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Beverly Beckham

Only one mother to cherish

By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / May 9, 2010

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I used to think, when I was young and a new mother, that some day when I was older, Mother’s Day would be all about me. I’d be feted and honored and celebrated. And I’d revel in it, like Queen for a Day.

I got cards that first year, from my husband and from my infant son, which my husband signed with X’s and O’s. And from my mother and my mother-in-law, “Congratulations on your first Mother’s Day!’’ And there were gifts. But I felt like an imposter.

I have always felt like an imposter on Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day back then was about my mother and my husband’s mother. They were the reasons for the holiday. They were the veterans.

When I was 8 or 9, I gave my mother a card that she so loved that its words became a kind of shorthand for us.

“Millions of stars in the Heaven’s above. Only one mother to cherish and love.’’ It was a postscript. I added them to every card I ever gave her, Christmas, Mother’s Day, birthday. I repeated them to her when she was in a coma, though her doctor said she couldn’t hear. And I continued to recite these words three months later when she opened her eyes, though that’s all she did — she couldn’t speak or move.

That first spring after her accident, when she was at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital relearning how to sit and stand and talk and walk, I took my children to South Shore Plaza to buy Mother’s Day cards. They were 2 years and 7 months. I carried one. The other walked.

The plaza was an open mall then and it was sunny day. And what struck me while I was walking in front of the five-and-ten, what struck me hard, like slamming full force into a glass door, was seeing so many girls my age, in their early 20s, shopping with their mothers.

There were mothers, mothers everywhere, smiling at their daughters, smiling at their grandchildren, smiling as they wiped ice cream off tiny mouths, smiling as they held little hands, smiling as they pushed baby carriages, beaming at their bounty.

I didn’t buy Mother’s Day cards that day. I went home and helped my son make them.

Even now, I notice mothers and daughters. At lunch together. Shopping. Sitting side by side at a movie theater. Talking. Laughing. A daughter taking a mother’s hand. Holding a door. Pushing a wheelchair. So many people my age still have mothers. This continually surprises me.

I lost my mother early. Her accident changed her. I lost who she was. When death finally took her, I believed I was long used to life without a mother.

But you never get used to a life without a mother. That’s what I know. That’s what I learned.

My mother-in-law lived to be 87. We shopped. We laughed. We talked. We sat side by side at movie theaters. She took my hand and I pushed her wheelchair. People thought we were mother and daughter.

Now I am the matriarch, the first in line, the elder, the veteran.

But I still feel like an imposter on Mother’s Day.

I remember a winter morning, standing on a kitchen chair, my mother brushing my hair. I remember her housedress, her breath on my neck, the red tile floor, the warmth of her hand.

I remember the two of us watching “Peter Pan’’ on the living room couch. I cried at the end because Wendy grew up.

“I’m never going to grow up. I’m never going to leave you,’’ I promised my mother.

She cried, too.

I left her.

And she left me.

But not really.

“Millions of stars in the Heaven’s above. Only one mother to cherish and love.’’ Now and forever. That’s the truth of this day.

Canton resident Beverly Beckham can be reached at bevbeckham@aol.com.

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