This photo of Mother and me stands alone on my bureau. We’re dressed in twin outfits, leaning into each other, as if we’re about to kiss. She tells me we have an identical dimple on the same side. I watch her smile and see the indentation.
I’m still at the age when it’s all right to show emotion with a parent. A few years after this picture was taken, the rebellion began. But at the age of eight, my mother and I are still devoted to one another.
I remember when Mother gave me this picture. I was married and had a daughter of my own. “This is proof that we were close at one time,” she said, as she laughed.
Funny what one recalls; the wool skirt was one of my favorites. Mother tied a silk scarf around her neck over a white blouse. I wore a white sweater and refused the scarf. I told her it bothered my neck.
When my mother died, I didn’t realize how much I had lost—not only a mother, but also a closeness that develops between mothers and daughters in later years. They walk hand in hand at the grocery store, malls, or take a stroll around the block. Mother was 72, the year before she died. She’d always lock her arm around mine while crossing a street as if acknowledging her declining balance and strength. I’d steady her gait and make sure she didn’t fall. Her cheek felt cool against my mouth. Dry fingers, light as feathers, touched my cheek.
She talks to me about menopause and what symptoms to look for: headaches, facial blush, sweaty legs, or mood changes. I learn about the “change of life,” and that it occurs early in my family. She shows me the scar on her left breast, the size of a half moon. “A surgeon removed a lump when I was fifty. The biopsy was negative. He said it was benign.” She wants me to examine my breasts on a regular basis. I only half listen.
Mother tells me secrets from her childhood. “When I was seventeen, I used to tap dance and sell cigarettes at the Che Paris Club in downtown Chicago. You never knew I smoked as a young girl, because I didn’t want you to have that nasty habit.” Mother told me she never carried a cigarette from room to room. She said it made a woman look cheap.
She leans her face down close to mine and says, her breath like mint, “I dated a photographer before I met your father. He photographed beautiful places all around the world and wanted to marry me, but I didn’t love him.”
Like a sleuth, I savor all the memories of her life. What is no longer there. What was, but is no more though I desire it. I recollect as if the calling back will bring it back, restore it, the thing that still inheres that cannot be forgot nor lived without.
I miss looking down at my five foot two-inch mother and telling her how she has shrunk. She always seemed so vulnerable. Sometimes I get a glimpse of a woman around the age mother would be now, 86, with beautiful blue eyes, the color of pure sky, white hair cropped around her face, slightly shorter and walking slowly, with a dimple on the left—just like mine.