My mother has lived with us since her death in 2006.
My mother hated staying overnight in unfamiliar surroundings. She was happy to go anywhere you might want to take her as long as she could sleep in her own bed the same night. It made sense to me to keep her ashes among family.
Her urn is topped by a jaunty hat that she loved wearing. She is surrounded by a Furby (She had several who talked to each another and there was sometimes a disquieting twitter—in the old sense—behind her when I called home), a frog (she collected them), a stuffed dog that taps its foot and moves an umbrella as “Singin‘ the Rain” plays, an old VHS of Johnny Carson shows and a book about “Guiding Light,” her favorite soap opera. The symbol of her devotion to Bill Clinton, a hand puppet of the former president given to her by my cousin, Alison, did not wear well and will need to be replaced. What is not so well represented in this collection is my mother’s love of books.
“If you have to get her something, get her a book,” mom said.
I became the owner of countless Little Golden Books and a whole series of Louisa May Alcott novels. I had many Little House books and a lot of Doctor Seuss. During my childhood and adolescence the Scholastic Book Service sold books in schools and the day the shipment came was always an exciting one for me.
As I got older, my mother still emphasized the importance of books and doing well in school. I was the only child I knew who didn’t have fights with her parents over cleaning her room. It was perfectly acceptable to befriend the dust bunnies, curl up on the unmade bed and read.
I was never told I wasn’t allowed to read a particular book. My mother assured me I might read whatever I liked. She told me she didn’t worry about my being tainted by dirty books. She worried that I would be bored. When, at about 14 I tried reading Lolita, mom’s fears were realized.
During her later years, Mom got her stories from T. V. and movies. The last book I remember her reading was Sue Grafton’s P is for Peril. Shortly before she died, she said to me, “Stephanie, I don’t know anyone who feels about books the way you do.”
“And whose fault is that?” I asked.
My mother, who was not always particularly happy during her last years, gave me the most delightful smile.