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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Mother's Day Came Early This Year

My mother has been dead for thirteen years, almost fourteen or fifteen if you count the years when she remembered my family and me but at her worst not much more. Toward the end, my sister read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” My mother repeated the words like a mantra that she’d carried with her from days at overnight camp to the days before her death.

On the shores of Gitche Gumee, Of the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood Nokomis, the old woman, Pointing with her finger westward, O'er the water pointing westward, To the purple clouds of sunset.

My mother’s favorite color was purple—purple towels, purple bedspreads, purple table placemats, two matching purple couches, purple glassware and, you guessed it, rings and earrings and pins with deep purple amethysts. The stones were too big and too bright for my taste, but I still keep a few pieces in a velvet pouch that hangs from a shoe rack in my clothes closet. Every so often, I open the pouch to make sure the jewelry is still there, even if my mother is not.

The dental office is a strange place to feel my mother’s presence. It’s a challenge to stay calm when the tools of a hygienist’s trade are laid neatly on a swivel table that lurks somewhere behind your head. I’m grateful that I’m asked to remove my glasses because then the probes and scalers and curettes appear as one big blur like the oak tree in the front yard that wasn’t there when I rode my tricycle into its round trunk the size of five bushels of red apples laid side by side. The tree withstood the tap; I went to the eye doctor’s the next day to be fit for my first pair of glasses.

I’m sitting in the recliner in a room at the dentist's and trying to relax. Elevator music that featured every” American Idol” and “The Voice” reject must have conspired to drive me nuts.

“Is this music supposed to be relaxing?” I said.

The hygienist chortled. “You don’t like it?”

“Uh, no,” I said.

I could hear a drill in the next room and wondered if I was the only one who hated both the buzzing of the drill and the music.

When I was a kid, I used to put my head face down on a pillow, close my eyes, and see every color of the rainbow. Sometimes I watched in delight little scenes of people scurrying about, animals lapping up water and food, even the members of my family and me enjoying a lazy afternoon at our summer cottage on Lake Erie just over the bridge or under the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

So, it was not unusual that on this day at the dentist's I closed my eyes and saw purple everywhere, on the ceiling, the floor, purple encircling me like a warm hug. My mother was in the “house.” She’d picked an unusual time to visit when I could have used her support when, say, my son landed in the hospital with an infected fistula that required an emergency procedure and two nights at Rush or when I’d written my first short story and would have given anything for her astute comments and stalwart encouragement.

But here she was in the dentist’s office. Maybe she showed up to distract me from the discomfort of scraping the tartar off my molars that were, said the hygienist, quite caked and in need of better brushing and flossing. (That was something my mother could have said but did not.)

No, I think my mother just wanted to let me know that she was still hovering about, still keeping tabs on me. (My god. I bet she could read my mind now instead of reading my diary.) I vowed not to have a smoke every once in a while and to continue my attempts at cooking salmon and cod.

Mother's Day is a matter of weeks away. Maybe my mom wanted to remind me to start looking for the perfect card and to do some research online and find a florist who would deliver to an address up "There" with no zip code.

Mom, you don't have to worry. I won't forget.


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