Dressed in elegant black evening attire (shades of classic Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), I stopped to visit my mother on my way to a holiday event. Although her ability to communicate verbally has been diminished by a series of strokes, her eyes sparkled more brightly than the rhinestone jewels at my neck. A woman of timeless beauty, she reached to touch the pearl and rhinestone earrings glittering through my cascade of dark hair. Her hazel eyes, warm and childlike, held my gaze. Without words, a flood of love and memories spiraled between us. This lovely woman, my precious mother and friend, stammered the words, “Pretty, pretty.” “Yes, Momma, pretty!” I replied, focusing on the beautiful woman before me wrapped in soft, pink pajamas. Through me, I felt that she saw her own self–many years ago and also in the present–adorned with evening finery and aglow with delight. I am her daughter, in spirit and in blood, and I carry her life and dreams within me. A warm, silent understanding embraced us. In another place and time, she was, indeed, me. Sparkling in anticipation, the most radiant of smiles illuminated her face.
Settling on the edge of the couch, I continued to describe my evening plans in studied detail. Her eyes lit up in enthusiasm as the night before me became a vision within her mind. I spoke slowly and carefully, and she nodded her head in appreciative understanding. Nibbling on a plate of our traditional holiday cookies–the same recipe I had shared with my mother nearly every year of my life–I savored each buttery morsel. Her silver-gray hair shone in the light of the Christmas tree, and I felt an unexpected wave of haunting melancholy settle over me. Although a resilient, stoic woman of extraordinary inner strength, I had increasingly noticed a patina of fragility about her. My thoughts floated briefly to the death of my father this past spring. After his passing, part of my mother’s own intense light had flickered out and never returned. It was in increasingly rare situations, such as this sweet encounter, that a vestigial glimmer of her once-abundant fiery energy shone out. Ever astute, she watched me watching her, and I cast my eyes to the carpet so as to not impart my sadness to her. Summoning up a cheery smile, I met her eyes with a sparkling grin and a laugh. She wasn’t fooled by my veil of bravado. Not surprised, I offered her a wry smile; I had never been successful in getting anything past her. That knowing, hazel gaze would not release my pensive, dark brown eyes. An attempt at words was unnecessary, for the deep love and compassion within her eyes was overflowing. There is no gift more precious than the mother’s love for a child reflected back in timeless understanding.
Now, as I write, the tears I held back that night come to me in soft waves. For her, and for me, I had contained that evening’s tears within my soul for another time. And, it seems, this is that time. A warm river of tears–filled with love, gratitude, and pain–flow from my eyes and onto my cheeks as I think of her. Tears of a thousand years.
Were is not for her, I simply would not be. Were it not for her, I would also not be who I am. She, a woman of immigrant blood, had faith and hope in a brighter life. She, a mother of a wild brood of ten, put one foot in front of the other when most would have thrown up their hands. When I visit her next, and it will be tonight, I shall paint her toenails red for Christmas. I will massage those tired feet that have walked so far in order to give to me. I shall smile up at that beautiful face in loving gratitude and appreciation. And, as I do every night and first thing each morning, I will give thanks to the heavens above for blessing me with the sweetest of mothers. She, of hazel eyes and indomitable spirit, is my inspiration and my guiding light.