Intersections – Remember your mother
By Nicki Salcedo
When my dad died, we forgot about my mother. We remembered her in those silly ways. Meals, when food tasted like nothing. Company, when the echoing silence of his absence became too much to bear. We remembered to feed her, to be with her, but mostly she was forgotten.
It took me an entire year to figure out that honoring the memory of my dad meant honoring the presence of my mom. That’s the way people are. We think about the things we don’t have. We enjoy memory because it is false. That’s the way I am.
When my dad died, I began thinking about my parents as people. “Mom” is a job and a title. My mom was the girl who was a spitfire. My mom was the girl who loved horses. The girl who mourned her pet chickens and refused to eat meat. My mom was not always a mom. I needed this year to remember that.
Last month, I walked onto a stage and told a story about my mom and about me becoming a mother as part of the Listen to Your Mother show in Atlanta.
I wanted to talk a little about how you become a mother even though it is something I can’t explain. There are very few days when I feel like a mother. I’m still a girl who likes Westerns and magic. I have a vivid imagination, but I felt afraid to tell my story. I felt more like a child than a mother. As I prepared to take the stage, I learned a little about being born.
The wings of the stage are dark. There are terms for each side of the stage and the stage curtains. Not right and left or curtain. Foreign words. It was like being on a ship. Enter on the port side. Exit starboard. There was a moment of listing, when the stage gently moved from side to side. I’d never been so scared in my life.
In the shadows of the stage, I remembered that my mom and I are the same. She would not want to walk out onto a stage in front of an audience. I was about to reveal her secrets and mine. Secrets about those who have lost their mothers and their babies. Those who remember fondly and with regret. Those who can laugh and smile. We all can do these things. We share the same secrets.
For a moment, I thought about my father. I looked around the theater for my dad. My dad’s death is not so far away for him to feel gone. He walked on stage with me. He made my feeble voice sound strong and true.
He would have like the production of it all. Live microphone. Spotlight. Applause. He would have thought about his own mother, Rose.
My mom thought about her mother, Ethel, who died too young.
My husband thought about his mother and his grandmother. My sisters were there to hold my mom’s hand.
Maybe it is easier for me to think about my mom and the mothers who came before me than to think about myself as a mom. All of us together have stories and secrets. With kids and without, with mothers and without.
I walked on stage only worried about what my mom would think. And yet I knew she wouldn’t care if I stumbled over my words or if I felt like crying. Of all the people in this world, she had endured most of my tears.
That Saturday night, I was the first to read. I was scared, but then I remembered that the stories after mine would only get better and better until the end. The weight of my anxiety lessened.
We told 13 stories. Thirteen has always been one of my favorite numbers because I don’t believe in luck, good or bad. The 13 motherhood stories sounded familiar to me. We were each telling our secrets. One day you find out that all of our secrets are the same.
The story I least expected made me cry. It was the happiest of stories. Life is funny that way. Even happiness can make you sad. Sadness can make you thankful. Thankfulness can make you laugh.
When I left the stage, I never stopped feeling afraid. But I did feel happy. I thought about my grandmothers and their untold stories. If those women were alive to hear our stories today, they would have recognized our words for their truth. For the secrets we normally keep. We write and read to find and share these same secrets over and over again.
We all have stories. We should be afraid of the spotlight and also the shadows. We should remember our mothers. Even the absent ones. Even the ones who made mistakes. We should remember their stories. Someone might need to hear that story. I never knew about the horses. I had to laugh about the chickens. I never thought to ask. But I was glad when she told me.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.