I don't remember much of my mother's physical presence.
She began fading for me when I was about 10 and she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a condition of which I knew nothing until a few years later when she began losing her ability to do things, like walk and talk and maneuver silverware at the dinner table.
Looking back, I remember her getting the call from the doctor on the black rotary phone in the den, which was mounted on the wall by the cellar door so that one could stretch the phone cord into that area with the washer and dryer and pantry and freezer and shelves of old toys and Christmas decorations if one wanted privacy. She did. Then she came back to the couch where I was watching TV in my pajamas, to the sofa upholstered in beige fabric adorned with vibrant bluish-purple grape vines and green leaves and tiny flowers.
I remember her hands.
I can picture her crocheting on the end of the couch, with my head in her lap, watching Laverne & Shirley or Happy Days or Bosom Buddies or Nancy Drew or the 11 o'clock news with funny weatherman Jim O'Brien (who would die on a skydiving outing and whose daughter would play on Frasier).
Mom (or Marmee, as I called her, inspired by Little Women) would take a skein of yarn, wind it into a ball and place it inside a tupperware container, threading the end through a hole she would cut in the lid to keep the yarn moving freely without tangling as she crocheted afghans for each of her six kids. When she was through, she would sew a tag on the corner: "Made with love by Mom."
I slept under mine last night. It's my cat's favorite item; we call it "Nana's afghan."
I have her hands. I crochet, and I look at them and think, these are my mother's hands.
When she wasn't crocheting, she would rub my back as I lay with my head in her lap, listening to the noises of her stomach. She would scratch my back with her strong, long nails painted rose pink and then pull down the hem of my top when it rode up.
If you look at your left hand and can see the veins, you'll see they make a "Y." Mom's veins on that hand were raised, as are mine, and I would press my finger down the stem of the Y to make the veins part and then fold back together. It made me laugh, and she liked that.
My mother was no stranger to hospitals, which she hated. Whenever she was in the hospital and visiting hours were over, my sister and I both wanted to be the one to touch Mom last. This led each of us to "forget" something in the room that we had to run back for until we reached an agreement: We would both put a hand on Mom and then say, "One, two, three!" and raise our hands together.
When Mom died, and at her viewing it came time for me and D. to say goodbye, we knelt on the kneeler, looked at each other and put our hands on Mom. "One, two, three!" we said, and laughed a tight laugh with tears in our eyes.
These are the things I remember about Margaret Sczubelek:
She liked Chuckles candy. No matter how bleak the situation, she found something to laugh at. In tough situations, I was always to remember that it would be over. And to always do something constructive while waiting. She let me have licorice for lunch. She liked black, pink and yellow jellybeans. She answered the phone by saying "Yallo." She liked crossword puzzles and mysteries and adored us kids. And she was very proud.
Before she died in 1990, when she was in a coma, I had a dream that I was at her bedside. She was telling me that she wasn't afraid of dying, but that she would miss me so much. And she worried about me.
I told her I would be OK. And I was.