February 8, 1992.

It was my mother’s 52nd birthday.  I had the idea that now that we all were living in the same area again, with things going well seemingly for all of us, that we give our mother a fancy birthday gift and dinner to celebrate.

My brother had come home from the Navy a few months prior.  He had been discharged early from his duty for some “not dishonorable but not honorable” reason.  Our parents were suspicious but no one asked a lot of questions.  He was hoping his training would come in handy in landing a decent job; he had been trained in repairing and maintaining submarine engines.  Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of submarines in the Detroit suburbs, so he had to settle for working at a gas station garage, driving their tow truck.  It wasn’t a great job, but it was steady and earned him enough to live in an apartment with some friends, without help from my parents.  He seemed grateful for the job, the second chance back at home outside of the military, and interested in sometimes being a part of our family again.  There weren’t exactly apologies for some of the awfulness of the past, but there was a mutual agreement amongst all of us that some things were simply Probably Better Left Unsaid.  And so we did.

My sister was at home with her baby, and her husband was doing very well repairing cars and working at his family’s business.  So much so that they’d just finished their basement with the earnings from his work, and had installed central air conditioning in their house.  My mother thought my sister should consider going back to school, because she worried always about a woman not having the ability to get a job that you could support yourself and your children on, because (as was my mother’s experience), you just never know what could happen.

Me, I was doing my student teaching and graduation was the light at the end of the three year tunnel I’d been in of being a single parent and going to college.  It was going very, very well and I was building my confidence daily.

My mother had a boyfriend these days and a new sense of what was really important.  Her cancer scare last November had shaken her up enough to really prioritize quitting smoking.  It wasn’t easy.  She discovered that the habit was so ingrained, she had to find new things to do with her hands.   Plus, the smoking was as much situational and social as it was truly a need for nicotine; she found her urges the most strong when she went out for drinks with her girlfriends.  Fortunately, her girlfriends were so supportive that they all started sucking lollipops with their wine spritzers instead of smoking around her.  And these few months later, she was feeling confident that this time, her addiction was in her control.   She had never gone this long in her life without smoking since she’d started.

I wanted to give my mother a gift that she would always look back on and remember this night.  The happiness of all of her children around her, all of her grandchildren, the positive feeling of us all doing well.  I wanted it to be special.  My mother loved jewelry; she had about eighty pairs of earrings, varying from cheap costume jewelry to more expensive, semi precious stones.   We agreed to buy my mother amethyst earrings, all of us together.  We didn’t have a lot of money, but between the three of us, we found a pair we could afford.

When we presented the tiny box after a rich meal at the local steakhouse that night, she started to cry.  My mother, who had been through much in her life, hardly ever cried.  It just wasn’t her style; she was a master at the Public Mask and Keeping It All In.  But that night, her emotions were on her sleeve.  I told her that the gift was from all of us, and we wanted it to always remind her how grateful we were to her for always being there for us, for being our champions, and for never giving up on any of us, no matter how dire the circumstances looked.

“Thank you,” she said simply.  “Thank you.  I will never forget this night.”

Mission accomplished.


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