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Stories of Our Lives

From my window seat I looked down on cobalt blue cloud shadows that drifted slowly east across green patches of forest. Their shapes shifted like Rorschach blots against the landscape and my mind conjured meaning and memories in their patterns. I was going home, back to Birmingham where so many of the parts of my life took root and form, going home for Mothers Day, the first with her since 2001.

That was the year when my mother, my wife and I had been traveling and away on Mothers Day. As we walked up the ramp into the Charlotte terminal on our return trip, we were startled to hear our names announced on the loud speakers. At the information desk, we learned the sad news that my mother's mother had died in the nursing home during the week we were gone. My grandmother's stories that I never knew were perhaps that day's greatest tragedy, and I was thinking about those conversations that she and I never had as I walked to my gate at the Charlotte terminal on my recent visit south, almost exactly five years later.

Mom is eighty now, independent and still drives-very, very slowly. She picked me up at the Birmingham airport and for a couple of hours, we revisited every place on the south side of town she thought I might remember. Each suburban street held stories of neighbors good or bad, of the local pets we both remembered by name, of girlfriends-names forgotten. Mom learned of petty pranks and transgressions of youth only now confessed. We pieced together the story of our lives from the places where they had happened. This was the same, that had changed.

"I may have told you this" she would begin, and without hesitating for a response, proceed to retell her mother's perspective about episodes in my young life from her adult point of view back in another age. I had heard most of it before. I so wanted to hear it again, because these connections with who and where we once had been are all too easy to forget with the geography that separates us now.

Back home at her apartment on Mother's Day 2006, I discovered that over the years, she had been recording her life story, putting down details remembered about her mother, and about her own childhood in Birmingham, a home town that she never left; about a grandfather that I never met, who died in a hunting accident when she was eleven; about her boyfriends and the sad-romantic times of the war years. She and I listened to the tape together, recorded haltingly in her sweet southern voice, little changed from those scratchy records from her public speaking classes at Woodlawn High School in the early '40s. She was passing on her stories to her children and family in her own voice, so that we would not forget.

Funny how things work out. I had come to see my mother on Mothers Day with a gift: the book I had written as a bridge between us. There wouldn't be so many meetings ahead for the two of us, and my hope had been to finish the book while she was here to know of it, to share with me in the accomplishment of this personal milestone, to hold my stories in her hand. And in return, she handed me her tape. This exchange was one of those rare symmetries that happen so seldom in the seemingly-patternless plodding along our separate ways, parent and child.

My mother and I had both realized the importance of storing and sharing the meaningful moments, of celebrating the people and places of our lives. On Mothers Day, 2006, we gave these gifts to each other while there was yet time. And I hoped that somewhere, my grandmother was watching.

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Comments

:sniff: Lovely, Fred.

Very poignant piece.

she was

Your mother is a wise woman.

I loved this piece, Fred. I have one tape with my mother's voice. I do so wish she had done more, but seemed to not initiate on her own though we discussed her doing so.

I think what she needed was for me to interact with her, recording during that exchange. I so wish I hadn't had so many irons in the fire and could have leisurely done so.

Your mother gave you a real and priceless treasure, but you already know that.

Perhaps you, and each of us should be recording our voices on tape, too

I know you're not waiting with baited breath for a response re your book, but wanted to let you know I did receive it some time ago. Have been unable to start reading it, as life happened, but will look forward to doing so in the months ahead. The timing may be such, that your words will be exactly what I need to read.

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