by Drew Holmes
Bleary eyed and not quite awake, I heard the phone buzzing on my nightstand. This was odd for two reasons — first, it was 6:00 am, an hour before my phone would exit night mode and start notifying me of new calls and messages. Second, it was Saturday. No one would call that early unless it was an emergency.
“Hello?” I dry throatily answered, anxiously wondering what was so important.
“Drew?” came the weak reply on the other end. “It’s dad. Mom died last night.”
Seconds felt like months as still half-asleep I tried to understand. Diabetic most of her life, Mom had been in poor health for years. The last decade had seen increasingly frequent trips to the hospital, including a recent ICU stay. Dad had told me a few days prior that she was in rehab at a nursing home, but this?
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I said as I hung up, still not fully awake.
I drifted back off to sleep trying to absorb the news. Plans would be made later, but for now I needed to remember my mom. As I let the reality of the situation wash over me, several thoughts rose to the surface.
She could be rigid in her thinking, which manifested itself in unexpected ways. For example, she *knew* the best ice cream anywhere could be found only at the Dairy Queen in Kennebunkport, a frequent stop during the endless childhood summers spent in Maine. So, it was no surprise one day when my sister and I got off the school bus, we were greeted by our smiling mom who obviously had an idea.
“Get in the car, we’re going for ice cream.”
A few hours later we were in Maine, eating Peanut Buster Parfaits with peanut sauce (no chocolate) just the way she liked them.
Then there was the Christmas Eve that at her behest I played trumpet in church. A recent college graduate, there was precious little time for practicing, but I agreed knowing how much it meant to her. After the service, she greeted me at the base of the choir loft stairs.
“Well, you’ve certainly played that better.”
At first, I was put off. I was doing this for her! How could she not appreciate that? Then I realized what a special gift she had given me. Every mother is their child’s biggest cheerleader. Mine was not only that but she was also my worst critic. I knew then something I think I had always known — if she said I played well, I really had. With mom I could take the criticism because I could trust the praise.
I remembered a concert I played while in college. Going to school in New Jersey was just far enough away that frequent visits back to Massachusetts were not reasonable. A normal trip was around four hours of driving across the concrete jungle of southern New York and the Connecticut Turnpike. This concert was nothing special, as I had no features or solos. But she and dad made the drive there, attended the show, and then drove back home on the same day just to hear me play.
As I remembered this, I realized how supportive she had always been of all my interests. Cub scouts gave way to soccer, baseball, and basketball. Later there were Boy scout meetings and years of weekly trumpet lessons. She was there for all of it, never missing anything that was important to me.
The world is different now. There will be no more Christmas Eve services at church, as the aging congregation has all but disappeared. I do not know if there is still a Dairy Queen in Kennebunkport, since I have not been to Maine in at least two decades. And whenever my next performance is, no matter how hard I look I won’t see my mother’s face in the audience.
But as I revisit these memories with a sense of loss, it is also with joy in them having happened in the first place. I will always appreciate my worst critic, who was also my biggest fan. Thanks for everything mom. I will never forget it.