Oddly enough, my parents are born on back-to-back days, in the same year, so today is the birthday of my favorite matriarch (and a few of yours -- shout to my siblings, kids, nieces, nephews) -- the one and only Glenda Baggott.
In her Facebook photo, she's leaning against a baby grand piano; when she was 16, her father (who ran an oyster bar in Raleigh) won a bet (letting a lot of money ride on the NY Yankees). With his pay-out, he told my mother he'd buy her a car or a piano. She picked the piano -- this exact one -- because, by sixteen, she was a serious pianist, and she went onto study in college and then won a scholarship to study in Rome, but she'd met this handsome law student and married the guy, aka my Pops.
A brilliant woman, her mind holds every detail of the past -- in particular any illness, who had it, how they got rid of it or how, exactly, it did them in -- as well as a meticulous memory for story -- who told her what, when, where, and why it was fascinating -- and catalog of all things -- I mean, where they are, what box, what label, what drawer -- and, most impressively -- a constantly shifting calendar of where all of her children, their partners, her thirteen grandchildren are at all times, which sometimes includes the entire globe.
Before she sent me to school, she said, "One day, the teacher is going to ask for volunteers to bring in goodies for some kind of classroom party. As soon as she asks, you raise your hand and say, 'My mother will bring in the cups and napkins. Got it?"
As I was her youngest and by 4th grade I took a bus to school and the bus driver wore fringed moccasins which indicated, to my mother, drug-use, I stayed home from school a lot.
In fact, especially in 4th and 5th grade, she kept me home if it was raining or finally pretty out or even for her birthday. "You get off for the presidents' birthdays, but you wouldn't be alive without me!"
In lieu of geography and chunks of math, I stayed learned how to play canasta, did some banking, and listened to my mother tell stories. She's a wonderful storyteller and taught me how stories should work in the most natural way possible -- by offering them and letting them unfold.
She was the one who called up the head of the English department at Loyola University -- before I showed up for freshman year -- to ask if my education there would ruin my innate talent as a writer.
She was the one who dropped me off at grad school with the advice, "What ever you do don't fall in love with a poet." And when I told her a few weeks later that I wasn't dating an actor, she said, "Oh, dear Lord, you're dating a poet." (She also loves my husband as one of her own.)
My mother is the last person I'd have pegged as one day becoming Zen. She once shone a flashlight at me and my date parked in the driveway because, though she didn't want to interrupt, the car was running and she thought we might asphyxiate and die. (Note: We weren't in a garage. We didn't own a garage.)
And we once passed another car on the highway while we were on vacation and noticed it was sparking. My father said, "Roll down your window and very calmly tell them to pull over."
My mother nodded, rolled down her window and screamed, "Your car's on FIRE! Your car's on fire!"
And yet, she's become very wise and all-accepting and she often takes the long view. She is the most loving person I know.
Today, she and my dad are at noon yoga dance, which one has to pronounce VERY carefully or people think your parents are at NUDE yoga dance.
I talked to her this morning and she said not to write about her. She told me I have too much on my plate, that I'd just written about my father. She may have even quoted her own mother who was forever telling me to rest my brain. No use. Here I am.
She told me that my dad said, "Happy birthday" to her when she first woke up and she said, "I am happy." She told me that this felt true in a more meaningful way than ever, like such a gift.
She is the gift.