This time of year, I tend to look out my window at the changing season. I notice that the leaves are starting to fall from the trees and there’s coolness in the air most mornings. Summer is almost gone and it’s time to prepare myself for the chilly winter season that will come much too soon.
While I try to fight it, this is the time of year when my mood turns a bit dark or sad, when I think of people who are no longer in my life. Lately, my mother has been on my mind.
Her birthday would have been this week. She died over 10 years ago. If she had lived, she would be in her mid-seventies now.
Throughout my life, I had my issues with her. She beat me when I was young, never once told me she loved me and rarely showed any kind of tenderness towards me. She was who she was, and as the years pass by— or maybe I should say as my bad memories start to fade — I recall the good things about her. I miss her.
My mother was a wonderful cook. I think of that often when I put frozen crap into my microwave. Even when she was in bad health, when I would come to visit, she always put on a big spread — fried chicken, Swiss steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables and homemade biscuits. She even made eggplant taste good. My mother must have spent hours preparing all that food.
For desert, my mother often baked pies. Her apple pie was delicious, so was the cherry, but it was always a special treat when she baked a pineapple pie. There was nothing like it, and she’d always give me a couple slices to take home with me. Those slices would be gone by the end of the day.
My father loved my mother’s cooking, too. During the last years of his life, she would take him meals at the nursing home where he stayed because of Alzheimer’s disease. Near the end of his life, I don’t even think he knew who she was. She still visited, still brought him food and still brought him slices of pineapple pie.
Celebrating my mother’s birthday in September became painful for her. On another day in September — Sept. 27, 1994 — she lost a son and I lost a twin brother. After that day, life was never the same for neither one of us.
Staring out my window and reflecting on Septembers past, I too often recall a phone call from my mother on the first anniversary of my brother’s death. I wish the hell I could redo that conversation.
My mother, who had trouble showing emotion, was talking to me in a shaky voice. She talked about my brother and how much she missed him. She said she and I needed to get closer and that I was the only twin son she had left.
I didn’t know how to respond to her words, wasn’t used to the emotion in her voice. While I know I said something to her, my words were too trite, not meaningful enough. I couldn’t find any real words of comfort to give her. When the phone call ended, I felt like I had let her down.
I know what I should have said. I should have said that I loved her and needed her. I should have said I would always be her son and would be there for her.
At the end of her life, I wasn’t there for her. She passed away in an ambulance on her way to a hospital. I was heading there, too, to be with her. Neither one of us made it.
For a long time after her death, I was hard on myself for not making it in time to say goodbye to her, and this September has brought those feelings back. I need to shake off these feelings of grief and guilt and accept things the way they are.
I can’t change the past. The older a person gets the more life a person has to look back on. We all have regrets, things we wish we could change, but maybe it’s more important to remember what went right, to cherish good memories. I need to work harder on this.
Septembers are always going to be difficult for me, that’s a given. As I stare out my window, I need to remember the good times with my mother, how much she loved my children and, yes, despite the fact she never said it, how much she loved me. If tears come to my eyes, I want those tears to come from a happy place and not from guilt or regret.
Sometimes I wish I was a religious man. If I was, I would believe that I’ll see my mother again someday along with all the other loved ones who have passed on. We’ll all have a good time catching up and maybe we could even talk about the mistakes we’ve made while getting to the other side.
Peace will come to me. While maybe it sounds silly, I want to think that my mother is in heaven baking those pineapple pies.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]