On Mothers and Daughters

May 24 | Posted by: Andrea Zonn |
I’ve always thought my mother and I weren’t very much alike. Perhaps in some of our mannerisms – we both curl our toes under when we sit in a rocking chair, we are both slow eaters. But we don’t look alike – she’s just over 5 feet, and incredibly petite. I’m a good 5 inches taller, and, well, petite couldn’t describe me. I’ve always had a hard time understanding how I came out of her body. And we’re not alike in our view of the world, in our view (or acknowledgement of) the Divine, and in other matters philosophic. She’s a worrier. I have faith. We’ve always been very close, but not particularly intimate.

But recently, there have been parallels in our life experiences. 2 years ago, when I divorced, my ex-husband and I put our house on the market. I took advantage of the time it went unsold, by working diligently on the 1930 house I had purchased for my new life. But when that house finally sold, the buyers needed to act quickly. Could we close in 2 weeks? Absolutely. I would bleed a slow death sooner than lose this sale. But it would take some swift maneuvering to make it happen, and nothing gets the ball rolling like a deadline. So I booked the movers, leaving myself a 2 day buffer, and time to clean. Between road work and studio work I was left with a day and a half to pack most of the house. In the end, all worked out. And then my mother stepped in. We scoured that house for the sweet young couple moving in as only a mother and daughter can. Baseboards, ceiling fixtures, washing and pressing curtains, sweeping out the garage, wiping down the cabinets inside and out... spotless. And the whole time, she kept me on track despite my sheer exhaustion.

Last week, the tables were turned. My father died 5 and a half years ago after an extended illness. He had spent much of the last 2 years of his life in hospitals, intensive care units, and rehabilitation units. So did my mother. She carried her belongings and his in plastic grocery bags to and from the hospital. She slept in his room. Or sometimes in the waiting room. She continued to work, teaching school. She continued to pay bills. She wrestled with insurance companies, stayed on top of the taxes. And she loved my father. She was his cheerleader. She would have taken on his illness to keep him from the pain he was in. Illness has a way of exaggerating dysfunction within a family. But I marvel at my parents’ adoration for one another.

After my father’s death, my mother retreated back to their big house outside of Nashville. 2 years of leftovers still in plastic grocery bags. Dirty laundry. Clean laundry. CDs. And about 7,000 packets of sugar, salt, pepper, ketchup, soy sauce, plastic cutlery – remnants from every hospital meal, every take-out meal. File boxes full of insurance statements. Boxes full of get-well wishes and gifts.

Then there were the memories accumulated over 42 years of marriage to contend with. There were my father’s instruments. His compositions. His clothes. His artwork. Photographs, letters, school papers. His clothes were donated. His instruments were sold. The University of Illinois sent two archivists to assess the collection of his life’s work.

My mother spent a year and a half carefully organizing that collection, annotating every slip of paper, every photograph, every original score. She catalogued it all. In chronological order. My brother and I tried to help, but my mother is the only one who really knew what all of the materials were. The archivists came back to collect it last fall.

A year ago, my brother bought the house next door to me. We call our little piece of East Nashville the Zonnpound. My mother decided to move into Brian’s old house, just 5 minutes from us. A good move. She has spent the past year preparing her old house for sale, and moving her precious belongings, one Mazda-full at a time, into the new place. She’s got her own way of doing things.

Less than a month ago, she finally listed her house. The next day, she got a contract. But could they close in 3 weeks? You bet. Crunch time had arrived. Somehow, in the midst of all the emotions and physical exhaustion, she pulled it together. Movers came for the furniture. My brother went with a 15 foot U-Haul to get the rest of the odds and ends. Did you get the part about the U-Haul? Again, she’s got her ways... She showed up at my house at 9 o’clock the night before closing. She was exhausted. But it was time to go clean the old house. I changed out of my work clothes, and into my dirty work clothes.

We started in at 10 pm. I was doing the vacuuming and mopping, Mom was following behind doing the baseboards and edging. I vacuumed the bedroom with brown carpet. “This is where Grandma Ruth was sick,” I thought. I vacuumed the room with green carpet. “This is where my father was sick,” I thought. I loved the thought of a new, young family coming to fill this beautiful house with joy and laughter again.

I finished the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. Mom moved on to kitchen detail. I did an idiot check of all the closets, drawers and cupboards. I removed a Snoopy poster that my Dad had hung in his studio space, that said “It’s so exciting when you know you’ve written something good.” I moved on to the garage. Unused boxes, carpet remnants, and other trash and recycling had to be hauled to the street. 6, yes, 6 garbage bins – full. Another 7 or 8 big yard bags. All the while, my mother did her thing, cleaning the refrigerator, wiping down the cabinets, inside and out... spotless. We waxed the linoleum together. And I kept her on track despite her sheer exhaustion. We scoured that house as only a mother and daughter can. At 4 am, I followed her home as we talked on our cell phones, making sure she didn’t fall asleep.

And now, here we are. 2 single chicks. When she feels overwhelmed at her workload, I remind her that they’ve got a guy for that.

“Andrea, I need to get my stove hooked up.”
“They’ve got a guy for that, Mom,” I say.
“Andrea, the bees have been boring into my fascia board. I don’t know how I’m going to reach that to fix it.”
“There’s a guy for that, too.”

Living alone looks different to us. She continues to mourn the loss of her best friend. I continue to relish my newfound quiet and creative growth. She’ll never consider another companion. I cherish the idea of discovering a love I’ve only dreamt of.

But then again, she’s been there and done that.

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