God, almost forty years ago, Dad planted evergreens that dot the golf course at the back of our house. Four baby evergreens became adult pine triangles parked parallel to the sixth tee. On Sundays, Dad would throw on old Levi’s, tie the laces on his golf cleats, and roll the Toro onto the grass.
“Rose, can you come out here and help me? And bring the broom,” Dad would call through the screen.
Mom, always a team player would stop whatever she was doing and meet Dad; a broom in her right hand.
“Lift up the branches, honey,” Dad would scream over the mower. Her knees bent, with one hand on the end of handle and another near the stiff grass of the broom, Mom worked to lift up the skirt of each tree so Mr. Meticulous could mow ALL the grass under each evergreen. I can imagine Mom, crouched down with a broom, smiling and laughing out to the universe over Dad’s, “Goddamnit Joe. You know better!!”–a likely response to a pinecone he forgot to kick out of the way.
Most of my childhood, I largely ignored those trees and the Sunday routine, paying attention only when I was asked to help. Now, with Alzheimer’s being the motherfucker (literally it is) Mom turns her head to the backyard and stares into the trees on the hour.
Now, Mom will say, “I can’t x/y/z.. I’ve got too much to do!” when asked if we can go for a walk. The daily tasks are long forgotten amongst the bullshit in her brain. But, she must remember the feeling of having to DO. DO.DO. Doing the housework. Doing the mothering. Doing the dinner. All the doing, while creating a home for all of us.
The doing. The doing for others, rather than the being. How much better if she could remember feeling, instead of doing.
She taught me how to just be.
In those small moments and tasks of motherhood, I see her smiling out there. And then I can hear her afterwards. Sliding the screen door, she steps inside shaking her head, asserting, “I am SO glad I love myself. I love your father too, but my Goooddd.. You got two choices- You gotta laugh or you’re not gonna make it OR just ’em the finger behind your back!”
Always a problem solver, Mom!
Today, I am blessed that many of my most cherished people have experienced Rosie-both as a woman who got shit done, but most importantly, for who she is and what she gave others.
I wish I could reach into the pantry, pull a measuring cup up with liters of Mom’s spirit, her laughter, her sense of adventure.
Now, as I sit in this coffee shop in Treme listening to neighbors and tourists order coffee and shuffle in and out, WWOZ piped through speakers, I wipe my eyes periodically as I try to discern what I want ya’ll to understand about Rosie and just what she means to me.
I’m struggling because Mom is unable to see or understand how much New Orleans reminds me of her. New OrIeans and Mom would be fast friends, understanding the complexities and contradictions quickly. She would recognize the ironies as blessings and seek to understand my beloved city better, just as she always did with me.
She’d say, “You see that trouble? That thing you think is a problem? Or that person over there struggling? That’s the Holy Spirit at work, kiddo. Never forget it. You and each and everyone of us has it–the answers–inside of us. We just have to do the work to listen.”
And sometimes, I remember to listen, Mom. Sometimes I have no fear. Sometimes I say fuck it and pretend I’m YOU. I work to conjure up the feeling you gave me as a kid. In my mind, you are walking next to me down St. Ann or sipping coffee on Esplanade. You’ll give me a thumbs up when I find my New Orleans home. You’ll tell me I’m crazy when I tell you I want a baby at 43. And then you’ll tell me you won’t babysit, either.You’ll be sure to split a beer with me on my front porch, asking for ice cubes for your glass as we celebrate life and laugh at the bullshit.
In my mind, you’re here Mom. And we’ll just be…right here in New Orleans.