At one time, this would have filled me with dread. When I was younger, my mother used to watch HGTV and I used to mock her. I'm not really sure why except that it seemed boring. Always one for action movies, drama, or musicals-- listening to some eccentric, bespectacled granny make trinkets out of recycled baby food jars, old-fashioned neckties or feathers was not my idea of entertainment. She also spent a lot of time watching the news and politics. Now, I have always been patriotic, and was taught at an early age to be interested in current events and what was going on in the world, but television debates and dissecting campaign tactics just weren't my style. I don't even recall what I was doing at the time... but I know it was none of those things. I neglected to mention that while she was engaged in the program du jour, she was sewing. She effortlessly made me dresses for school, a nightgown in a day for an impromptu sleepover with prizes for the best pajamas, a homecoming dress and at least one play costume. She also quilted; for young people getting married, for friends having babies, for family members. She has made some of the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen. One time, my best friend and I were going to attempt to sew quilts with her. I recall we got as far as cutting out the strips for the tops and never touched them again. My mom probably still has the strips in a box of incomplete projects somewhere in her garage. I'd had enough after just the cutting and swore I would never be a quilter. But, there she'd be with the sewing machine, set up at its table, the television set to the news or some home-improvement show and a cup of tea nearby.
Now that I am older, I miss her kitchen. Even though the kitchen she has now is not in the home we were raised in, it still possesses the same feeling that we grew up with, the same sounds. I love the drumming of the faucet in the kitchen sink, the scraping of her cast iron tea kettle against the burner of her gas stove, and the clicking of the switch as the flame ignites under the kettle and she sets the mugs down on the counter. The simmering of the kettle is constant. From the time she rises in the morning, until she goes to bed at night, that water stays hot. Her tea is refilled constantly throughout the day. Reading this, anyone who knows me would not be surprised to learn where I acquired my habit for tea. Back in the 80s (I think), when my mother stopped using sugar in her tea, I vowed I could never do that, either. We both still use milk in our tea, but three months ago, I stopped using sugar in mine, too.
The list of similarities does not stop there. The first thing I do after the tea kettle is filled and set to boil, I find the news channel. I want to hear what is going on in the world. We talk about our favorite news morning show as if we are friends with the anchors. We laugh at their jokes, fill each other in on the personal stories they told the day one of us missed the show, and marvel at the goings-on in the world. I guess, in a way, it makes me feel connected to her even though she is five thousand miles away. For three years straight, we watched HGTV together from our respective living rooms while I was working on renovating my house. One day, a few years ago, I set up my sewing machine at my living room coffee table and began to stitch together pieces of a quilt I had cut out. I think someone I knew was having a baby, or I wanted to give a special gift to someone I cared about and couldn't find anything to purchase that would have been fitting. The whistle of the tea kettle that day broke into my thoughts and I rose from my place at that makeshift sewing table. The spoon clinked against the side of the cup as I headed back toward my morning show friends and the birthday project. At that moment, it occurred to me, "I've become my mother!" I smiled at the revelation. It wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I've learned a lot from my mom. She taught me how to sew, how to appreciate what is going on in the world, how to be self-sufficient. She ensured that I knew how to iron and do my own laundry, and once, when I was twelve I asked her to make me a sandwich. She refused and told me to make it myself. I told her I liked the way she did it (but really, I was just being lazy). She responded matter-of-factly, “What would you do if I were dead?” I hated that she had said that, and likely said something sarcastic in return rather than admit that her tactic had worked. Some people may think that comment was a harsh one, but in the same tone, she’d tell you today, “Hey, man, I’m a realist.” She is. She taught us that nobody was going to magically show up and take care of things for us and we’d better figure it out. As an adult, I can change a tire, change the oil in my car, install a ceiling fan, replace the thermostat on an old dryer and install a new belt to get another few years out of it. Though she didn't teach me how to replace an alternator belt in my car, the determination she instilled in me allowed me to approach the task without fear. *audio dream sequence echo* (because life should come with sound effects) “You can be anything you put your mind to”, she would say. She always tried to tell us that but I don’t think she ever believed it about herself, until maybe recently. I didn't really believe it either, until after I graduated from Air Force Basic Training. I’ve made mistakes in my life and I’m the queen of learning a lesson the hard way. But every time I hear my father’s sarcastic words in my head, “you’re just like your mother”, I smile. Though he never really meant it as a compliment, I always took it to be such. My mom is the kindest person I know. She is stubborn and she is strong. She’s never gone back on her word and she has never backed down from her beliefs. To my knowledge, she has always told me the truth, and there isn’t anyone around who doesn’t respect her. So, thanks, Dad. That means more to me than anything you could ever say. There isn’t anyone I’d rather grow up to be. That is, if I ever decide to grow up. Until then, I’ve learned to appreciate the stillness of a quiet house after everyone is in bed. What used to instill fear has been replaced with peace. I remember something she always used to say that back then made no sense at all to me. When the last child in her home daycare had left for the day and everything had been cleaned, she’d flop down in her chair and sigh “Listen to the quiet!”
I sit here in the dark at my computer with a cup of tea beside me, listening only to the hum of electronics at work and the clock ticking as my fingers click across the keys. Finally, I’m learning how to relax.
Thanks, Ma. I love the quiet now, too.