today is mother's day, so happy mother's day to all the moms. it's kind of a weird day when you don't have a mother anymore. nowadays it mostly makes me think of how long my mom's been dead -- which i guess might seem morbid to some, but it's just life, really. in july, she'll have been gone a whole decade already. ten years! it doesn't seem possible, but there you have it.
all tragedy becomes just another story if you manage to live through it and get over it, and, although my mother's death was of course a huge, life-ripping event, the distance of time has allowed the sadness to fade. these days i mostly ponder things like, the last time i saw her alive was on my 34th birthday, before flying back home to l.a. from my parents' florida winter home.
the plan was for me to come stay for a few days in may while my dad attended a reunion of his WWII shipmates, but when the time rolled around, she wasn't well enough to be at home anymore, and had to stay in the hospital. my brother and my niece were also around, which was both good and stressful b/c, well, you know ... terminal illness is stressful for everyone, and even families who basically get along can be rubbed raw by it. it was very strange uncharted territory, and at times tough to keep our bearings.
i've always liked to drive and find i do my best thinking in the car, like a lot of people. you're just in your own bubble, and during that time in florida i really needed those intervals behind the wheel alone. riding shotgun was tom petty, whose album echo had come out the month before. he's one of my favorite musicians, and this collection had totally the right head -- by turns uplifting and melancholy, with moments of reflection and moments of release. during the course of my ramblings around that part of central florida, the ballad "swingin'" became irrevocably linked to my mom in my mind.
not so much the story part of the song, which is a typical petty tale of a loser-yet-winner. it's more how the minimal refrain ("...she went down/swingin'...) made me think of how my mom would not go down without a fight.
like i said, she was in the hospital in florida, but she wanted to go back home to pennsylvania. they told her she was too sick to ever leave, and she just wasn't having that. through what i truly believe was sheer force of will, she did improve enough to be allowed out so my dad could drive her back north, where she scored a few weeks' reprieve before dying in mid-july. "swingin'" features this gorgeous guitar bridge/solo by the inimitable mike campbell (an underrated genius rock guitarist IMO), which kind of bursts out from behind the refrain and soars briefly ... like a woman delightedly, defiantly, heading home one last time.
i had a complicated relationship with my mother, and she with me. it could be contentious, to put it mildly. we didn't see eye-to-eye on most things. and she was quite stubborn and infuriating. she was also a big inspiration ... in some ways as a "how not to live your life" model, but i also learned valuable stuff from her, like impeccable manners -- and how to be a scary bitch on wheels.
among my mementos of her is a spectacular diamond cocktail ring (she loved her rocks, and all of us girl family members got pieces of her bling) that i had to have my jeweler uncle (mom's fave little bro) size for me. it's still a little too big, but that's ok, b/c i don't wear it often. mainly b/c it really is for a fancy party. ok, my mom wore it to the frickin' grocery store, but that's not me. back in the day when 00soul and i were fab, i had more occasions to take it out on the town, and i liked to wear it to places and events that were fantastic and lush and sparkly -- things she would have loved.
and sometimes when i travel, i see something i know she'd have liked, like the chandeliers at the assembly rooms in bath during my UK trip last year, or the beautiful stained glass windows at notre dame in paris and in the shakespeare church in stratford-upon-avon.
my mother's name was rose, and that was her signature flower, so often roses remind me of mom. i took the shot at the top of this post in paris last year, at the rodin museum, b/c they were so pretty on a miserable cloudy day. red ones were plentiful in her garden and on special occasions, but when i was a kid, she grew some yellow/pink multicolor ones like this too, called peace roses. so i thought of her when i photographed these parisian roses.
anyway, at times after she died, another line from "swingin'" would run through my head: "i wish ma could see me now/she'd be so proud of me." like when i got my first big magazine article assignment, just days after she died. i took it b/c i knew i had to, and she'd have been proud. these days i'm not sure mom has a lot to be proud of, but knowing her she'd probably find something.
so here's to rose ... thorns and all. sometimes i really miss you.