“So, are we going to hear wedding bells next year?” my mother had asked brightly one Christmas as she hovered over her ironing board.
“Marry Jerry? Doubt it,” I said – convincingly, I hoped, but annoyed even so at the tiny lump forming in the back of my throat.
A long silence followed, during which I could almost hear my mother’s disappointment lurching through her heart. She and Jerry liked each other. They were both tidy, sensible people with tidy, sensible lives. I didn’t want to be sensible at age 23 – the prospect of steaming my husband’s shirts to perfection while wondering what to make for Sunday dinner was akin to life imprisonment with no chance of parole. The small part of me that felt comforted by the smell of hot, dampened cotton was totally eclipsed by the part of me that wanted to wander the world in search of…what? Food I didn’t recognize or names I could not pronounce? Diesel fumes belched out by strange-looking trucks roaming the cobblestoned streets of a foreign city? I wanted some adventure. I thought.
“Oh,” she said, a meaningful prelude to another long silence. It was a mother’s silence, the calculating pause in conversation that simulated an army commander’s assessment of enemy strengths, tactical wisdom and balance of aggression. Her silence was a brooding sign of analytical intelligence as she settled on the tactic most likely to further the great goal of marching her daughter onto the battlefield of holy matrimony. An unmarried daughter represents a failure to a mother, a poor reflection of mother’s only measurable work, the successful ability to help sustain the human race, to see her own mother’s eyes shining out from her granddaughter’s face. And, too, she is a subtle reminder that Mother is herself not free to choose again, choose better, and taste anew the hope of a fresh future warmed by love.