One of my earliest memories is a snow day, kind of like today. We were still living in Oak Park subdivision. For some reason, my mom decided she needed to walk up the snot-slick hill to a neighbor’s house, dragging me and my younger sister Jenny in tow.
I don’t think I was in school yet, so it was probably sometime before 1977. I remember Mom, one hand on each kid, tugging us up that hill. Jen’s and my feet slid in all directions but forward. I think we were all laughing and singing Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away.”
At least, we sang the chorus, since that’s all me and Jen (and probably Mom) knew of it.
“God only knows,
God makes his plan,
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.
We’re workin’ our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away.”
It probably wasn’t the best idea ever, but once Mom decided to do something, she just did it. If it got hard, she’d just add a silly song or dance or possibly some cussing in the middle, and get it done anyway.
I remember coming home from school and finding wonders. A mural of blue roses covering the living room wall, because she never saw blue ones in real life and wanted to know what they’d look like, never mind the fact that she didn’t paint before that.
Or the sliding glass door etched with a dogwood tree in full bloom and bluebirds in the branches, probably because she was sick of winter and didn’t want to wait for spring.
A floor-to-ceiling macrame and ceramic waterfall, never mind that the potter didn’t think he could make a bowl big enough for the base that wouldn’t break under its own weight.
When we were grown, the wonders would show up in unexpected places. The bath houses at the campground Mom and Dad owned suddenly spawned trompe l’oeil Italian landscapes or rustic cabin interiors.
But Mom was the greatest wonder, her own self. Lacking a high school education, she taught herself everything from painting to ceramics to soft sculpture to washer and dryer repair. Without access to the internet, she figured out how to make everything from homemade jam (although admittedly the first efforts were translucent concrete) to the upholstery on a 1938 Chevy.
She was an overweight Midwestern housewife who still managed to light up every room she walked into. She caught every man’s eye. Including, on one trip to L.A., the lead guitarist for the Bellamy Brothers while they were playing the Palomino Club in the mid 1980s.
When I brought home a scruffy neighborhood kid as my boyfriend, she treated him like one of her own kids. In fact, she tended to do that with all the friends and boyfriends my sisters and I brought home.
Of course, “treating you like one of her own kids” also meant that when she decided to try making fried dandelions, you weren’t getting out of eating some.
When I got married at eighteen, she acted as decorator, wedding planner, caterer, and chief party instigator at the reception. She did the same at both my sisters’ weddings.
Instead of angsting about midlife, she kicked off her shoes and danced on the rain-slick grass with her big brother to Hank Williams, Jr. The day I got married, she was three years younger than I am now. She handled having grown kids and being a grandmother the same way she leaped into everything: enthusiastically, creatively, heart first, without overthinking it.
It’s been ten years now, since she died on what would have been her 51st birthday. I was 31 years old, six months pregnant, and still reeling from the almost-ending of my ten year marriage a little more than a year earlier.
I wasn’t ready to let her go. To tell you the truth, I’m still not. She was amazing. Not perfect, by a long shot. But amazing and unforgettable. I was worried ten years ago about that. Worried I would forget, lose my memories of her. But a decade later, she is still there, smiling mischievously in my mind.
She didn’t get to see Maddie born, although she sat next to me during the ultrasound. She never knew Jenny’s youngest, or either of Bobbi’s daughters. She didn’t get to see me become successful in my career, or become a published author.
Do I wish she were still alive? Of course I do. But I’m also grateful to have had her for as long as I did. For about a half a century, the world was a better place because Reginia Mae Gaines Beckham was in it.