My mother was beautiful as a young woman, or at least that’s what my dad always says. Actually, he always says that she was beautiful at every age, and I know he means it. I remember her much more as an older woman of the 1980s and 1990s, wearing culotte shorts and sporting the hair of the time period. She looked like any other mom, I guess, and I never thought of her as particularly beautiful.
But to my dad, she was.
My dad loves to talk about my mom. I knew her better than my kids ever knew Shawn, because I had more time with her. But of course I was still basically a child when my mom died, and that meant that I would never fully know her. Luckily for me, my dad has kept her alive. I still love hearing about how my mom could make anything with her sewing machine and how she learned cutting-edge techniques to use in our darkroom when she was developing film. “She was so creative,” my dad often reminds me, “and so beautiful.”
He always adds that part at the end.
I thought of my mom the other day as I was on a walk with Claire. We were passing by a bunch of open fields covered with wildflowers, including Queen Anne’s lace. I went up and picked one. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes!” she said back. “What is it?”
“It’s Queen Anne’s lace,” I replied. “My mom loved it. She used to take it and laminate it between two pieces of plastic so it wouldn’t wilt. We hung them on the Christmas tree and used them for bookmarks.”
Claire listened intently, as she always does when we talk about people who’ve died. She asked about picking some to make a vase of flowers. “Well,” I said, “most people think of Queen Anne’s lace as a weed.”
“Really?” she said. “But it’s so beautiful!”
I agreed. I love the intricate designs of this white flower and I appreciate the way it does actually look like lace. But I know that it is also invasive, and that many feel the leaves of the plant are quite ugly. Not everyone loves Queen Anne’s lace, that I know.
But my mom could see their beauty.
My mom actually always loved plants and people who weren’t quite perfect. She loved handmade quilts with funny patterns and drawers so stuffed with markers that they couldn’t fully close. And more than all of that, she loved people of all kinds. Her favorite child in my class was the kid who no one liked, the one who acted out and was always in trouble. She chose him as her favorite, always talking to him and giving him extra help when she volunteered in our classrooms. When we’d ask her why, she simply said that he was “a great kid, deep down.”
I guess my mom saw a bit of herself in these imperfect people and things. Beautiful and yet quite complicated, my mother was a contradiction at times. When I was a teenager, I often wondered why she would stay in her room all day. “Why can’t she just be happy?” I wondered out loud and in my diaries.
Depression wasn’t something she could ever fully escape. Eventually, it would take over completely.
22 years ago, on this day, she took her own life.
Those weeks and months after her death were terrible. I felt destroyed and unmoored, unclear of who I was in the world. What does it mean to leave home and try to face the world when you’ve just lost your mom? I was only 19, and I had become a motherless daughter.
My father held me up, while also raising my younger sister. He didn’t know how to do it, really, but he knew that he had to do two things: love us and keep my mother’s memory alive.
He did both really well. He was not perfect, but that is not what we needed.
Instead of burying my mom forever, he told stories about her with any chance that he got. 22 years later, he’s still telling her stories.
And a few years ago, when I wanted some extra Christmas ornaments, my dad sent me a box. At the bottom were a number of handmade ornaments, including a flower pressed into some plastic.
It was Queen Anne’s lace, and almost instantly, I was transported back to my kitchen table in Oregon, watching my mom carefully press the flower flat so we could hang it on our tree.
“Isn’t it pretty?” she must have said, because I know she loved that flower. I’m sure I would have agreed, just as Claire did when I showed it to her.
Because Queen Anne’s lace is beautiful. Not to everyone, of course. But the flower holds a certain magic for me and for my mom and for Claire.
Yes, it has plenty of ugly parts to it, just as anything does. The edges of an object – or a person – can sometimes be jagged.
But they can also be beautiful.