Goodbye Mom

Short posts are easy. Long ones take work. When I have something I want to say well I often fail to do so because I crank them out and then fail to edit them because of time. That was the case the day after my Mother died in December. I wrote a 2,500-word post that contained all the information I would need to have a splendid little memory but when I read it last week saw how rough it was. I had thought about sharing it with my Mother’s friends but even the hour I took to start editing it was not nearly enough.

The reason I looked at it again was the fruition of long talks with my brother about putting her next to Dad in Mankato’s Woodland Hills Cemetery. Somewhere in the files I’ve preserved over forty years is the reading I cranked out a day or two after my Dad died. (One of the reasons I am so eager to have a proper place to organize and store forty years-worth of memories. Maybe I’ll also find the remembrance he wrote the year before to read at my Grandmother’s memorial.

On that occasion 27 years ago I headed up to Mankato State’s library and hopped on a Mac computer and cranked out about seven pages of text only to have the computer seize up with about ten minutes left before the library kicked me out just before I got the chance to print it out.

Unlike that earlier time my Brother and I had made no plans to hold a memorial for Mom. It had been years since my Mother had lived in Mankato and we weren’t sure anyone would show up. We did, however, settle on a date. Our fraternity was holding a fiftieth Anniversary Gala of its founding and although between us we had only attended two “Founder’s Days” in the intervening four decades we thought a March date seemed fortuitous. I’d contacted the cemetery and arranged for an early Saturday interment.

The night before I left Duluth I tossed and turned thinking about setting up some sort of pick-up game of a service sans clergy. Once in the car for my four-hour drive south I called an old business partner of Mom’s. These businesswomen were Harpies from the much-loved boutique Harpies Bazaar. My Mother was almost on the ground floor of the store following about six other women. I found out over the weekend that she was number seven. The women all kept track of their joining numbers much as my fraternity handed lifetime numbers to its actives. I was the 184th active to pledge to Mankato State’s Phi Delta Theta chapter.

Most of the twenty or so women who had been Harpies at one time or another had passed on or left town but a couple still hung in there. I called information and located one of them and got in touch as I passed through Cloquet. I explained what my Brother and I were up to and asked that Bev call anyone she knew who might like to stand at the graveside with us and wish Mom well on her eternal journey. I wasn’t quite that loquacious. I also suggested that we could go out for coffee afterwards if anyone was available to talk about old times.
Bev, told me that, as we spoke, she was looking at a photo of Mom she kept on her desk. She apologized for having plans to leave Mankato the next day which would prevent her from joining us but promised to make some calls. When my Brother got in town from his even longer nine-hour trip from St. Louis, Missouri I told him I had no idea who might show up but that we might have two or three folks.

We rejoined our fraternity brothers for the evening and woke up the next day for the 9:30 AM interment we had scheduled. We had no idea if it would be just the two of us.

There was a March nip in the air and fresh snow from a recent storm on the grass but my Dad’s grave had been shoveled off and the sun had cleared it. The day was all bright sun. To our pleasure there were two cars waiting for us as we arrive ten minutes in advance of schedule. In no time another four cars pulled up. We hugged my Mom’s old friends and then drove up the hill to the gravesite. I spoke for about twenty minutes bringing Mom’s friends up to date and concluding with an abbreviated story about my grandson’s shiny balloon escaping heavenward on the night of Mom’s passing for her to catch.

I teared up once as I had at my Dad’s funeral but recovered to pass on smile worthy stories. I told everyone how my Dad had given Mom a great scare early in their marriage when he contemplated becoming a minister. Mom who had always wanted to be an artist saw nothing in being a minister’s wife worth looking forward to. I pointed out that she was to all intents and purposes an agnostic.

I passed out Wayfaring Stranger’s lyrics and explained that I had sung to my Mother for six years and over 300 “performances” in lieu of conversation and added that the song was one of her Father’s favorites. I sang the first verse to familiarize them with the melody and they joined in for the next three. Afterwards two of my Mother’s friends talked. One read a poem and the other talked about wonderful memories. Bev was one of the ad hoc speakers having opted to stay in town to be a part of our memorial. We adjourned to coffee and for the next two hours exchanged stories. One friend had made a snapchat book about my Mother’s Christmas ornaments. She shared many pictures of the Harpies in the old days.

My Mother would have been as delighted as my brother and I were. I explained how I wanted to put together a book of my Mom’s art and stories from her family’s life. The Harpies all said they’d help me find pictures. It’s a damned shame I feel compelled to write anything about the Duluth School District right now. I’ve got happier tales to tell.