A quick peak out of exam-land to say Happy Mother's Day to the woman who has shaped every piece of my self by giving to me from every piece of her self.
On Thursday evening I had the joyful experience of having a group of Italian friends over for an American dinner. “Grazie,” one of them said as he entered for his first home-cooked American meal, and I instinctively countered, “O no, grazie a te!” It was, after all, more blessed to give hospitality than to receive it, more blessed to open my home and kitchen and life than to have them for myself. This lesson I learned from my mother.
After all, one of the joys of my childhood was watching our home get larger as it became more full of people who were welcome to be a part of the family as long as they would like. I didn’t piece together until years later that these people were needy—the Vietnamese refugee, the young couple in transition, the family who had lost a job, the high-schoolers with trouble at home, the young adults trying to get on their feet. To me they were simply more people to love; I had taken a cue from my mother that these people were gifts to us, that the more crowded our kitchen table became the more love there was to go around. If I am a hospitable person, it is only because I learned hospitality from my mother.
As I finished the last touches of the meal and the Italians settled onto the couch, one of them noticed a half-finished watercolor I had left in a corner until I could find time to return to it. “I didn’t know you paint,” she said to me. “Did you take art classes in college?” I hadn’t, of course—I hadn’t taken any art classes since the ones my mother enrolled me into at the recreational center in my childhood, and they certainly were not where I developed as an artist. The only reason the artistic bug stayed with me into adulthood was that I had long ago learned to love art from my mother.
After all, one of my earliest memories involves not love of but frustration with art, as I threw away page after page in my unsuccessful attempts to draw a smiley-face, each one mysteriously becoming a frown despite my greatest efforts. It was my mother who found me there with my pile of scattered, discarded frowns, who sat with me and taught me to follow the curve of the face with my marker. Ultimately it was my mother who taught me not to fear my pen, and I have never put it down entirely since then.
Finally me and the Italians sat down for dinner, and I served them sweet potato soup of my own devising (it was my mother who taught me not to be afraid of experimenting in the kitchen), pot roast with vegetables and gravy (for my mother had taught me that the crock pot is the busy chef’s greatest secret), asparagus (which mom always served us fresh from the garden in the spring and summer), homemade roles (it was mom, of course, who taught me to kneed dough), and strawberry shortcake (my favorite desert that my mother made). We ate on the lovely green china that my mother, the bargaining genius, bought me for ten dollars at a garage sale—she had always taught me that the best things are not always the expensive ones, and that the world is full of treasures for those who are mindful enough to look for them.
When we had finished eating, we sat on my front porch, admiring the spring bulbs that were popping up just like my mother said they would when she gave them to me this winter, which I had planted and watered as my mother taught me to when I was a little girl. As we rocked on the rocking chairs that my mother had driven out to the Midwest in a U-Haul when I moved here three years ago, we admired the pleasant spring evening and the sky, and my heart was full. After all, my mother had taught me to love porches and evening breezes, to watch the twilight sky with the captivating sense of expectancy with my friends had been watching TV. My mother had taught me to love beauty.
There were countless reminders of my mother 800 miles away that evening; to list them all would be tedious. There are ways that sharing my beautiful home with foreign friends made me feel beautiful, but it was all a borrowed beauty, or rather an inherited beauty, or rather a beauty passively received over time from a woman who laboriously taught it. I can write about the beauty of my mother’s lessons (with the words that my mother taught me to speak and later to read and write), but my mother had loved me with more than words: she loved with actions. In her, the word became flesh and cooked then thousand dinners among us, leaving its fingerprints upon me in the process.
I love you, Mom. If it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive, then you are blessed indeed.