I’m trying to remember when I met my mother. She met me on the day I was born, and we spent the next week together. Fathers weren’t welcome at deliveries then, so Dad dropped her off at the hospital and she went in and had her first baby. To top it all off, the world was in the midst of — wait for it — the Asian flu pandemic, a global pandemic of the influenza A virus. A vaccine was released a couple of weeks after my birth, and the rapid deployment of same helped contain the virus. All that to say, the hospital allowed no visitors, and because a birth meant a stay of nearly a week, poor homesick Mom was on her own with me. Naturally, I have no memory of this.
When I was born my mother met me, but I have been wracking my brain to remember when I met her. Technically, that first meeting was mutual, but is it truly a meeting if I can’t recall it? Photos tell me we spent formal time together, sitting with my father and with various grandparents in generational poses. In other pictures, disembodied hands bathe me and cradle me, and I sit in front of a Christmas tree. Parental folklore tells me we spent time together walking the circuit of a small upstairs apartment in the farmhouse where we lived: around the kitchen table, down the hall, around the living room, down the hall, and so on, and so on.
The photo memories lead me to the first solid memory of meeting my mother, and that happened on the first day of kindergarten. Our farm lane was long and she walked with me to meet the morning school bus. The bus brought me home at noon and there she was, waiting to greet me, take my hand, and walk me in the lane. I remember being barely able to manage the bus steps, but after hopping to the ground, did I run into her waiting arms? No, I did not. Full of my new-found independence I walked past my mother and in the lane ahead of her. This is the first concrete memory I can muster up, and it seems a bit sad.
After that, the memories are so many that they blur into a big ball of childhood. Hot meals, clean clothes, discipline when needed, and bandages on cuts. A cool hand on a hot forehead, being read to, and always tucked in at night. Family, visiting, guests around the table. Working indoors and out, while she made games to keep us kids at it. Her gentle, work-roughened hands.
As an adult I have met her often, sometimes getting a glimpse when I look in the mirror. I meet her when I pat my dog, because I know her caring nature and her love of animals. When I do something kind or lend a listening ear, I know that generosity was nurtured by her. (Full transparency: I am a small fraction as kind, caring, and giving as she.) I meet her when I make a cup of tea, and when I prepare a particular sandwich. I see her in the beauty of nature, something she enjoyed — always so excited to walk in the woods at our house. I meet her in the words of song or scripture, especially words of joy and hope.
Having watched and helped her through a long up-and-down illness, I thought I’d prepared myself to lose her. But, like all the others who have met, loved, and lost their mothers, I realize you are never prepared. The time is never right to let go, even when your mind says it’s okay.
Although the time to hold her hand and care for her has passed, I suppose I will go on meeting my mother. I will meet her when I stand at my kitchen window and look out at the woods. I will meet her when I play music she enjoyed. I will meet her most often in memories that flood to the surface, and in photo books I will need to borrow from Dad to pore over.
Try as I might, I cannot recall an event with my mother before that first day of school, but I know that when we met for the first time, remembered or not, she loved me, and I loved her.