I cherish this damaged old photo because it shows something I remember my mother for — the love she had for me and the joy she took in giving.
My mom had her faults, and I sometimes I had a hard time seeing past them to her love. Thirty years after this picture was taken, I learned a very hard lesson about giving. It was Christmastime, and I was giving my mom an iMac I didn’t need anymore. I had told her a few days before that I was bringing it over so she could make a space for it. See, she was a hoarder and I knew she had no place for it the last time I went to her apartment. Well, I got to her apartment with my Mac — her Mac — and she had no place for it. I was angry with her, and told her if I was giving her a valuable gift, the least she could do was clear a space for it. A minute or so passed — maybe we argued some more, maybe we went silent… I don’t remember — and she told me she had some gifts for me. I told her if she didn’t have room for my gift, I didn’t want hers. I might have even said something cruel about how I knew she had just gathered up some things from her clutter and stockpiles of stuff she bought from Avon and Fingerhut with money she didn’t have. Her face fell, and she broke into sobs. She lowered her head, put her hands up, and cried, “I just want to give you these things; why won’t you let me give you these things? I love you, and it’s Christmas, and I just want to give you some presents.” Suddenly I was horrified by how much I had hurt her feelings and how cruel I was to not accept her gifts. I saw that she loved me, and that all she wanted to do was show me her love. I hugged my mom and cried with her and told her how sorry I was. I took her gifts, and even if they were trinkets she didn’t buy expressly for me, they were things she thought I’d like, and they were things she had to give — needed to give. I realized that people want to give, that they take pride in giving, and that giving was something to honor, not to squash.
I look back on all the times I spent with my mom, and this is one of my greatest regrets. Yes, I learned from it, and yes, we made up for it, but I will never forget how much I hurt her, how pitiable she looked when she broke down in tears, and how my heart felt torn from my chest when I saw I had caused her pain. I regret it to this day, but I learned from it, and though I may forgive myself, I hope I never forget it.
I almost did forget it, though. One of the last times I saw my mom, before she died of cancer in 2011, she pointed to two unwrapped packages of socks, one of them tube socks and one of them short socks. I don’t like tube socks, and I already had short socks, and I said, “Aw, Mom, I don’t need socks.” My mom gave me a look that said “you know better” and said, “Danny, take the socks.” Remembering the pain I had caused ten years before, I gave her a look that said, “you’re right” and took them and said, “thank you.” They were the last presents my mother gave me.
I gave away the tube socks so someone else could wear them, but I wear the short socks around the house. They are thick and cozy, and I think of Mom when I wear them. The love she gave me was greater than these socks, and will outlast these socks, but accepting these socks was a way of accepting her love while she was alive — while she could look in my eyes and see me taking what she had to give.
May you appreciate your mom this Mother’s Day and every day of the year!