From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

A Time for Memories

Loving a child is circular business. . . . The more you give, the more you get, the more you get, the more you want to give.

Penelope Leach

One balmy summer afternoon, I sat on an old blanket under a pine tree chatting with my mother. For years, we had been coming to this park for family picnics and gatherings, and my mother and I often sat in this same spot.

In recent years, we usually just talked about life, but sometimes we recalled events from my childhood. Like the time I was thirteen and had my first date, when Mother brought me to this spot under the tree and told me about the facts of life. Or the time a few years later, when my hair turned out pink for my senior prom and she’d held me while I cried. But the most special event that occurred next to this tree was when I told Mother I was getting married. Tears filled her eyes and this time I held her while she cried. She told me she was sad to lose her little girl but happy to see that I had turned into a beautiful young woman.

Over the years, we’d watched the pine trees in this park grow tall and straight until their needles seemed to touch the clouds. Each year of their growth seemed to match our increasingly close relationship and the deepening love we had for each other.

On this particular sunny afternoon, Mother and I sat quietly breathing in the scent of freshly mown grass. She was unusually solemn and took me by surprise when she asked me, “Who will you bring here after I’m gone?”

I gave her one of my arched-eyebrow inquiries, then smiled. After a few moments, when she didn’t return my smile, I began to wonder what made her ask such a disturbing question. Mother picked up a blade of grass and began to shred it with her fingernail. I’d become well acquainted with my mother’s habits, and this particular one indicated she had something serious on her mind.

For several minutes, we sat in silence gathering our thoughts. A couple of bluejays squawked nearby and an airplane flew overhead, but they didn’t ease the awkward moment between us. Finally, I reached over and took my mother’s hand in mine. “There’s nothing you can’t tell me, Mother,” I said. “We will handle this together, like we always have.”

She looked into my face, and her eyes filled with tears that spilt down her cheeks—cheeks that were alarmingly pale. Even before she said it, I knew what was coming. Mother was dying.

I held her tightly while she told me that her heart condition was worsening and couldn’t be repaired. I think I had known for quite a while but had not been willing to admit it to myself. She’d had several heart attacks and, a few years ago, even open-heart surgery. What I didn’t know, and what she had kept from me, was that her condition wasn’t improving. We talked about her options, which were few; we cried, held each other and wished for more time together.

That was many years ago now. Mother died soon after that day, before my sons had a chance to know her. I still come to the park, but now I bring my boys. I still sit under that same sturdy pine tree on an old blanket and talk to my sons of family picnics, gatherings and the grandmother they never knew. Just as my mother did with me, I tell my children about their youthful antics and praise them for their accomplishments as young adults. We come to this special place to create our own memories—memories that I know would make my mother smile with pride.

Not long ago my oldest son wanted to come to the park and talk, so we came and sat under our tree. He hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, then he finally told me he was getting married. I cried tears of joy as my son hugged me—his hug a rare and special treat. I told him how proud I was of the man he had become.

As I sat there that cool April afternoon soaking up the sun and the smell of freshly mown grass, I felt I had come full circle under this giant pine tree. Holding my son in my arms, I was happy for him, just the way I knew my mother had been happy for me all those years ago when I told her I was getting married.

Looking over my son’s shoulder, I saw that several young pine saplings had been planted recently. As these trees grow straight and tall, I thought, will the lives of my family continue to grow with them? I wanted to share this spot with my grandchildren, too.

The branches above were swaying in the breeze and in them I heard a whispering voice: Who will you bring here when I’m gone? It was my mother’s voice, and I tightened my arms around my son.

Sharon Wright

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