Yry hated to divulge her age. But after she passed the 75 marker, she began to brag just a wee bit. So I will carry on for her and brag about her 107th birthday.
I owe a great deal to my mother. She taught by example. In my youth, I didn’t appreciate what seemed her foolish penny pinching. She knew how to prioritize what was necessary and what would make her happy and be good for her kids:
- escape city life
- food and shelter
- surround herself with animals, both large and small
- invest the nest egg so she could live off what it made, rather than from the egg itself
- a place to house the larger menagerie
- an even larger place for the menagerie
- finally, well established and with both kids more or less raised, revisit romance
When I wanted new tennis shoes, she handed over my sister’s saddle shoes which were grossly outdated and never fit properly. When I whined, she reminded me that I had a pony of my own, something my girlfriends lusted for, despite their cool tennies. I hated her for this parsimoniousness.
I observed and internalized her stoicism when things went wrong. Tears solve nothing. Use your head to solve problems and your hands to fix mistakes. Make do with what you have. The next shiny object will not make you happier but will lead you to even more desires for even shinier objects. Don’t pay attention to what people say; note what they do. Follow the Golden Rule. Be as honest with yourself as you expect others to be with you.
My relationship with my mother was never easy or filled with mushy love. It was tough love. But as I grew up and away, I came to respect her. After she died I also realized that I had never really known her. What she’d told me about her past, was not what she told others about her past. She is an enigma still, but also a powerful symbol of how to follow your dreams, pay attention to your instincts, check your temper, and trust animals—not so much people.
A year ago I prematurely hit the publish button on My Life With an Enigma. I so wanted the release date to correspond to her birthday, and the book was close—oh so close—but I should have waited for another month and one more read-through. Patience has never been one of my virtues. So out it went into a surprisingly eager world, errors and all. I’ve since had time to fix the errors (I think).
This was to be the year to travel, perhaps finding places to read and market the book along the way. I had hoped to drive across country as far as Long Island, where Yry lived as a child, if I had the fortitude. And then, on the way home, to roughly retrace our pre-Interstate highway journey from Manhattan to Laramie. COVID-19 upended my plans. I may yet make this journey, but the immediacy and relevance are now deflated.
Book sales have been better than I expected and would be better if I were a marketer, if I were capable of self-promotion. But that is not one of the lessons I learned from Yry. Contentment is much easier than self-promotion, and, to be honest, more gratifying.
Happy Birthday, Mother.