When I see families, multi-generations, at my shows, it reminds me of one of my mother’s deepest impulses – the shared experience — my mother grabbing me and pointing, “Oh, Debby! Look at THAT!” It could be a cow, it could be a cellist playing jazz. The point was that the experience must be shared.
She was always pointing, sharing, waking us up early because of the first snowfall. I think she honestly thought the world was magic. This is not to say she didn’t have a dark side. She did. But that doesn’t cancel out the magic she was.
Mother’s Day never meant much to me until I was 9 or 10 and it occurred to me: What does my MOM really want??? Oh sure, finger paintings are always a big hit, but … is there something else?
I think it was the year of the Stinky Marigold. Every kid in the school had to grow a marigold from seed and give it to their mom for mother’s day. Nobody else seemed to notice that marigolds have a distinctive smell, which I never learned to like ’til I discovered, decades later, that this flower is a protector flower for tomato plants – and now my garden is filled with marigolds.
But back then that flower just gave me the revolutionary idea that I could actually give my mother something about her instead of about me –– that idea was cataclysmic.
We’d just moved to British Columbia. I’d gotten home early from school – my parents weren’t home yet – and it occurred to me that I could take my prize 1953 Two-Dollar Bills (the ones my Aunt Amy sent me every year for my birthday), exchange them for mucho Canadian cash and make my mother a meal she’d never forget. So I grabbed my Two-dollar bills and headed down the street.
I made the cash exchange at a local shop where, conveniently, I was able to shop, selecting a wide variety of impressive foods.
The next part is hazy: setting the table, artistically arranging the food into separate bowls, adding serving spoons to each bowl — but what I do remember is my mother’s face when she came in and saw this sumptuous feast. She was speechless.
She just stood there, looking at the amazing display of licorice, jawbreakers, jellybeans, chocolates and Snow-caps — and simply stood there in awe.
After that, my memory goes dark.
Fast-forward 30 years.
I’m in Germany on tour with my band. I’ve left the hotel early one morning, and I’m walking to the market, when I see a flower shop busy with women, each leaving the shop with an arrangement – sometimes two.
And then I remember … it’s Mother’s day! My own mother’s been dead nearly a decade by then, but I go in the store and I, too, buy a bouquet – huge, colorful, like spring.
The next part is hazy, again: walking who-knows-where — embarrassed, feeling indulgent, and fraudulent – knowing everyone must see this is a fake Mother’s Day bouquet — a bouquet my mother will never receive.
And then I see her. A woman – maybe 20 years older than me – heading down the street. When she reaches me I stop her, and in my halting cow-German, I tell her why I need her to take this bouquet. Why I need her to accept it for my own mother.
In the U.S. this woman would think I was crazy, possibly even dangerous, but my German is so bad that I sound like a child. She looks in my eyes and I see that she sees that I am a child in this moment — and she very kindly accepts my bouquet.
I know her acceptance is a deep act of kindness for a stranger – and that somehow my mother will get those flowers.
I just wonder if she’ll loved them quite as much as she loved those Sno-Caps.