Saturday, April 11, 2009
Easter often coincides with the anniversary of my mother's death - April 11, 1997. I was in graduate school in George Washington University in Washington DC just finishing my comprehensive exams. My mother had been struggling with ovarian cancer for about 2 years and had taken a turn for the worse but my father had hidden it from me so I could focus on school. All I remember from that frantic flight home to see her before she died was how beautiful the weather was. April 11 often coincides with the most beautiful part of the South Carolina spring at my childhood home in Sumter. The azaleas are a riot of coral, purple, hot pink, and red with some white blossoms tucked in for contrast. The tulips that I bought long ago in Amsterdam are bobbing in the breeze and the dogwood trees and wisteria are in an ecstasy of bloom. Even my father's prized lilac bushes that were specifically bred to survive the hot Southern summer produce fragrant purple flowers.
Last year I was in South Carolina nursing my father back to health after he had surgery for a broken arm. We spent the day quietly at the hospital, reflecting on how much we missed her but not talking too much. We're not a family that talks about our emotions freely. I took photos of the garden in Sumter realizing somehow that I wouldn't spend another Easter there.
This year, I had hoped to go to England to visit my mother and grandmother's grave. My mother was cremated and my father had half of her ashes placed in the grave of her mother and half kept in a marble box in South Carolina for the inevitable time when he would die and they would be comingled. We traveled to Stratton Saint Margaret, the village where my mother grew up in Wiltshire (now a part of Greater Swindon) and had a small ceremony there for her with her family who were unable to come to the funeral in South Carolina. 1998 was the last time I saw my Uncle Roy, my Aunt Pearl, and my cousins Francis and Rob.
I just couldn't get it together. I returned home from Colombia on April 8 and had to try to get the ticket and everything sorted by the 10th and my jet lag, unorganized finances, and the complex Dutch and UK train systems on line defeated me. So I stayed home this weekend. It was lovely in Amsterdam today. The weather was warm and balmy. The tree leaves are starting to bloom. The daffodils are out. My friend Naomi gave me a bouquet of daffodils (the favorite flowers of both my mother and I) which I placed in my favorite blue pitcher that my mother and father brought back from a vacation in Italy before Alyson and I were born. I went to the butcher shop and bought a lamb shoulder and to the market where I bought some peas and some mint. I have rosemary growing on my balcony.
I'll honor my mother's memory by cooking today. She taught me how to cook when I was about 10 years old. She was a great cook even though she didn't enjoy it like my father and I do. In previous years, I've always tried to cook something special on the anniversary of her death so as to be bonded in memory of all those Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters cooking in our kitchen in Sumter with my mother (and then my father). Although I am not in her kitchen today, the skills that she taught me (it's all in the timing! hunger is the best sauce!) will stay with me. I'll always be with her when I cook.