Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday

One of two non-Presidents on our US money
Today is Benjamin Franklin's birthday. That's significant on a couple levels. Now that I'm in my fifties I'm thinking of wearing bifocals, and he invented them. Thanks for that, Ben. He invented the potbelly stove, which kept me warm on many a cold morning during different periods of my childhood. We had a potbelly stove on the enclosed back porch of our house in Rockford, and when people ask me about my favorite Christmas, that's the one I remember. My Mom and Dad, my brothers, our dog Smokey and that potbelly stove keeping us warm and toasty as we opened sweaters and socks and books. That was my last Christmas with my childhood family, and one of my fondest memories. Smokey died the next year, so it was his last Christmas, too.

Of COURSE Wikipedia has a picture!
Mostly I'd like to thank Ben Franklin for the Ben Franklin Five and Dime stores that cropped up all over the country when we were kids. I know he didn't have anything to do with them, but I'll give him some credit anyway. A few empty bottles from the side of the road and we could redeem them for cash, and use that instant wealth to buy candy for a nickel. I liked the little dots that came on the paper  and the candy necklaces.

But Ben Franklin's birthday is important to me because it's also my Mom's birthday.
Mom was pleased that her birth date was the same day as Ben Franklin’s, even though she knew he was a curmudgeon. She liked to focus on all his positive attributes instead.
I didn't appreciate Mom while she was alive, at least not as much as I should have. When I was young I felt like she was often too harsh and demanding. Do the dishes. Clean the house. Wash the clothes. Cut the grass. Rake the leaves. Help your brother. Help your other brother. The list went on and on. I don't recall a "well done" for good grades or even for doing the chores; there was always one more chore to do.
I did go through a period in Maryland, in eighth grade, when I got up before school, earlier than anyone, and made coffee for Mom and Dad, two poached eggs on toast for me and then read a book before I went off to school. I was part of the school patrol, so I headed to my bus stop a little early. Mom was a crossing guard, and she headed to a different bus stop for the same reason. I have no idea what my brothers did or where they went. Barry would have been in third grade, so we must have been in the same school, but for the life of me I don’t remember riding the bus with him. That was probably the nicest I ever was to Mom (and Dad).
As I grew older I thought of her often, but not often enough. When she and Dad visited me at college, it was Mom who squeezed a worn ten or twenty dollar bill into my hand when they left, tears in her eyes. I usually had some dust in my eyes as they pulled away too, so that memory is vague.
When I left Michigan and moved to Texas (for what I thought was only a few short years) I got so wrapped up in my own life that I didn’t call her as much as I should have. I would think of her, but then get busy, so by the time a phone was nearby, the impulse was gone. That was in the days before the cell phone that accompanies me almost everywhere.
I’d call her more now. I know that because I miss her more now than ever.
After Mom died I realized what a big part of my life she was. She had her own life, of course, and she lived it well. But the hole that appears in your heart when your Mom dies just never really goes away. I miss her all the time. 

She has two anniversaries now. One is the day she died and left us behind, for that glorious and much better place that we cannot even imagine. You can’t help missing someone on that day.
The other is today, on her birthday, the day I should have called her more often, more faithfully when I had the chance. I’m sorry I didn’t always call on your birthday Mom. I miss you.
Happy Birthday, Mom.

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