My brother and I are going gambling on Mother’s Day, as we do on many holidays in the absence of traditional family gatherings. On Sunday we’re going to find and play a slot machine called Hell’s Bells in honor of Mom. “Hell's bells” is something our mother used to say when she bitched, for instance, “Hell's bells! How long do we have to sit in this waiting room?”
Would Mom like our tribute? I think she would; in her later years she enjoyed the gambling casinos, where she would play the slots and smoke Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes until she reached her spending limit of twenty dollars.
Mom died in 2008 at age 89. For most of her life, she was…well, not a mom you’d want. Every year when Mother’s Day approached, I stood in a store somewhere reading every card, looking for one that was not sentimental. It was my goal to give Mom a card that seemed loving, but wasn’t; one she would appreciate but wouldn’t question. I wanted a card pretty enough to display that wasn’t a lie. It couldn’t be too personal, and it definitely couldn’t be one of those cards that said “Thanks for all you’ve done.” Mom hadn’t done much to earn a card like that. The ideal find was large, colorful, and did little but wish the recipient a nice day.
Joe and I talk about the postings we see on social media by people honoring their moms, praising them, and openly missing those who are departed. For a few days now, with the holiday coming up, some have posted their mothers’ pictures in place of their own. That’s the way it should be, but those memories remind us of what we missed. The luckiest people have great moms for life; others are lucky to have them for a little while.
Mom left our hometown of Glen Ferris, West Virginia, and moved to Cincinnati at age 72. By then she had become a better person than the one we had known as children. Mom and I had fifteen years of friendship before she developed Alzheimer’s disease. We did errands together, went clothes shopping, and ate out. In a pleasantly ironic twist, she thought I knew everything.
Yesterday when I was cleaning the house, I thought of her. Physical tasks have a way of activating the brain, and in my case sorting the laundry or wiping a mirror will unleash half-buried thoughts. I thought of Mom in her apartment just a few miles from here, and I almost reached for the doorknob before I remembered. The feeling of missing her was as sudden and sharp as a splinter.
I didn’t miss the Mom it took 30 minutes to find a card for; I missed the one I liked, the one who liked me.
The word Mom still opens up a strange bag of memories, but I appreciate the best things about my mother. Even into her eighties, she was smart, well read, and funny. She won’t be a facebook post, but Joe and I will be smiling as we toast her from the Horseshoe Casino on Mother’s Day. Our toast is sure to include—you guessed it—“Hell’s bells!” I think she'll be watching.