If I could make a wish for Mother’s Day it would not be for a bowl of strawberries in bed, a fistful of dandelion blooms or a day of children planting flowers in the garden.
It would be for my mother to come back. She would sit on the couch in my living room. And I would listen, while she tells me everything, all the secrets, all the fears and failings, all the stories a mother almost tells her daughter but never fully does.
I would listen more closely now as she speaks, of a particular anguish, that of trying to love her four daughters, despite never being fully loved herself.
I would listen without inwardly sighing this time, with all the time in the world this time, while she tells me all the stories she has to tell of a wounded childhood with a hate-filled mother whose expressions of verbal and physical abuse I could only half-take in while Mama was alive.
I would listen while Mama once and for all tells the truth of the marriage certificate we girls found hidden in her cedar chest one summer afternoon.
The date on the certificate did not jive with the date of her firstborn’s birth just a few months later, leading to a suspicion we begged Mama over the years to confirm. "Tell us, Mama, tell us," we would beseech as sweetly as we could, to which she would explode, "I told y’all to quit asking me about that!"
Finally, she could say the truth out loud, what it was like carrying all that Catholic, Southern 1950s shame from the age of 17 to the grave, what it was like being made to wear a blue wedding gown pinned at the waist to hold her girth, what she must have been feeling the day she ripped her picture from her high-school senior yearbook.
On this historic afternoon, Mama would speak aloud all the stories she kept locked deep, the truth of a loveless marriage to my father, the guilt and shame of divorce that followed, the excessive pharmaceuticals and men that came after that, the struggles with depression, poverty and disease, the inconsistency of her response to us as she grew more and more weary of trying.
If I could make a wish for Mother’s Day it would be for my mother to come back so I could tell her, "It’s OK now, Mama."
I wouldn’t say much else while she talked. I would hardly move except to reach up and touch her cheek. I would fix my brown eyes deep on hers, so she could see an unconditional love I doubt she ever saw during 68 years of life.
When she finished speaking, I’d tell her she was the bravest, most intelligent woman I ever knew. I'd tell her how grateful I am to her for instilling in me a will to survive. I'd thank her for breaking the chain of outright abuse. I’d thank her for the ultimate lesson of compassion that comes from having a mother who never gave you what you needed, but who you are desperate to love and save, anyway.
A few years before she died in a house fire in 2005, Mama told me the "one kind thing" her mother said to her: "At least you were a good mother."
She told me this during a phone conversation adult daughters sometimes brave to start with their mothers, about the things they found lacking in their childhoods.
After she said what she did, I could only sit silent on the other end of the phone while she must have held her breath, waiting for my affirmation.
How I wish now I could break that silence.
How I wish I could sit with my mother again, so I could offer the words I never said that day but wish now a hundred times I had: "How wonderful that your mother said that to you, Mama. You gave us everything you had, Mama. I know all the way deep in my heart that you loved me, Mama."
She likely doesn’t need those words now, being in the perfect nirvana where she is, or, simply, the ground.
But I do.
If I could make one wish for Mother’s Day, it would be for my mother to come back, if only for an afternoon.
I would look into her eyes one more time.
I would hear her say, "It’s OK," too.
-Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.