Yesterday marked the nine-year anniversary of my mother’s death. Every May, this date rattles me, but for some reason, this year, I’m more emotional than usual. I attribute this to many facts — chief among them: Hormone-Gate, old age and the barometric pressure of my life.
I think of her daily, because she stares right back at me each time I look into the mirror. And this is often, as 12 times a day I wage the battle of: “What is this fresh hell? Am I plucking my mustache hair or is that a wrinkle?” Answer: usually, wrinkle.
We called her The Polish Falcon. For good or bad, among her six children, I am the one who not only looks most like her, but inherited most of her traits. Some bad. Minimally good. And the lessons learned from her are the behemoths that cast lights and shadows over my entire life.
For example, because our looks were so similar, she always felt the need to offer unsolicited fashion advice on the daily: “That green looks horrible on us. It makes us look too sallow. Something in a coral would suit us better.” Who’s this us? But, guess what? The woman couldn’t miss. I still look like a crap sandwich in green. I really do.
I share with my mother the inability to sugarcoat anything. She only knew brutal honesty, and I learned from a very young age that if I didn’t really want her opinion on any matter ranging from my artistic ability to a misguided perm, I should never ask the question. I’d ask my dad instead. He knew how to lie for my greater good. Bless his heart, he still does.
My mother taught me early and often not to expect things that were mostly unattainable, so as not to be suffocated with a huge pillow of disappointment throughout life; a CB radio, longer legs, athleticism, a lemur, a pug nose. She’d tell me to poop into one hand and wish in the other and see which filled up first. Sweet.
She taught me the merits of proper English. The bane of her existence was the term “should’ve went” instead of the correct “should’ve gone.” My friends historically refused to speak in front of my mother. Additionally, we could never say “I’m done.” Her response was always: “A turkey gets done in the oven! People are finished. You’re not a turkey, are you?” She confused me so thoroughly, I started to think I had feathers and a beak. I actually did have the beak.
She taught me not to hang onto extraneous possessions — by renting a dumpster, into which she unceremoniously jettisoned my entire childhood: Barbie Beauty Center, Barbie Camper, and most painful of all, my coveted Barbie Dream House. When I came home to visit and wanted to join Barbie and Ken for happy hour in the townhouse, at the bar I made from a tissue box, all I found was Skipper’s head under a bed amid dust bunnies and a solo white loafer of Ken’s. I screeched and she admonished: “You are 27 years old. You do not need a Barbie Camper.” Harrumph. I still have Skipper’s head, though. Maybe I can make a key chain out of it.
The lessons my mother taught me are as indelible upon my soul as a cosmic tattoo. If mothers only realized how much of what they say is engraved on a child’s psyche well into adulthood, they would speak more carefully and with more precision. This stuff lasts a lifetime.
Girls: Be good to your mothers. When you lose them, you lose an enormous corner of your heart. I know The Polish Falcon is looking down on me right now. I miss her sassiness and honesty. And, I totally know she’s disgusted with the mustard yellow shirt I wore yesterday.
And for now, I’m done. I mean, I’m finished. I am no turkey.
Maria Jiunta Heck, of West Pittston, is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at [email protected]