Here’s what I was going to say at the services. I’m not upset that I didn’t, but I thought I’d type it up and post it anyway. I probably would have edited some out, but… Anyway, here it is:
I’d like to start with something from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
My mom was very Real, because she was loved very, very much. She had Ralph and twenty-two years together, and she had my dad before that. She had her sister who meant everything to her, and she had her children. She had hers and her “bonus” children – and all the men and women brave enough to join this family. And she had her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, and all the friends she made that she kept all her life.
I can only talk as one of her children. We’re a family of potato chip sandwiches, the Gray Ghost, camping, and the Booger T bird. We’re a family of nicknames, and nicknames on top of that. We’re a mix of our father’s temper, our mother’s dramatics, and both of their stubborn sides. We have a history of having so many kids in the car, our mom didn’t know Cheryl got left behind, of Pat eating a moth, of Mrs. Force, and having a ball eating bush in the yard.
We have no problem with volume, as we learned when we made a tape of a Thanksgiving dinner for my brother while he was away, serving in the Navy. We had cars painted with Woody Woodpecker parked outside, Betsy the Plymouth, and Dad’s white convertible. We had camping trips, Florida trips, and vacations on Long Beach Island. We were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, have major Christmas parties, Merry Unbirthday parties, and long distance baby showers. We had family pets from Smokey to Mittens, to Rufus for my mother and me, to her and Ralph’s Muffin. I know these references don’t make sense to everyone; it’s just the memories in a family’s jargon, the way all families have.
She gave back as good as she got. She used to joke that she was more creative when she was a younger mom, telling Terry and Cheryl that if they wouldn’t come home and running around like puppies, she’d treat them like puppies, making little halters and leads out of clothesline. Later, she turned guilt into a martial art. She could get me to do more with a sigh, and when I was acting up in school, turning my good grades into detentions and trouble, she got me to straighten up with one expression: “If your father had lived…” I would have rathered she dug my heart out with a spoon!
After our dad died, my Mom and I were on our own for a long time. We even got through those hormonal years when I was a teenager who turned being moody into an art form, and she entered menopause. After she re-married and I met John, we always had one night, Wednesdays, together. Our night. And when I mentioned to my family that I always started our phone calls with “Hi, Lady” and ended with “Love you.” and two kisses, I found out how many of the rest of us had some special little thing they shared with her too.
Like the rest of the family, I loved her. I still love her. She was my mom.
Our love, with everyone else’s, made her Real, and because she was, her hair turned gray and her walk slowed over the years; she thought she would break, but she endured. She laughed a lot and cried sometimes, and for anyone who knows my family, you’re not surprised that she did both of those things. Her heart had a great capacity for love, and we thought it would last for a lot more years.
My mom once said to me that she wished she had done the sort of work she had dreamed of, like becoming the pediatric nurse that she once planned on being, or if she had been able to stay in the Girl Scout office. But she didn’t. She had the family she dreamed of, but she didn’t have the life of meaningful work that she had hoped for. So, her family would be her legacy. Her children and the generations after them.
When she said all of this years ago, it didn’t mean much to me. I needed to grow a little Real myself to the point where I look at my life and wonder what meaning can I give it. And, unfortunately, I had to lose her. So now when I think about she said, I want more than anything to work on being a better person. I can’t promise I won’t fail at times; I am still my father’s temper and my mother’s dramatics, and both of their stubbornness rolled into one. But I need to be a better person, the best person I can be, so that I make my piece of her legacy a worthy one.