Many years ago, a young woman from rural north Missouri headed to college, the first in her family to do so. There she met a skinny guy with a fashionable crew cut, thick glasses, and a pretty good golf game. Eventually they married, and that small town girl became my mom.
To put it simply, I lucked out, and my mom is one of those ladies who really rocks the Mom Gig. Like really rocks it, and is in fact, so good at it, that I suffer greatly in comparison.
When people say I remind them of her, I am always pleasantly surprised and generally amazed because truthfully, I feel like she is everything I am not. She is the masterpiece, and I am the work in progress.
To begin with, Mom is creative and artsy, but I am only able to admire and not join in her creative ventures. She weaves baskets, sometimes from patterns she finds, and then more baskets from patterns she just makes up as she goes along. And they are beautiful and functional and people pay actual money for them when they are displayed in galleries.
She sketches out a drawing she wants to paint in faintest of pencil, and then she paints it. And I’ll be darned if it doesn’t look so much like the thing she originally sketched, that people recognize it.
The limited extent of my artistic ability is particularly useful with children under the age of three, who understand nothing about proportion or shading or composition. I draw a circle (which technically looks more oval), and they roar with delight. Is it a ball? A donut? A tire? A Cheerio? Who knows?
And I have learned to stick with my appreciative audience over the years. My daughter’s dance teacher has a toddler who thinks I am the Van Gogh of drawing triangles, and she even asked me to sign my work, so there may be a small glimmer of hope.
The extent of my weaving is a rickety, plastic pot holder loom I confiscated from my daughter’s toy stash. I work those garishly colored, ratty nylon loops into a pattern of sorts and then gnash my teeth when required to finish the edge. I just didn’t get the art gene, and I have about 50 lopsided hot pads to prove it.
Mom is musical, and I like music, but the similarities stop there. When I say musical, I am not talking about her ability to hum along with the radio. I am talking about her ability to perform---like in front of people—like with music that is printed on multiple pages—like with harmonies and riffs and key changes and with a real director in fancy clothes. People applaud when she sings.
To be fair, I had a musical moment or two in my life, where I dabbled as a flutist and a piccolo player, and even spent some time on percussion, initially due to having a huge crush on the band’s bass drummer. But I never really used my voice, and there is a reason.
Years of allergies and being a classroom teacher have mellowed my voice to a sort of lady tenor, where in the mornings I sound somewhat like Springsteen after a three-day bender, and later in the day I sound like Springsteen after just a two-day bender, but never Connick or Buble.
In my mom’s little hometown, there was a mother/daughter duo who sang at some church services. They wore matching or color-coordinated dresses, and everyone nodded appreciatively throughout the songs. I used to think how cool it would be if Mom and I could do that. I am about 100% sure Mom never wondered if that would be cool, possibly never wondered about it all.
My mom has a great memory, putting my fluid mental storage to shame. She will say to my dad, “Oh Frank, remember that couple that lived on Grim Drive that had the bird dog who died of asphyxiation when their son Paul ran the car with the garage door down?”
And my dad will start to say the last name of the couple. “No, I know their last name, but I was trying to remember the dog’s name---oh wait, the dog’s name was Jet.” Bam. Just like that, she pulls up a memory from 52 years ago.
I seriously forgot my nephew’s middle name, where I put my car keys, and how to make tea all in one day. Suffice it to say memories of things past about noon yesterday are not exactly cemented in my mind, like they are in Mom’s.
My mother has the organizational skills of a top executive assistant, and I missed that gene entirely. She has a place for everything, an organized filing system, and handwritten lists that actually make sense and seem chronological.
We ate dinner at her house on Easter weekend, and I was cleaning up the dishes (see I am not that bad a daughter…), when I noticed her list. She had all the food she was making, what we were bringing, and the order she would set it out to serve. I wanted to frame it.
I also make lists. Here is what one of them that I recently fished from the bottom of my purse said, “Yarn…Wednesday…ibuprofen.” Below the word ibuprofen was an unrecognizable sketch of some sort and what appeared to be a partial zip code or bank account number. The meaning of this list and how planes disappear in the Bermuda Triangle may be forever unknowns.
My mom’s basement shelves are organized by holiday and hobby. She can find anything at a moment’s notice. Looking for the cute shamrock planter she brings out every March? Guessing you will find it right between the Valentine platter and the Easter bunnies.
