Once, when I was about eight years old, I was at my friend Sandy's house on Cottage Street in Natick. We were playing a game. We called it "I Have Something You Don't Have." She went first, so I asked, "Is it in this room?" "No," she said. Can I see it from here? "No," she said, - one more guess." Finally, I gave up and said, "What is it?" She said, "A Mother!"
I've always wondered why my mother didn't leave me something. A dish. A pin, maybe a note. Anything to show me that she was my mother, that she knew me and maybe even cradled me. I've really pondered this just about every day of my life...until now.
I was born on a farm in South Natick in 1937. The eldest of my two sisters was already eighteen years old. I called her Sis. She was angry at my mother when she learned I was coming into the family. She must have known Mother wasn't well enough to care for me. Sis had a harsh personality and told me that she had resented taking me around with her; always having me on her hip. So, right from the beginning, I suppose, I was cared for by someone who wished I wasn't there; and yet it was she, who I thought of as Mother.
There were grape vines growing up the side of the old house, and behind there were fields of corn, beans and tomatoes. Sometimes while working in the fields, my brothers would throw tomatoes at each other and I remember eating them right from the vine. Among the corn stalks, I would play hide and seek with my dog Laddie. I would tell him to stay - then I'd hide far away and call him. He always found me. He was my pal.
There was hay to mow and to turn to dry. My father and brothers worked in the fields, driving the teams of horses, pulling plows and wagons. I remember jumping on the scratchy hay to pack it down, and thinking I was doing something important. Once the hay was in the barn, I would run along the beams that were high above the lofts, and then jump!
Beyond the fields, there was a big hill and about half way up there was one cherry tree. The trunk was big and the limbs were wide enough for me to sit on. I felt safe there, as though the tree was taking care of me. I'd pick cherries, chew them and spit the seeds as far as I could.
Past the top of the hill there were another twenty acres or so of apple orchards. I would climb some of the trees and watch everyone picking, putting the ladders up, taking them down, moving them from tree to tree. I remember seeing all the bushel baskets full, ready for the market in Boston.
In the winter, I roamed, past the orchards, through the woods with Laddie. Once I came upon a boulder. It was in the middle of a little stream. I called it my castle and one time my red mittens got soaked. I found an empty can, buried it half way in the snow, made a fire in it with some matches I'd taken from the kitchen and then leaned my mittens on the exposed half of the can to dry. Instead of drying, they turned brown and all charred. I was scared "someone" would be angry, so I buried them in the snow.
On the farm beside the main barn, there was an acre or so of wild things, grass, clover, butter cups and most of all, dandelions. Somehow I must have known, even at the age of three, that it might be special to bring flowers to a lady.
I came into the room. It was quiet, maybe even somber. I must have known she was there. Why else would I be clutching the dandelions in my hands, so eager and full of anticipation for appreciation.
She was there, lying on the couch, the couch with no arms, just flat. She didn't sit up. I don't know if anyone was there watching over her or me. I couldn't have known then, what a mother feels for her child. The pain and frustration at the inability to convey to one so little: I love you, I have to leave you, I will miss you and I pray to God you will remember me.
Did she try not to cry, knowing it might spoil my memory of that "Moment," her gift of love to me, her last Moment with me. Cancer can be such a thief. Maybe she touched my face. Maybe she smiled. Maybe she let me hold her hand, or maybe she told me how pretty the flowers were, and with tears in her eyes, said... she loved them.