One year, shortly before we were to leave for Christmas Eve mass, and hours before the entire family was to descend on our house to celebrate the holiday, the basement pipes exploded. My father—not the handiest, to be sure—valiantly tried to patch the pipes, while balancing precariously on a folding chair. My mom’s parting words, as we fled the scene and my dad was almost electrocuted by the water gushing through the overhead lights, were not thoughts of concern, but threats in regards to my father fixing things FAST—and most certainly before our guests arrived. It turned out that the busted pipes were the result of a backed-up garbage disposal and 100% my mom’s fault. I can’t remember the culprit on this particular occasion, but she was known to put literally everything but the kitchen sink down the disposal—and that was only because to do so would have been impossible. Everything else was fair game, including the carcass from the Thanksgiving turkey.
The actual events that unfolded on this particular holiday were unusual, but the stress and anxiety that came with the busted pipes were par for the course. My mom had a habit of spending the majority of the day, before a holiday or other special event, in a state of panic. She rushed all of us through showers and outfit changes, erupting from time to time as her stress level rose throughout the day. But without fail, regardless of the outbursts and pacing and hours of unnecessary tension, a much different scene played out as we, a family of five, were seemingly ready to leave the house. While my sisters and I sat waiting in the backseat of the family car, arguing over who had to sit in the middle, and my dad stood waiting at the front door, my mom’s coat in hand, she slowly—patiently, even—applied one last coat of nail polish. She wore acrylics at the time (it was the ‘80s—who didn’t?) and I remember them as long and bright. My dad then led the way to the car, opening and closing doors for her, to prevent any smudged nails. She never seemed even slightly ruffled by this last minute detour, while the rest of us huffed and puffed, now waiting on her. Punctuality was not her strong suit back then, except when it came to weddings and funerals, a golden rule she reminded us of repeatedly. My aunt captured this perfectly, noting that “Your mom is always speeding, yet always still late.”
Oh yes, and the speeding. My mom came close to losing her license more than once, due to her propensity for putting the “pedal to the metal,” as she called it. There’s folklore in the family of one such incident, involving a swim lesson drop-off for my sisters. I was still a baby, too young for lessons, but along for the ride anyway. With three kids packed into the car, and most likely running late, I screamed for the entire ride. A mile from swim lessons, speeding through a notoriously monitored area, you might guess what happened next. A police officer pulled out from behind my mom, turning his lights on. With a screaming baby and two whining kids in the car, my mom made the only logical decision: she ignored the flashing lights behind her. For five minutes, she calmly led the police officer to her intended destination. Once there, she finally pulled over, delivering my sisters to their lesson on time and feigning innocence to any and all infractions of the law.
My mom wanted things done how she wanted them, when she wanted them. She was known to direct my dad about a given household task in one breath—power washing the back windows or painting the family room, for instance—and in the next, pull out the ladder to start the painting herself. We hosted a bridal shower together a few years ago, planning to cook much of the brunch food ourselves on the morning of the shower. I woke to the smell of eggs and ham and the sounds of a very busy kitchen downstairs. She just could not be bothered waiting for me—or anyone, for that matter. Once, while visiting my sister in Atlanta, she decided that the pictures in the bedroom were hung entirely too high. Rather than waiting to discuss this observation with my sister, she took care of it in her own way: by re-hanging each and every picture while Meg was in the shower. I wasn’t there, but I have no doubt that she also told my sister exactly what she thought of her decorating skills, or lack thereof. Her now infamous statement, “I’m not going to say a word,” was always followed by the exact opposite, and I’m not proud of how often I cut our conversations short when she didn’t agree with me. What I wouldn’t give to hear her opinion on anything right now, solicited or not.
The thing is, my mom wasn’t perfect. She was impatient and opinionated, bossy and loud. She broke rules that she didn’t find important. She lived by her truths, her own moral code. A note I received after my mom died has stuck with me, almost a year later. A friend’s mom wrote that although she did not know her well, she got the sense that my mom was fun. And she was right. My mom was also loving, and kind, and generous, and open-hearted, and funny, and honest. She will forever be the mother, the matriarch, the friend, the hostess, the woman that I strive to be. And not in spite of her imperfections—but because of them. As time passes and my memories mellow, I need to remember it all: the good and the bad. Both sides.