Anne Notations

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lady Moon

Mom playing piano, c. 1959, for John, me, and our cousins.

In our house, always there was music. There were art and books, and often flowers. Never was there opulence – that was neither my parents' fortune nor their style. Our furnishings were well-made and sensible. My mother was an aesthete on a budget, choosing just the right celadon footed vase (rummage sale finery) to set off a spray of forsythia, fitting an old engraving into an antique frame (auction box lot) for the living room.

Our upright piano was no mere display for family photographs, but a living thing, played often and well. Grandma taught Mom to play as a child, and she found joy in music all her life. In her diary from 1943 she logged each week's modest sheet-music purchase; I saw many of those prizes in the old upright's bench as I grew up and, more recently, when we cleaned out my parents' house.

The music was always beautiful, whether classical or popular. We went to concerts and, rare treat, to a Broadway musical: My Fair Lady. To this day I can sing every word of "On the Street Where You Live," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," and "I Could Have Danced All Night." When I was small, Mom sang me songs at the piano and lullabies at bedtime. My favorite was this one:

"Lady Moon, Lady Moon, where are you roving?"
"Over the sea, over the sea."
"Lady Moon, Lady Moon, whom are you loving?"
"All that love me. All that love me."

Whenever I see a full moon in a velvet-black sky, those words and that melody play inside my head. When Mom lay near death from cancer eight years ago, barely conscious, I sat by her bed and softly sang "Lady Moon." A tear squeezed from one of her closed eyes and ran slowly down her cheek.

Gardens, animals, paintings, poetry, good books. (Indelible memory: Getting up to use the bathroom at 2 a.m. and seeing Mom still sitting in an armchair in a circle of lamplight, unable to put down a novel.) I absorbed my mother's passions early on, and they are part of how I define myself today.

If my mother hadn't died on October 25, 1998, she would have turned 84 today. After I became an adult our relationship had gotten complicated, a push-pull, love-hate dance that could wear me out. Yet we both kept trying, working to make it work, needing one another despite our differences. After her diagnosis of incurable cancer, I was able to be with Mom several days a week. She put me to work inventorying belongings and recording their provenance for future generations. We read aloud her old letters from wartime boyfriends stationed overseas, giggling over the jaunty cartoons one of them had drawn of his trusty, goggle-eyed Jeep. "I haven't laughed like this in months," Mom said. This, while she endured ferocious pain. The day came, after the Oxycontin was increased and she was confined to a hospital bed in the den, when she declined my offer to play some music on the radio. I left the room and wept. Mom didn't want music! I knew she had begun her journey away from us, away from the things that had mattered so much all her life.

This time of year as the leaves begin to flame with color, I re-read my mother's favorite poem. Like her birth and death days, it is set in autumn. Unlike her public self - reserved, pleasant – it shouts with passion for the beauty she held dear.

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Edna St. Vincent Millay


  • Anne, it's been so long since I've read your blog, and I'm so glad I chose to read tonight! You write so beautifully about your mother, about everything. Thank you for spreading the beauty.

    By Anonymous Deirdre M, at Mon Oct 30, 01:35:00 AM EST  

  • Anne, I found this so moving. It really spoke to that part of me who is still a daughter, not just a mom and wife. Thank you for writing for the heart.

    By Anonymous Dawn, at Mon Oct 30, 11:07:00 PM EST  

  • That was just lovely.

    By Blogger Bozoette, at Thu Nov 02, 03:03:00 PM EST  

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