by Rita Leydon ©1999
The knowledge that everything is temporary holds a certain amount of comfort. I am old enough now to remember how some things were different. Old enough to reflect. Old enough to be patient and let be. Old enough to not interfere. Old enough to just observe.
I always considered myself basically a motherless child, but I wasn’t really. I simply had a mother with interests more important (to her) than children. I understand and accept that now. I didn’t always.
My mother was very good at everything she ever did. I am very good at almost everything I do. She was looking for acceptance. I am looking for acceptance. I made conscious effort to raise my children with more of my energy focused in their direction than I received from either of my parents. I wanted the sun to shine on them so they would feel its supportive warmth every day. I wanted them to feel secure in the knowledge that their mother loved them no matter what. This is different from my own experience. I never really knew how my mother felt about me and I was forever fishing for any sign that she might actually care for me.
In another year, I’ll be fifty. My mother died two years ago. On her deathbed I made one last stab at acceptance. We both loved to weave. She created fabulous tapestries non-stop, I hadn’t done much for a few years. I respected her work and was amazed by her skill and imagination. Knowing she would be unable to execute her last design, I offered to weave it for her, not at all sure that she would accept my offer. She didn’t even think about it, she simply smiled the prettiest smile I’d ever seen on her face and expressed how astonished she was that I’d want to do that for her. So it was settled. I think she was as afraid of me as I was of her.
It took me a year to get started and another year to do the work. The weaving had to fit between the cracks of my own life. With the end in sight, I set aside guarded time just for Mom. I felt that she was with me when I worked. She didn’t interfere, she was just interested and keeping me company. I became obsessed with the project which by then had become my own. I had no idea if my effort would measure up. I was somewhat frightened that I would blow it.
A couple of quirks humbled me and put me in my place. I realized a few inches into it that I was working backwards. It hadn’t occurred to me that the “good” side would be facing away from me as I worked, and that I ought to have compensated for that by flipping the design. Too bad, I thought as I pondered this unexpected reality. I decided that Mother was in charge, and since she was “on the other side” it was her way of pointing this out to me. So I forged ahead undeterred.
I was totally stumped on a point of technique. Mother’s tapestries were equally beautiful on both sides. No loose ends or unsightly blemishes of any sort. No sign of the yarn having been changed as the colors changed. She simply had two fronts to all her weavings, nothing ugly or utilitarian to suggest a mortal made them. Her work looked effortless, as if she willed it into being. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, for she labored hard at her craft. She simply made many tapestries and perfected her technique. I was not privy to her secrets. I had made no tapestries and had to learn “on the job.” My tapestry has a definite front and a definite back, in fact the back was so full of short clipped yarn ends that I ended up lining it to save face.
Releasing the finished piece, which measures 43 inches wide by 34 inches high, from the loom was an emotional moment, tears welled up without being beckoned. It was my moment of truth. I didn’t need anyone else’s opinion of the work. I could see for myself that it was exquisite. I knew that mother would accept it. The joy of this work was the knowledge that this was the first time I was ever able to DO something for my mother which I knew she appreciated. For that reason it was very special.
I have driven 2000 miles from my home to deliver and present this object to my father and help him hang it on his wall. The piece was never mine. Dad accepted it and hugged me and went about his business. He’s a nuts and bolts guy, and tapestries are about emotion and texture, not things that he can deal very well with. I accept that too. Someday in the future I will inherit the tapestry and by then it will have mellowed. I will think of it as mother’s last tapestry rather than my own feeble effort to capture her love.
Meanwhile, I observe an aging father. I am only here one week, then I point the car eastward and cover the 2000 miles again. We have agreed that I am to do no cooking, Dad likes his own routine and his own menu. I notice that his tolerance for dust and grime is high. I don’t think he wets his sponges very often, and most surfaces look like they yearn to feel the stroke of a wet soapy sponge. I am resolved to leave well enough alone. It is his life and his house. He seems healthy and balanced for a hermit. So who am I to come and have opinions? The vegetable garden that mother worked so hard to build in the desert soil has been wiped away, like powdery chalk on a blackboard. No fence, no little raised beds, no residue stubble. It is a perfectly clean square of dusty dry soil, completely engulfed by the ubiquitous sagebrush. Something is missing. Mother is missing.