my childhood girlfriend lost her mother this past week. though we correspond periodically and share pictures of facebook, i haven’t seen m since my mother’s funeral, because we live on opposite sides of the country. but the people you reach out to when a nuclear family member dies are those who knew that nuclear family back in the day because there’s a special kind of bond that was forged.
eight years ago at my mother’s funeral, m’s mother was in the beginning stages of alzheimer’s and though she looked the same, it was clear that she was struggling with the disease. i know the disease progressed mightily over the years, and necessitated m’s family placing their mother in a facility where she would be safe and properly cared for. and the facebook pictures of her with her mother and the new grandchild hid the sadness and struggle with an unforgiving disease.
but i only saw a tiny glimpse of her mother’s change as she wondered away from m at the reception after my mother’s funeral and so i’m free to remember her mother as she was a half century ago.
m’s family emigrated here from portugal and lived just a block away from us. she is two years older than me, as were most of my close friends when i was growing up. i can’t remember exactly when we first met, but i know that we were friends when my father died and still friends when her father died just a couple of years later. we navigated our middle and high school years together with our fractured families and each walked down the aisle to get married without a father’s escort.
m’s mom was warm and inviting and i can still hear her hearty laugh. m’s grandmother also lived with them and i remember her mother and grandmother sitting at the dining room table and conversing in portuguese while m and i played with barbies in the living room. the lilting softness of the language drifted in from the next room, punctuated by laughter and just felt so comfortable.
my mother didn’t work and m’s did, so i thought she was just so interesting because she had a job. she was a seamstress in a factory in downtown los angeles, sportswear i think, and i will never forget the day m’s mom took us both to her workplace. i saw the rows of machines and racks of finished clothes, which all seemed like magic to me, but i will never forget the band saw like contraption that was used to cut three foot-thick stacks of fabric. my mom was a home seamstress and all of us girls in the family learned to sew, but to see garments being made on a huge scale was utterly fascinating. i had a flashback to that moment when our daughter took us on a tour of the sewing factory where she now works in production and design.
m’s mom also owned a corvair and we got to ride in it. to me, that car was just about as cool as a mustang, both cars being the pinnacle of auto ownership at the time, except for maybe the corvette. i loved seeing that corvair parked in the driveway as i came up to the front door of their house.
years later, after i had moved away from california and m settled in a town further north of where we grew up, i tried to stop in and say hello to her mother when i was in town (which was unfortunately far less frequently than i would have liked). when i was pregnant with our first child, m’s mom asked my mom to make sure that i stopped by and she surprised me with a beautiful eyelet lace and ribbon comforter and pillow she had made for the baby. i still have them.
i looked for m’s mother’s obituary on line and was a bit taken aback when what popped up was douglass and zook funeral home, the same funeral home in our home town of monrovia that handled my father’s funeral and maybe even her father’s funeral. it’s funny how a moment like that can trigger a long buried memory, but can also serve as some kind of continuum.
though the life arc of our families was different, there is still a bond between us and even moreso now that we both have felt the sadness of losing our mother, but the parts of our lives that we shared will always be fondly remembered.
rest in peace dear mrs. b.