My mom was made of art.
She was artistic, yes, but she also lived and breathed creativity in all of its quirkiness and simple beauty. She—sometimes reluctantly—embraced the ebb and flow of life and channeled both the light and dark moments into her handmade works, so as to emit splendor from every weave of a needle; every scratch of a pencil. Hers was a life more fulfilled by resourceful optimism.
One lazy summer evening found me sauntering into our front room, watching my mom sitting in the small corner that served as her sewing and craft area. I plopped down on the green carpet and sat cross-legged, flanked by G.I Joes and our dog, Abby. My eyes refused to blink as I watched my mom’s gentle, agile hands manipulate her chosen medium; a piece of fabric she would transform into a stuffed animal for a niece or nephew’s birthday, or charcoal pencil to paper to produce a sketch of one of our tattered cats sitting in the windowsill staring affectionately at her.
She was surrounded by a large rectangular sewing table, boxes and bins of ribbon, a craft store’s worth of fabric in old Avon boxes, and miles of spools of colored thread. Her chair –most likely some sort of “gift” from a church member who purchased a new one for their home office—creaked and groaned as she made calculated pivots to reach for thread, or to pat the furry head of our grossly overweight cat, Louie, reassuring him he was receiving her undivided attention.
The hot, humid Indiana summer evening drove her to set up our large blue—very child un-friendly—steel box fan, and she opted for the coolness of a hand-made summer dress that soared past her knees screaming: ‘I’m a conservative hippy!’ Varicose veins—like broken blue calligraphies—were drawn around her calves and shins from years working on her feet. Her feet found comfort in brown leather moccasins decorated with small beads and tassels in Native American patterns—a new pair each year as a small gift to herself.
Nearby stood a tall glistening glass of sun tea that she swore tasted differently than iced tea that simply steeped on the kitchen counter—as if the sun’s energy transferred to the tea enhancing the flavor. Complementing the tea would be a small bowl of peanuts or saltines on which she would nibble in between precisely sewn stitches or the delicate shading of a sketch.
In winter months, the iced tea was replaced with hot along with an occasional peanut butter sandwich. She knew to leave the knife and peanut butter jar on the counter since one of us would see her eating the sandwich and immediately want one. No one can spread peanut butter like a mother’s careful, flowing hands.
There would always, always be music filling the air: Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, and her favorite: Smokey Robinson. There were times when she would close her eyes, lift her hands, and get lost in the earthy, yearning Motown emotion; singing and dancing as if she was a graceful puppet on soft strings. Motown moved the blood in her heart; cajoled the sweetness in her soul. Come to think of it, my mom might’ve been a 30-something black woman at heart.
Out of all her selflessness, however, she took great personal pride in her three kids. She had no doubt in her ability to love us honestly and completely. We were the medium she chose to work on until she was exhausted at the end of each day. And from simply witnessing her in all her endless glow and optimism, I had no doubt that I would also work with my hands and heart to return that love to her—to bring light from the dark, and joy from the pain.
And maybe give sun tea a second chance.
Happy Birthday, Mom.