Why does she have to be so loud and flashy? It's so embarrassing!
- Posted on Oct 31, 2008
"Just look at that gorgeous fringed shirt that lady is wearing! I bet she made it. I'm going to go ask her."
"Mom!" I said. But she'd already jumped up from her seat at the restaurant where we were having lunch. With her bracelets jangling, she hurried over to talk to a complete stranger.
How could this woman be my mom? I favored simple clothes in muted colors. My wedding band was my only jewelry. Mom had rings on almost every finger, two on some, the stones color-coordinated to match the giant sequined parrot on the front of her shirt.
I was soft-spoken. Mom blurted out whatever came into her head and never thought twice about starting up conversations with people she didn't know.
Now I pretended to study my menu while across the restaurant Mom let out one of her loud, zesty laughs. Dear God, isn't there any way to quiet Mom down a bit?
At the age of 40 you'd think I'd have gotten used to this. I'd come out from Alaska to visit Mom in Texas, and I was flooded with memories of what it was like going out with her when I was a kid. She always dressed flashily, even for church.
At my high school football games, I couldn't believe how loudly she hollered. The more my mom made a spectacle of herself, the more I wanted to fade into the background.
I got married right out of college and moved away. After my dad died, I assumed that Mom would slow down and eventually settle into a dignified old age.
I imagined her puttering around in her flower garden and baking sugar cookies, then quilting quietly in the evening as she watched Wheel of Fortune.
Yeah, right! I should have gotten a clue when Mom sent me a poem that said, "When I am an old woman, I will wear purple." As Mom got older, she got bolder. She delighted in wearing pins the size of saucers, iridescent blouses and sandals sprinkled with glitter.
If anything, her demeanor got even less inhibited, and every time I telephoned, she was rushing out the door to go to a gospel concert or a class in water aerobics. I was glad she was having fun, but it all seemed a little much. Couldn't she just take it easy and relax?
Now sitting there in the restaurant with Mom, I could see she was just the same. She returned to our table flushed with success. "I saw exactly how she sewed that fringe on, so now I can do it too!"
"Mom, how could you just walk up to a total stranger like that?" I whispered.
"She's not a stranger to me anymore, dear." Mom winked and waved across the dining room to her brand-new best friend while I fussed with my napkin. I felt like everyone in the entire place was staring at us.
Thankfully, Mom wanted to eat in for the next couple of days. But then one evening she said, "Come on, honey, let's go to Billy and Lorene's for supper."
"Mom, you can't just show up at someone's house and expect them to feed you."
"Sure you can! I've done it before. Lorene makes the best chicken-fried steak. I'll call her right now and tell her to get started. We'll get Betty and Wilda and Darla too." Those were some of Mom's friends. I felt bad for them having to put up with Mom's whims.
"Mom, how do you know Lorene and Billy don't already have plans?"
"They'll have more fun with us!" Mom insisted.
I rehearsed an apology to Lorene in my head on the way over to her house. But when Lorene opened the front door, she grinned and said, "So glad you're here." Of course, she was probably just being polite. Secretly she was thinking, What an imposition!
Sunday morning as we got ready for church, Mom came twirling out of her bedroom in a red straw hat with a wide brim and lots of ribbons.
"Mom, do you really want to wear that to church?" I asked. She took it off and set it on my head. "Take a look," she said, turning me toward the mirror.
'Mom!" I whisked off the hat. Mom laughed. "Don't worry, honey," she said. "You don't have to wear it." She returned the hat to her own head, then took a step back to look at me. "You look real nice just the way you are," she said. "Let's get going or we'll be late."
Right after the service, Mom began greeting people, gabbing up a storm and exclaiming over the crayoned pictures that the Sunday-school children brought over for her to see. Every time I thought she was finished talking, she swooped down upon someone else.
"I've never seen a more adorable baby," she declared to a young mother, then gushed extravagantly over photographs from someone's recent graduation.
Betty appeared and slipped her arm through mine. "Mom's at it again," I said, rolling my eyes.
"And thank goodness she is," Betty said. "Your mom is one of the bravest people I know."
"Brave? In what way?"
"About getting older, living alone, dealing with the death of your father. No matter what happens, she's always the same old Lucille—as upbeat and outgoing as ever.
"I asked her once how she stays that way. She said you can't change what happens to you, but you can choose how you react. You can be miserable and feel sorry for yourself or you can be happy. She chooses happy."
I turned to look at Mom. She was letting someone try on her hat. Betty said, "It makes me feel good to be around her, especially since my husband died."
It makes me feel good to be around her. People liked my mom for her free spirit, her spontaneity, her fearlessness. She had chosen to keep being herself no matter what life threw her way. Why hadn't it ever occurred to me that I had a choice too?
Instead of always being embarrassed by her, I could choose to be...well, proud. Instead of cringing because Mom didn't live up to my image of who she should be, I could choose to appreciate her for exactly who she was. After all, wasn't that the way God loved all of us—just the way we were?
The next day Mom and I planned to spend the afternoon shopping. I put on my dark green shirt and denim skirt and tied my sensible shoes. When I went to get Mom, she was in a purple dress I'd never seen before. "What do you think?" she asked. She spun around so I could take a look at her.
"Well, Mom," I said, "you know it's not my style, but you—you look nice just the way you are."
Mom beamed, then turned to rummage in her closet. "I've got the perfect thing to go with that outfit, honey," she said. She turned to me and held out a pair of shiny gold shoes.
"Mom!" I wailed. And we both fell down on the bed laughing.
For more, read Celebrating Mom: 7 Inspiring Stories about Mothers.