As another beloved musician, Prince, joins the increasingly phenomenal Band in Heaven, every cable news show and radio station has put "Purple Rain," "When Doves Cry," "Raspberry Beret," "1999" and "Kiss" on heavy rotation. For musicians, we condense our memories of them into our favorite songs, our personal mix tapes of their best hits. For a beloved family member, we put favorite memories on heavy rotation.
Since Thanksgiving, my internal jukebox has been playing "Mom's Greatest Hits":
* Riding bikes together on a lazy summer afternoon, out the winding country roads past fields (including the cute farmer boy who was then my crush), and ending up at the Twin Churches, two similar churches built for some quirky reason right across from each other. She and I walked through the old cemetery, listening to locusts buzz, reading the names on the tombstones and making up stories about them. We rested on the stone slab of the church's back steps, then took a gentle ride home, mostly downhill, coasting on sunlight. Recently, I got four disposable cameras developed that my sister and I found in Mom's desk drawer. One of them included pictures she'd taken about eight years ago of that same cemetery, in winter. I wondered if she'd been replaying our happy moments together, too.
* The vacation we took, just us three kids and Mom, after she first separated from Dad. We went to the Finger Lakes in New York, hiking the rock gorge in Watkins Glen; and I bought old stereoptican slides of the rock gorge in a local antique store. We also took a boat out on the lake, visited the Women's History Museum in Seneca Falls, and basically let our spirits guide us. I could feel how proud she was of herself, for the first time being responsible for all of us alone, and managing to guide us through a week's vacation in a strange place. The year after that, I went away to college, and while her childcare burden was cut by a third, she called me on the phone frequently to ask me for advice about how to handle my younger sister (going through a rebellious stage). When I think about that trip, I think about how our relationship was always underlined by a strong friendship, and about how nice it was to see Mom taking ownership of her own capabilities.
Oddly enough, I just found in Mom's papers a piece she wrote for me that she shared at my baby shower. In it, she advised me not to try to be your child's friend, and I remember her trying to soothe me when I scowled at that phrase. I think I know now what she meant. While they are young, you need to set limits and guide them. But over time, as they become adults, there's room for that relationship to grow, like ours did.
* Visiting Mom when I was home from college and having her show me her latest artwork. In more recent years, these were often based on photographs that I took. As Mom's problems with her hips and knees grew, she couldn't get out as often to paint or sketch from nature. But because she'd bought me a camera when I was very young -- a basic 110, which was virtually indestructible -- I'd developed (pun intended) the habit of taking pictures wherever I went. Going through the drawers where she kept her artwork from the last three years, I was touched again and again by recognizing the source of these impressionistic pastel drawings: my photos, shared with her online, which she then ordered as prints. I tell people I turned to photography because I couldn't render what I see into artwork the way my mother does, so it was wonderful to see how she, in turn, had converted my photographs into art.
* So many non-specific memories, of her cleaning while playing "Jesus Christ Superstar" on the phonograph; of her joking and telling stories about us; of the twinkle in her eye and the way she'd touch your arm when she teased you gently. I see her every day, in some way. Eventually, those memories will grow less painful; I'll feel the loss less keenly and savor the joy they represent. For now, these memories are a soundtrack that keeps whirling, on repeat, through the only things I have left of her: that jukebox of memories.