I am working on this novel...
What a funny way that is to begin a sentence.
Anyway, my dear buddy More Cows Than People has this exquisite remembrance of one of her life's saints on her blog, and I was commenting to her that I am sorry to have not spent All Saints Day more mindfully-- thinking, for instance, about my mother, who died in February.
Then, thinking aloud (or, more accurately, with my typing fingers), I realized that working on this novel is very much, for me, about remembering my mom. It is loosely based on a number of things that happened to the two of us when I was an adolescent, and my conjecture about some of the things that happened to her, and it is all being wrapped in the conceit of a summer vacation.
So, my novel is, in a way, a kind of extended All Saints exercise.
My mother was no saint. Ha! I just wanted to say that. Except that I fervently believe we are all saints, all called into the gracious community. It's just not always that evident from our behavior. It's also not always evident from our self-regard, and the struggles we have.
Mom was a very hard-working, driven woman-- driven by her experience of growing up during the Depression (she was 86 when she died). She knew things I will probably never know-- what it's like to go hungry because there's no food (her dad died on her tenth birthday, which coincided with the crash of the stock market), what it's like to lose a parent at a very early age, what it's like to dump the bootlegged whisky down the toilet because the police are at the door. She and my father, working together, achieved significant financial stability for themselves and their two (adopted) children. My brother and I never knew want.
But my mother was also someone who was driven by her fear of instability and loss of control, and for that reason she was a pretty controlling and difficult lady. When I was in college I would tell stories about my mom-- mostly with humorous overtones, but they always got raised eyebrows from my friends. Then when she came to visit they would be shocked-- here was a small, pretty grandmotherly type of woman. Everyone expected a six-foot Valkyrie.
And that is how she was in my heart, and still is. She towers. She looms. She loved fiercely and she lived proudly and she lavished everything she could on her children. She died a hard and painful death, and for that, I will always feel sadness and regret.
Some of the sweetest years of my relationship with my mom were her last years. For the past 19 years she has been the best imaginable grandmother to my children. (It also didn't hurt that they took the focus of her intense gaze off me.) Two years before she died I finally confided in her that my marriage was about to end, and I enjoyed several months of her "holding" my anger at my ex (which was very hard for me to feel or experience). She was equisite in anger-- she was an anger artist. She had voodoo dolls, she knew Irish curses. She called forth all her rational and irrational and subrational self to be with me at that painful time. And then, as I pulled myself together and found that my life was actually a still-unfolding wonder, she joined me in peace and forgiveness. "He is really a good father," she said to me, and I nodded in agreement.
So. A saint. Yes. An unforgettable member of the body of God's children, of which we are all a part. An ultimately un-lose-able part of myself. Still with me. Still with me.