Monday, May 3, 2010


Generally, when my mother calls me up these days it's to ask something like: "Do you have my college yearbook?"  or "Were my grandfather's diaries not included in the move to my new apartment?"

Once we settle on the whereabouts of the book or object, or even if we don't, it's goodbye until next time.

I guess it's normal when you come from a family of reliquists.  (You're right--that wasn't a word until I invented it just now.) She really means, "I've always wanted to tell you how much I respect your intelligence and perspective, but never got around to it."  Or maybe she means, "I'd invite you for a tete a tete in the shade of memory lane, but I've got something that needs dusting."

Objects, by which I mean THINGS, aren't very reliable. (My great-grandfather's diaries were smiling in a box in my mother's basement, the whole several months we thought they'd been lost)--but people are even less reliable.  Years ago, when my parents' home insurance company insisted that they install a burglar alarm, she was convinced that an alarm made them LESS safe: Now the burglars would know they'd got stuff worth stealing.  It makes sense. If you're my mother.

In a way, her choice of objects of affection make sense, too. Why invest emotion in high-risk assets, such as your own children? Of course, one must do right by one's offspring: duty above all !  As kids, we were made to sit under sun lamps in the winter to assure against Vitamin D deficiency, and we wore orthopedic shoes until fifth grade for reasons I've never understood.

Hey, the British built an empire on such wisdom.  And when I broke my parents's hearts at 18 by marrying a psycho, they did not disown me as I'd expected.  Was it duty or love that moved them to pay for my college education though I hardly ever saw them?  In my mother's world, love and duty are inseparable.  Perhaps even indistinguishable.

I can be thankful for that.

--Helen W. Mallon


Rich Sidney said...

At one point I was really mad with my father about who knows what. It doesn't matter. My mother, ever the peacemaker in our family, as we were driving Cape-ward, said "You know -- he really loves you." My response to that was to say "Then he should tell me himself!". She apparently relayed that sentiment, because ever since then, my father goes out of his way to tell me he loves me, even though it's not really his way.

On the other hand, my whole family has learned generally to communicate by talking to someone else. Just ask my sister what I think, if you really want to know.

HelenQP said...

It's amazing how creative families can be in their expressions of love and, well, everything else. I might see your sister this weekend, so she can fill me in on you.

HelenQP said...

Well, my dear Helen, after spending four plus hours in the rain yesterday, both of us going through the last of the last of the detritus of my late father's soon-to-be-demolished house, I must make a case for objects that need to be put back into the stream of universal stuff--er, landfill.Coming from up here in harsh Yankeeland, not peaceful Quakerland, I gotta say there's a time to pitch some mementoes. Thanks for helping me do that. And I hope you enjoy the Confucius. Or whatever god or immortal he is.