Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Mother's Day

Today is an important anniversary for me.

Yes, I know it is Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of Mexico's victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is also the anniversary of the flash flood here in Dallas that took my mother's life — an event that has had infinitely more significance in mine than the battle that was fought more than 150 years ago.

Now, I always think of Mom at this time of year — actually, she crosses my mind at least once every day — but, for some reason, memories of Mom have been especially plentiful for me this year. There is no particular reason for that, I suppose. This isn't what might be called a milestone anniversary. Last year was, but this year is not.

It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened — and, in some ways, I guess I still have work to do, but I have largely come to terms with it.

The time around my mother's death and funeral has been a blur for me for many years. The strongest memory I have of that time is how unusually green everything was. That was an indicator of the conditions that led to Mom's death. There had been so much rain that spring that the ground was saturated. When the rain began to fall on the night my mother died, there was no place for the water to go. Thus, the flooding. Nearly two dozen people died that night.

Now, it always gets green here in the spring as it does just about everywhere else. It is the intensity level that changes, depending upon how much rain we get. If we don't get much rain, the green can be kind of dull, bordering on brown — an almost sure sign of a scorched–earth summer to come.

But the green of the grass and the trees that spring was deep, rich, vibrant. I have lived here more than 20 years — and visited here frequently as a child — and I have only seen green like that around here one other time — last year, which, as I say, was a milestone anniversary. We had a lot of rain — and some flooding, too. Talk about deja vu.

The green this spring seems to be more ordinary, kind of an average green. There is nothing about it, really, that should make me think of Mom or the time when she died.

And it doesn't. In fact, it isn't a visual thing at all. It's the sounds.

We lived in the country when I was growing up, and the sounds of wildlife were all around us. Birds, mostly, I suppose, but there were also crickets — and sounds that I still can't identify. Those sounds were the sounds of home — like the sounds of my parents' voices coming from downstairs or the wind rustling the leaves in the trees outside my bedroom window.

When I was growing up, I guess I was what was called a morning person. I got that from Dad, I guess. He's always been a morning person.

Anyway, I remember many mornings when I awoke before the sun came up, and I sat next to my window and listened to the sounds around me. I remember hearing the birds. I never saw them, and I have never been very good at identifying birds by the sounds they made so I don't know what kind of birds they were. But the same kind of bird must have taken up residence near my apartment because the song I have heard in recent days is one I have heard before, and it brings back strong memories of being a teenager.

That brings me to another point. As I say, I was a morning person when I was a boy, and I guess I remained one through my college years, but I got a newspaper job when I was 24 that required me to work nights. It wasn't easy, but I finally made the transition that had to be made if a morning person by nature was going to work a job that kept him at the office until after midnight.

Then I made the decision to go back to graduate school, and I worked at the local paper, which was an afternoon paper. That meant I had to be at work at 5 a.m. I would put in eight hours in the newsroom, then I would work for three hours in the afternoon as a teaching assistant in the editing lab. Graduate classes always met at night so if I had a class on a particular night, that would take about three more hours.

I kind of lost track of whether I was a morning person or a night person under those 20–hour–a–day conditions.

I've been working jobs that had more standard daytime hours for quite awhile now so I kind of drift from morning person to night person back to morning person. Lately I've been more of a morning person — at least as far as when I wake up is concerned. As it was when I was in my teens, I am often up before daybreak, and I listen to the sounds around me. I live in a city now so the sounds are the sounds one hears in a city — car engines running, buses stopping at the bus stop in front of my apartment building, the occasional wailing siren from a police car as it goes speeding by.

But even those sounds, mingled with the sounds of birds, remind me of Mom. She was a first–grade teacher, and there were times when I visited my parents and I would drive her to school in the mornings while I was visiting. The sounds of the city and the sounds of the birds remind me of mornings when I helped her carry her stuff to the car, then drove her to school and helped her unload.

I had kind of forgotten those mornings, but I'm glad to be reminded of them. I guess there wasn't anything remarkable about those times, just that I shared them with Mom.

And that was enough to make them special.

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