This morning, I got an email from my Mom. She flew to the east coast this week with my Aunt Jean. They are visiting my 'Granny Pat and Grampa.' Their time turned into one of those unexpected crisis hospital visits. Two separate 911 calls landed both of my grandparents on the same floor at the same hospital for different health reasons. So, the two sisters have been caring for their parents. And they are glad for the timing, but tired.
It got me remembering how many times my Mom has ended up in unplanned crisis, and how she has always stepped in and made things happen; make the call, put pressure on the wound, find the paper, mop the tears, wipe the spill, zip the zipper, find the boot. It's what Moms do. And it's what she did for me, over and over again.
This past fall, my Bostonian sister, Kim Leonard, had a really great idea that became an immense gift for Mom's Birthday. She wrote a ton of people from all across Mom's walk of life, and asked them to write Mom a letter. She then collected the letters and pictures, from friends and schoolmates, children and grandchildren and bound them into a book to send as a 70th birthday surprise. It was a brilliant idea and a priceless gift.
So, this post is for my Mom who is in a hospital somewhere in Maryland, once again doing what needs to be done for people she loves. Today's post is the birthday book letter.


Kelley Jean Gay ~Delmar, New York ~ 1969

I came across an old picture the other day. It’s a square 4X4” color photo. You wrote “69?” as a question in pencil on the blank side. On the back, you had guessed what year the picture was taken; on the front, is me. Shadowy snow covers the backyard under the grapevine. Only a small part of our Bootsie’s wagging dog tail is visible as she is walking out of the frame toward you. You are taking this picture off the back-porch of 142 Orchard Street. I am standing in front of your clicking camera, no taller than any other 3 year old. My red winter coat is zipped tightly up under my chin. Hood up, my round face is framed with a little rim of white fur. I am looking directly at you. In the picture, it is clear, I need your help.

In my small left hand I am holding up a red pull-on boot for your inspection. My left foot is wearing the boot’s mate. My right foot is wearing only a small white tennis shoe with a muddy toe. The boot had come off… again.

They were the thin rubber sort of boot that have to be pulled or pushed over a pair of shoes, then fastened with one small useless button and loop at the top. Pull-on rubber boots were never easy to install. The receiving shoe would always fight and resist. Boot and shoe would inevitably jam when the foot was in its most unnatural position, kinked and pointed. We would work together, you and me, pushing and yanking until boot and shoe aligned. Sometimes it was a cheerful exchange; sometimes not. But I do remember that you would consistently and patiently help me with those pre-school red boots and their kindergarten brown predecessors, every time I needed to go out. And often, I returned to have you help me re-install one or the other over my shoe. It was not a process I could do alone.

On that day, I can’t recall what caused the boot to come off. I may have trekked out to the barn with Bootsie, and lost it there somehow. It may have dislodged when I jumped off the swing or stepped out of the chicken coop. I don’t know. The picture doesn’t tell us. In any case, the boot was off. Many times my boot has been off, and you have been needed.

This picture is my childhood. It is all the times that Kelley said, “Mom!” and waited for you to appear. It is all the times that I couldn’t manage without you; your love, your wisdom, your presence. My childhood is that little tiny girl looking to you for help. It is me, with you, in a life’s process of re-booting, countless times over, until adulthood -- and even then, now and again.

Thank you for putting on my boot in so many ways; for straining to make things fit, for helping me find the way, for showing me how to get up and set out to walk again … and again … and again.

As I write this, my hands type these words and they look like your hands typing. My same blue eyes look at this 39 year-old picture. It was taken by you. My ears need the same amplification that yours do. I think about my sons who share your genetics. Their identities are permanently imprinted by your deep & open love for them. Their lives came out of mine, the same way that my life came out of yours. The walk of my life is full of you, every day, in so many ways, even in your far-away state.

I thank our God for giving you to me, Mom. For your love on all those bootless days and so much more ... thank you.

I love you.


Laura Parker said...

i just read this post out loud to matt. his comment was, "what is she trying to do, make us cry?" so we both had tears in our eyes. what a testimony to a mother! what a picture. i think of all the times my mom has helped me when i was bootless and it encourages me to want to do that well for my own kids. thanks.

Steve Leigh said...

This is so beautiful. So true and right. Being the other half of that little girl makes me so proud.

I Love you,

Kimleonard said...

This totally made me cry when I was pasting it into Mom's book, and I'm sure it made her cry when she read it. And now probably more people, like Laura, will join in. Sheesh, Kelley, I might have to start blogging so I'll have a place to link to your blog from!

Hey, let me plant a thought -- you might want to consider opening up comments. You can delete spammy ones, but you've opened a conversation here that others will find and join if you invite them! LOVE you.

Kleigh said...

Hadn't even thought of the comment thing. Thanx so much! Will do!

Kleigh said...

And, no, for the record you guys... I'm not TRYING to make y'all cry!