In another month, I’ll celebrate my mom’s birthday–for the 12th time since her death. A dozen years, a milestone of remembering. With the day comes a sort of dread, that I will forget–that I’ve already forgotten how the back of her hand felt under my fingertips, how much she liked her hair brushed, how she looked while telling her favorite jokes (I can’t repeat in polite company).
Am I remembering all that right?
Since my last post on the myths–and reality–we make around boys, I’ve been thinking a lot about the myths we create to remember. And I realize I’ve done that with my mom, picked key memories to cobble together her story–one to tell myself, over and over–because we don’t forget a good story. And forgetting is the most frightening thing.
And so it was with relief that I got ahold of my mom’s high school yearbook, senior year, 1963–all skinny ties and strands of pearls–knowing the photographs and notes from my mom’s teenage friends would bolster the Mom-myth I’d written (providing supporting backstory, if no surprises).
My controlling Mom-narrative: Mom as earth mother-type, who, after marrying my dad, Bill, in 1969 moved out to the country where they would care for the house and garden, a goat named Esmeralda, ducks and chickens, and, finally, us kids. Let’s just say, before the term “granola” became popular shorthand, my mom made her own. Of course, she had a life before the 70s, as a college co-ed, the only girl in her family to go. Before that, she had a childhood she smiled through, if sometime just barely. Did she want to forget?
Only truth would be found within these yearbook pages, says the so-serious foreword, complete with classical (mythical) epigraph:
I flipped through the book, its barely-yellowed pages telling me my mom hadn’t done this, hadn’t looked back on her teenage years.
Would she approve of my snooping?
Me, if I ordered my own senior yearbook, I don’t know where it would be now, and I can’t imagine I would have shown up on any pages. I didn’t “do” senior photos or homecomings or proms, busy with ballet. Really, here’s the whole truth: when my husband and I were engaged, I took him to my 10-year reunion. “Why aren’t you talking to anyone?” Mr. Popular asked me. I realized then we’d had polar-opposite high school experiences. “I was too shy to talk to them then. Why would I talk to them now?” And that was the end of my reunion-ing.
Maybe I could live vicariously though these yearbook pages of my mom’s. I mean, look at all the notes from friends, sharing in their Annette Funicello-esque experiences of senior year. French class was a big thumbs up; gym class was a big thumbs down. No surprises there. Mostly, my Mom-myth was supported through cursive messages extolling her sweetness–even if she didn’t smile enough (sorry, Dick).
In the teenage years, when a girl could be expected to live only for herself–her future husband and children not even blips on the horizon of consciousness–my mom seemed already to be living for others. Maybe even us, her future family. I mean, if she can’t be here for us now, could she have made up for this lack by being there for us back then–even before there was an us?
Then there are the bold declarations from the guys, with their heavy-rimmed glasses and flat-tops: “P.S. I love you,” says Rog; “I would flirt with you, if only…” says Timothy, otherwise known as Dudd, Cisco, and Bones. Axel, aka Axl, tells my mom in his note that he’ll drop her a card from Paris.
There are surprises though. Did Mom–Barb–really go by the nickname Booge? And why? What’s the story there? “Best Looking” superlative? She never told us that! All her poopooing her looks when we were kids. A show of modesty–or solidarity when we girls endured bad teenage skin and heartache?
Then, there came the real surprise, just one mild-mannered, four-letter word, but one I swear I’d never heard from Mom before. A serious high school boyfriend? “Take care of him,” one note says…”I’d flirt with you if not for…” and “good luck with…”
Who the hell is Walt?
Best of luck always to a real sweet girl. It’s been fun getting to know you this year in dear old Carlo’s class and also our great (?!) gym class. Good luck with Walt, he’s a great guy and you make a wonderful couple. Have fun this summer…
Reader, stay tuned…
But first, tell me how you remember? How do you create the stories you tell yourself about those you’ve lost? And…did you save your high school yearbook? Were you at all surprised by your teenage self?