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.