Mom’s Beautiful, Crocheted Gifts to Me
I remember the first time I really missed my mother. A freshman in college, I had the flu. My roommate moved down the hall to a room that was unoccupied after another freshman fled for home earlier in the semester. The dorm’s resident assistant came to the door to ask if I needed anything but spoke to me from across the room, reluctant to breathe in the air of a sick room.
I longed for my mother’s soothing hand stroking my hair, for the damp washcloth she always folded in thirds until it was just the right size for my fevered forehead. Instead, I lay on the clammy sheets and pulled the blanket up over my own shoulder in a gesture that couldn’t possibly emulate the way my mother had tucked me in when I was sick.
Gleeful at being free from a mother I viewed as a sad martyr, I had packed my things and scurried away from her arms two months before. She had done such a good job of stressing to me that I should be sure to get an education and have a life different from hers that I saw nothing in her life that I wanted to emulate.
To me, Mom seemed a slave to her children and her husband. She spent her day cleaning a tiny house inhabited by seven people. She did laundry nearly every day, and I came home from school to see her standing behind an ironing board with a heavy black and silver iron in hand. Or I found her crocheting, indulging in her one pleasurable hobby as she watched soap operas, her hands working swiftly with scarcely a look down.
I muttered a greeting and hurried past her to my bedroom, dropping my textbooks and picking up a novel. I escaped to a world of classics where characters like Pip and Jane Eyre were lucky enough to escape lives like mine and my mother’s.
When I had left for college, I found nothing in my mother’s home to miss. But in that moment of illness, as I lay on my bed, I knew that my mother was the single person in my world who loved me enough to risk her health to enfold me in her arms. And over the years of my young adulthood, she became the first person I wanted to call when something made me sad or joyful or triumphant. I knew I could count on her comfort, her pride, her love.
It would be many more years before I saw my mother as a person in her own right—separate from husband or children or home. Once her five children were grown, she went back to class and earned a GED, she learned to drive and bought her first car, she got her first job outside the home as a clerk in a department store. And I remember feeling a little insulted when she chattered enthusiastically about how much she enjoyed the job, gesturing animatedly in a way I’d never heard her talk about her work as a housewife and mother.
In those years, too, she made her first friend who wasn’t a relative or a neighbor. My dad complained to me about how Mom and Karen “kept the roads hot” while he continued to work in the coal mines during those years before he retired.
I belly-laughed when Mom told me the story of a shopping excursion with the woman who became her best friend. The nearest mall was an hour away from my hometown, and Mom and Karen had left early in the morning on a day when snow was forecast for the harrowing Bolt Mountain, over which they would have to travel.
My mom told the story this way: Karen dropped her off at home, and she entered the front door, weighed down by shopping bags full of Christmas gifts, to find Dad fuming in his favorite recliner by the door. Dad made no move to help Mom with the packages. She would find out later that he had called Karen’s husband, worried that they might have had an accident in the snow on the mountain. But he wasn’t about to admit to fearing for her safety. His only comment, Mom told me with a laugh, was to say, “Thirteen hours! You all have been gone thirteen hours! How in the hell could you shop for thirteen hours?”
The mom I knew in my childhood would have cowered in the face of Dad’s anger. But she laughed as Karen came in behind her with more packages and said, “Oh, Roy, get over it.”
I had completely forgotten that story until Karen reminded me as we mourned the loss of my mother together. Karen, who became a Presbyterian lay pastor after my mother moved away to be nearer to her children, officiated my mother’s memorial service. But more than that, Karen told me stories that reminded me that my mother enjoyed her life after children.
Even now, I see my mother through the haze of my own need and loss. I’m not sure it’s even possible to see her in any other way. But I do love hearing the stories of those who knew her as Naomi Prichard Williamson—a woman of strength and spunk and humor. And I’ll miss both Mom and the Naomi I only glimpsed more than I can possibly say.
So tell me your stories* of your own mother—your mom and the woman you see through a glass darkly.
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