My shelves are organized by…well, who am I kidding? They are not at all organized, or perhaps by which ones looks like they would hold a little more of my junk without collapsing.
My mom loves new experiences and embraces change, while having just typed those words, I have broken out in hives. Mom planned and enjoyed an entire Alaskan cruise in her 70’s. She taught elementary school and then thought ‘oh what the heck,’ I will just try teaching college courses, and she did. Just like that.
In contrast, I am on year five of pretty much the same hairstyle (with the exception of the four minutes I had bangs). On my drive to work yesterday, I decided to be adventurous and try a different turn lane for the final leg of my journey; but I chickened out at the last minute, instead landing in my safe interior lane to complete the turn.
Mother has a chameleon like ability to blend in, to adapt to any situation, and to make everyone feel welcome and loved. She is just as comfortable at her hometown’s Harvest Jubilee Celebration in the middle of a field with an old bandstand, swatting away killer mosquitos you only find in the country, as she is at fancy dinners at the university.
Without hesitation, each of her grandchildren would tell you that they are her favorite because of the way she makes them feel. That’s because of her ability to giggle with her younger grandkids to the point of teary laughter over the word “fart” and turn right around and take her oldest grandson on one of his college visits.
In stark contrast, I stand out like a sore thumb pretty much anywhere I go. I am not exactly a wallflower, but I am just as likely to offend as to embrace. Case in point was a recent decade birthday party for a friend.
I just kept thinking about the music and how I would have picked something different. I excused myself to the restroom, returned to the main area, and sort of leaned against the door. A nice man was standing near me, and I tried to make conversation about the party and shifted to the music eventually.
“Are you hoping to avoid dancing to some of this crazy music like I am?” I said. “Uhhhh, no, I actually made the playlist for tonight.” Of course you did. So much for being a chameleon.
My mom and I are very physically different as well. Her actual middle name is Kay, but it could be Petite, and next to her I feel gigantic. She is just tiny enough to allow the grandkids to pass her in height in their teens, but not so tiny she seems childlike.
Her mother in law once told her she had beautiful feet, which we have giggled about over the years. But they are really cute, little tiny, magazine ad worthy appendages.
Unlike Mom, I grew to a height which made me not one of the cute short girls that guys go for to show off their own towering height, and just tall enough to make a three-inch pair of heels a no-go with medium height fellas.
I saw a meme the other day that said, “Weight loss isn’t working out, so I am focusing on getting taller.” That’s a good summary of my recent efforts. At this point, according to a height and weight chart, I should be 6’3”.
My feet and hands, while perfectly acceptable for walking and for typing newspaper columns, are man-like. I remember when I was fitted for my class ring, the young lady helping us said, “You win the prize for the biggest girl ring size I have measured today!” She surely could not tell that I was hoping the prize was a get out of jail free card for after I punched her.
Lastly, my mom is multi-faceted, and I have one facet, it that is even a thing. You might catch Mom playing a round of tennis, setting up the altar for church, or gardening on any given day.
The next day she is serving as recording secretary of her women’s group, tutoring at an elementary school, or baking a made from scratch coconut cream pie. And she is pretty talented in all those facets.
My one facet is being the “What ya’ see is what ya’ get girl.” I promise I won’t amaze you, no matter how long you hang around.
Looking for #12 of a group of 25? That’s me, hanging out in my one dimensional world, right smack in the middle. Actually, I think my one facet might be standing amazed at other people’s multiple facets.
Oh, my mom and I are not complete opposites. We share the trait of perseverance, and that has served me handily over the years. Don’t tell us we cannot get something done, because that’s all the motivation we need.
We get tickled at things that other people might not get tickled at, snickering behind our hands, making funny faces at one another, or raising our eyebrows. One of my favorite things is to hear Mom start laughing when telling a funny story about her dog or a friend, reminding me so much of her own mother that it is scary.
And we are both competitive, practically to a fault. A recent dominoes game at our house went on into the wee morning hours, and I think she is still contesting my victory. Or maybe she won. As you know, my memory is poor.
Happy Mother’s Day, Linda Kay Elam Colton. I love you. Thank you for being you and allowing me to just be me. I have yet to win the lottery, but it’s such a pleasure to have you as my mom, I feel very rich all the time.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.