This weekend marks another Mother’s Day without the man who made a mother out of me, the man who loved me so well and for so long. Our girl plans to take time off work to spend the day with me, and we know – but we keep it to ourselves – that looking forward to a special Sunday together will lead to looking back to the way it used to be, to once upon a time when she, her father in tow, set out on the annual quest for a gift for me. Every antique store in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area was their stomping ground as they searched for something bijou, something that would bring whimsy to our backyard – the kind of thing I would never need but would more than make my day. There are reminders still – napping cats wrought of stone and metal, painted birdhouses, fading windsocks, and wind chimes of bamboo that would toil less were they hung from a Cypress tree on the Monterey coast. Always – because I would have been annoyed otherwise – that man of mine would commision for me a piece of original art by our daughter. We both knew my odds of acquiring such a piece were significantly better when he asked her to do it. We all knew our dance steps.
At the same time, every year on Mother’s Day in America, I am drawn back to another world, another time with my mother. The miles between us fall away, and there she is standing in our garden; in her arms a great armful of sheets rescued from the clothes-line just before another rain. Next, there is the folding, a precise ritual, my father her partner in a dance handed down from one generation to the next.
Our daughter learned those same moves not by the ironing board in my mother’s kitchen on the Dublin Road, but on the sandy edges of California, late on an August evening before fog rolled in. Facing me, a blanket stretched between us, she stepped forward, intent on matching her corners to mine, my edge to hers.
In the middle we met, and there we paused to make the final fold, while unbeknownst to us, her father took photographs of us and wrote our names in the sand, and waited for the tide to wash them away. Forever.
And still we dance.
From Clearances V by Seamus Heaney
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984I
“The cool that came off the sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them
But when I took my corners of the linen
And pulled against her, first straight down the hem
And then diagonally, then flapped and shook
The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,
They made a dried-out undulating thwack.
So we’d stretch and fold and end up hand to hand
For a split second as if nothing had happened
For nothing had that had not always happened
Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,
Coming close again by holding back
In moves where I was x and she was o
Inscribed in sheets she’d sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.“
Listen here as Seamus Heaney reads the poem.