I remember this feeling from summers spent at CYO Camp Rancho Framasa. Lying in my sleeping bag at night, sweating, scratching mosquito bites on my legs, peeling the sunburn from my nose, and feeling the little, nagging ball of pain in the corner of my stomach.
Camp days were filled to overflowing with crafts and swimming and creek hikes and horseback riding. But in the stillness of the dark Brown County nights, while everyone else renewed themselves with sleep for the next day’s adventures, I missed my mom.
I never would have admitted it to her then. She loved telling me the story of how, when she was a child (one of eight), she’d begged Grandma and Grandpa to let her go to summer camp. They couldn’t afford it, but they’d scrimped and saved and somehow managed to send her. And she’d cried all day and all night, missing home, making lanyard after lanyard after lanyard — a veritable sea of lanyards to keep her afloat during the sick-to-her-stomach days. She’d begged my grandma to pick her up early, and Grandma had refused. They’d paid the money; Mom was staying.
We moved to Mississippi; I have to stay.
But I miss her so much. I called this morning to wish her a happy birthday, and she sounded so far away, so frail. She’s 72 today. I am shocked at that passage of time. Her health isn’t good. She’s been in and out of the hospital this year, and every time she comes home, she leaves a little piece of her vitality in that sterile, white room. It feels like the wrong time to be 604 miles away, and yet, here I am. I want to drive home and see her, but she doesn’t want to worry about me traversing through the Indiana snow.
“Wait until the weather’s better,” she instructed. Some things never change.
She’s going to lunch with her sisters, with Carrie, with her friends today. But her heart isn’t in it. She just doesn’t feel well. She says she doesn’t even want to order her namesake drink — her beloved Keoke coffee.
“I’ll just have a Diet Coke,” she said. That’s how I know for sure she’s not herself.
“I miss you so much,” she said, choking back tears. “I just want to hold your hand. I want to sit with you at lunch outside in the sun and have a stranger tell me I look radiant.”
She deflects with humor, my mom. She makes us both laugh so we’re less likely to cry.
But friends, I am still crying today. I miss her so. I would give anything to hold her soft, wrinkled hand and watch the light play off her gorgeous mane of silver. When God lined us all up in heaven and let us pick our Moms, I chose wisely. I’ve made many missteps in my life, but in this regard, I won the grand prize. My mom is beautiful, smart, and witty. She’s always embraced the friends and boyfriends who have treated me well, and has kicked the asses (at least in her own mind) of those who broke my heart. She’s supported every venture I’ve ever undertaken — even when she didn’t know the home team from the visitors. She’s loves me, loves my sister, loves her grand babies unconditionally and with the greatest zest and fervor.
She loves hard.
I didn’t get her lovely brown eyes or her beautiful white hair or that washboard stomach she maintained well into her 40s, but she gave me the greatest gift of all — the capacity to love with every ounce of my being.
It’s all coming back to you today, Mama. Every last drop.
I love and miss you so much. Happy, happy birthday to the one who gave me life, the one who fills me up when I’m empty, the one who has never let go… not for a moment.
I’ll have a Keoke in your honor today. XO