end of every party. I listened to “Marry Young,” and “Over the Rainbow,” and “Some People,” and “Mr. Wonderful,” and every song made me smile.
I dressed in a black skirt and a white blouse with ruffles, and polka-dot shoes with heels, though not the 3-inch spikes she could even dance in. I put on red lipstick. And I wore my mother’s circa 1960 daisy clip-on earrings and her gold bracelet and her crystal necklace.
Then I placed a black straw hat with a wide brim on my head, looked in the mirror and said, “Here we go, Dorothy. It’s your day.”
And off we went. To lunch with friends. To a play, “Into the Heights.” To dinner, where she tried arugula and goat cheese, a far cry from the iceberg lettuce that constituted salad back in her day. Thumbs up, she said to that and to her first tequila and grapefruit juice. (Even for her, I could not drink a high ball.)
Wednesdays were her day off back when she called Earth her home, so it was fitting that her birthday fell on a Wednesday.
In life on summer Wednesdays, my mother would take my best friend Rosemary and me to Nantasket Beach.
Now it was my turn to take her places.
We ended the night at Club Cafe’s Napoleon Club. Of course we did. My mother loved to sing more than she loved Johnny Carson and Whitman Samplers and wide-brimmed hats combined. So I took her there. And it was wild and crazy, open mike night. Broadway song night. And people took the stage and sang. And people sat in their seats and sang.
And my mother got up to the mike and sang, too, because I sang for her.
It was a good day and night. A full day. No tears. No “I wish you were here.’’
Because she was here.