Those little hellos.

I found many “lost” items while I was packing to move and have found more while unpacking boxes that had been stored in my basement for three years. Some of those stored items were donated; some were hauled away as junk.I recycled or free-cycled what I could. But I found a few absolute treasures in my belongings.

One of these treasures is a coffee mug that my mother loved and drank out of whenever she visited me. As you can see from the image below, the cup is a cartoon of a woman who has collapsed onto the couch in the middle of her chores. She’s wearing a housedress and apron, and she appears to have curlers in her hair. When I bought this (at a Hallmark store, I think), I laughed and laughed. This looks so much like my mother did when I was growing up. She almost always wore a housedress like that, sometimes wore the half-apron (without the bib portion), and slippers. (I think housedresses were the yoga pants of that generation.) Mom loved an afternoon nap, usually before school let out for the day. I would often come home and find her napping. That was probably the only peace and quiet she had all day.

Anyway, not only did this remind me of my mother, but also the woman in the image was named Helen, just like Mom. I bought the mug.

When Mom came for a visit in the late 1980s, she found this mug in my kitchen cabinet and used it for her coffee. At first, I was mortified. I never meant for her to find it, because I didn’t want her to think I was poking fun at her. I mean, I didn’t draw the image, but I did find amusement in it. I didn’t say a word as she joined me at the table with her mug of coffee. I tried to talk about something else.

But the next time she lifted her mug, she read off the text and giggled, “Every once in a while, the handles of responsibility feel slippery to Helen.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, too.

After that, whenever the mug was clean and in the cupboard, she used it. That visit wasn’t nearly long enough for my taste, but it ended the way most visits did – with her getting sick. Mom’s health was always frail (which we later found out was due to lupus), and traveling was hard on her. The day she got sick, we were at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., near where we lived. Mom had come up from Georgia. She had wanted to see the sights in our nation’s capital, particularly the Lincoln, but she got very ill almost as soon as we had climbed the steps. She ended up in the ladies room, deathly ill, and I had to send my husband for the car. After a time, she was able to leave the ladies room, but she was weak and never got to enjoy the sights she had so wanted to see. We took her straight to the hospital and she was there for several days before she was well enough to come back to our house. We eventually got her home. I fear I have a bit of that problem, as well. Traveling is very hard on me. I have far more compassion now for what she endured.

So to find this mug during my move gave me that sense of nostalgia and loss. I haven’t used the mug since I found it. In fact, I might put it in my curio cabinet next to one of her pictures so I can keep the association and not dilute it with the mundane act of drinking from the mug (and risking breakage). Mom died in 2008, a year before my daughter died. I still miss her and think of her often, particularly when I’m in a quandary about something. She didn’t have all the answers, but she was a damned good listener.

I should have known she would find the mug amusing, rather than insulting. Mom always did have a wry sense of humor. She never thought she was smart, because she had to leave school after the ninth grade (school meant riding on the open-air bus, which kicked up dust, throwing her into an asthma attack for which they had no decent medication in the 1940s). Add to that the fact that my dad often berated her and called her names. She was convinced she was dumb. But she wasn’t dumb, not about life. She was friendly – sometimes too friendly – and open. After Dad died, she changed and became more of who I think she must have been before she married him.

I have a picture of her somewhere from when she was in the nursing home. They were celebrating Halloween, and she was sitting in a chair, dressed in her nicest clothes, wearing a Cookie Monster mask. That was one hundred percent Mom! She was genteel, with a love for nice clothes and jewelry, but she was also funny! Even when she didn’t feel well, she could make me laugh. I miss her.

I’d like to think that I have a bit of Mom in me. Though I’m looking increasingly like a little old lady (cue the white hair!), I still use humor to make friends, to lighten the mood in a room, or just to share a big laugh with my son. He remembers my mom fondly, and she was nuts about him. We didn’t spend a lot of time with her while my kids were growing up, but we saw her whenever we could. Both of his grandfathers died young, and his other grandmother is … well … a little bit off her rocker, so my mom really filled all the spots.

This morning, when I saw the Helen mug in my cabinet, I had to smile. Things like finding this mug have brought back some really good memories, which balance out the torment I put myself through when I find something of my daughter’s.

Thanks, Mom, for being who you were and for leaving me with a legacy of wisdom and humor.

Have a lovely weekend, all.

~Jude

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