My One Clear Memory of My Mother

My mother was a very beautiful and serious and woman. People said she looked like Myrna Loy, and she truly did. She was always elegant and poised.
I spent hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of hours with her, but I can only very hazily recall a series of important occasions. I don’t remember clearly most of the things she told me– though she was a woman of wit and wisdom.  Nothing specific is left to me of the many times we played violin (mom) and piano (me) together.
Sad to say, perhaps, but here I am at age 70 with only one very clear memory of my mother that doesn’t come from a photograph. (You know the phenomenon, I think: I see a photograph and recognize the occasion of it, but I don’t remember it, not really.)
I was about twelve at the time my one clear memory of my mother takes place: she and I had been talking on the porch about some serious subject, probably Shakespeare or the Bible, and I made some claim of fact which she disputed.

So we went to the bookcase in the living room, to seek written confirmation of my assertion. The cottage bookcase (at home we had many bookshelves, but there, only one) was a low built-in shelf that was tucked in a corner of the room, at a right angle to the wood box, behind a big overstuffed armchair and ottoman combo.

To get within arm’s reach of the shelf, which mostly had games on it anyway, was a difficult task for one person, and almost impossible for two. But my mother and I were both small of frame, so we managed to wedge ourselves behind the chair, next to the bookshelf, and we both hunkered down, squatting by the shelf to look for whatever book we intended to consult.

And I made a joke, a joke my mother for some reason found very funny. I wish I could remember what that joke was. It was not a usual thing for my mother to laugh. She smiled often; she laughed rarely. But I said something that struck her funny bone, and she began to laugh.

I began to laugh as well. And there we were, my mother and me, squatting in a corner of the cottage, between the shelf and the big overstuffed armchair, laughing.
And the more mother laughed, the more I laughed. And the more I laughed– well, you get the idea. In a matter of seconds, we were guffawing.

And my dignified mother laughed so hard that her legs went out from under her, and she fell backward into the upholstered back of the big chair, which moved forward just enough to allow my mother to land on her butt on the floor, feet in the air.
And that’s my clearest of my mother: on her butt on the floor guffawing, looking odd and foolish and awkward and funny.

The whole clearly remembered experience probably lasted a couple of minutes. It is a memory I treasure and recall often as I play with my granddaughters.             I laugh a lot when I am with them. Sometimes I even guffaw.

6 thoughts on “My One Clear Memory of My Mother

  1. Hey Lyn,

    I wish I had known you were in Seattle. I would have loved to have met you. At some point we should connect.

    Thanks for your email. If you are ever near Chicago or MI, let me know! I would like to learn more about the family – both sides.

    All my best,

    • Hi, Connie
      Thanks for writing. I probably will be in MI this summer- going to Au Gres (old Sims Ranch)– There’s a woman who’s written a whole book about the Sims family and
      it makes for fascinating reading. Also, our own Barb Frey has written a memoir. I can put you in touch with some of the people. And there used to be a photo site
      on SmugMug which got taken down for some reason. The pictures there were gems. Let’s stay in touch and I’ll give you some info. warm best, cousin (?) Lyn

    • Hi, Connie- Did you get my mass email to the family? I especially meant it for you and a few others. Would you download my story Counting the Wounds from, please? Let me know what you think. I hope to come to Michigan this summer. I hope to see you. All best wishes-

  2. Lyn, this touching story brought to mind two things for me. The first is this essay by Wallace Stegner — a letter to his mother 55 years after her death.

    The second is the time my wife and her mother were trying to move an overstuffed chair they had gotten me as a surprise gift and got it wedged in the doorway of the office so completely they could not remove it — and the two of them trapped inside the office unable to get over the chair to get out. They laughed til they cried, they guffawed, they called my brother-in-law to get him to rescue them but were laughing so hard they couldn’t speak and he thought something was tragically wrong and that made them laugh even harder. It is one of my wife’s favorite memories of her mother.

    Thank you for bringing both of these things to mind with your story. — Ethan

    • Hi, Chuck- Maybe you had a moment like the one described in Fayetteville? (posted today)- I hope so. All best=

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