Normally, on this particular Friday of the year, I would be out of the house by now, yet here it is, 10 o’clock in the morning, and I’m still in my pajamas, set to go nowhere, intent on doing nothing and not happy about the whole lot of it. This is a weekend of memories for me. I’m breaking tradition by staying home, but alas, I have no intention of polluting my church and my hometown with the nasty coughing meanies that have infested and infected my chest. Yes, I’m sick. Yes, this is our city-wide garage sale weekend that coincides with my church’s annual garage sale for missions. It’s the church garage sale that I’m missing. And my mother.
You see, I have lived away from my parents and brother for my entire married life. After we married, grad school took us to Nebraska, 1000 miles away from my Pennsylvania roots. Then a job took us 1500 miles from there to Connecticut. My mother and I were always close. Even as far away as we lived, we still kept in touch by phone. When national phone plans made calling even more accessible, Mum and I would burn up the phone lines, talking for at least an hour or more each time, often about nothing or about the same things rehashed each time. I loved our calls because vacations were far and few between.
Finally, we had the chance to move back to PA, only 80 miles away from my family and in the same town as my husband’s. At first, after being away for so long, weekend visits seemed almost surreal, but after we gave my parents their first and only grandchild, visits became an almost monthly thing. There was nothing like being in the same space with them. Daddy died too soon in 1994 when our daughter was 7. After Mum was widowed at 65, only 4 years older than I am now, she lived with and depended on my brother for the next 10 years. She had this philosophy that “Barbara has her own family now.” It led to some martyrdom and some misunderstandings, but by then, it was 2004, and we had to move again, this time to Wisconsin, 670 miles away. Back to communicating by phone. I missed her hugs.
My mother was aging by now. The first signs of her slowing down were showing up. Adult onset diabetes took a toll on her, although sometimes, I think the medications took a bigger toll. We had been in WI for two years, when our daughter decided to join the collegiate world by graduating from high school. It was decided that Mum was going to come and spend an entire month with us prior to Lauren’s graduation.
Looking back, it was a special time then and is a special memory to me now. We did what we could with Mum’s health in mind. She and I went to Door County and stayed overnight, then took the annual lighthouse tour. It was not without its challenges, since Mum had trouble with the rugged terrain. She ended up with a splinter in her hand from a large stick that I found to aid with walking. That meant a visit to the doctor’s office where a nice, white-haired doctor flirted gently with her. She batted her eyelashes at him and reminded me of a shy, young coquette. Having been widowed for 10 years by now, she reveled in the attention of this doctor who removed the splinter from her thumb and maybe a little from her heart. I melted too.
That special time with her, where I could talk to her any time I wanted, hug her whenever and wherever, remains rooted in my soul as one of the last times that I truly had my mother with me. That’s what makes this weekend of the year so special to me. My mother and I explored the church garage sale where she delighted in picking up small trinkets for her friends back home. She scoured the stationary area for unopened packs of pretty note cards. She had her eye out for tiny boxes in good shape that could hold sachets and the like. Her eye for jewelry led her to the hard-to-find clip earrings that she wore, a little something for her, too, after all. If she had been healthy enough and closer to home, I’m sure that she would have bargain-hunted for clothing and kitchen wares as well. We enjoyed the grilled brats at Dave’s Brat Stand together in the brisk spring air.
It was with great joy that every year thereafter, when I mentioned the church garage sale, that she would ask me to find similar items for her. I did. By this time, she was beginning to need in-home health visits as her legs were beginning to not cooperate with her. The Parkinson’s would hold off showing its ugly head for a few more years, but she was weakening. Her last visit to WI was in 2010 for Lauren’s college graduation. I found a candy apple red walker for her at a garage sale to use to navigate the campus. It was one of the last times that she could be without support of any kind.
Each year, when the garage sale rolled around, I would scour the aisles much like she did for nice notecards, mugs and trinket boxes and send them to her to give to her care workers. One year, she liked a crepe flower that I sent so much that she kept it for herself. It now sits on our piano, one of the things that I brought home with me when we closed the family homestead after she died. That flower that cost me all of fifty cents means more to me than a dozen bouquets of roses because it meant a lot to her and serves as a reminder of the garage sale weekend we spent together so long ago.
Mum has been gone for almost 4 years. No more phone calls. No more trinket hunting. For a long time, due to circumstances and responsibilities thrust upon me, I could not mourn. I can now. It’s the oddest things that bring up the tears, and the oddest things that make me smile, especially when I think of our time together that very special year.
I have gone to the church garage sale every year, perused the aisles, bought and donated to help our mission program, and ate those lovely brats. Dave has since retired from his brat stand, having turned it over to other capable grill masters, but it makes me a little sad. There’s probably no difference other than the name, but I don’t know. Maybe the little tug at my heart is because I remember eating the brats of Dave’s Brat Stand with my mom. Every year afterwards, I would buy half a dozen brats and put them in the freezer to pull out for lunches. No brats for me this year. Darn illness!
I can’t peruse the aisles, touch what others have touched before, scoff at the absurdities of other people’s taste, ooo and aah at others, wishing I had that much good taste. I can’t price out treasures and dig through the yarns and pattern books. I’m sick at home.
What makes me sadder is that even though my mother is gone, the church garage sale still means picking out little note cards and happy boxes. It still means the hazy vision in my mind of eating brats outside with her. It still means that she is here with me, full in body and mind.
That year was one of the last times that I truly had my mother. I mourned her passing long before death took her. The angers and resentments of settling her estate marred her memory for a time, but I am finally opening up to the exquisite pain of mourning. I am reliving the good times of the past more than the sorrows of her latter years when her mind kept slipping away faster than her body. I will sorely miss the garage sale this year. Not only am I bereft of brats at lunchtime, but this illness has left me bereft of revisiting one of my last, best memories with a woman who still means the world to me, an unreproducible moment in time with my beloved mother.