Of her three children, I am probably most like her. I’m proud to be hers, proud to be like her, proud of the spun silver hair I inherited from her, proud of the big, warm heart that I got from her that many people can’t see in me. I am proud to have attended her funeral and honor her even though I was not acknowledged during the service as one of hers. Neither were her grandchildren or my sister, Julie. Mom would have acknowledged us if she could, if only with a squeeze of her small, gnarled hand.
Mom nurtured me, valued me, embraced me even when she didn’t really understand the unconventional thing that was her middle child. She was the last of my protectors, and now she is gone. The whole world is diminished, and it hardly realizes it. I miss her deeply.
Mom taught me how to sew, what a selvage is, and a bolt, and a seam. She stitched her love into my childhood shirts and shorts and dresses. She stitched love into my children’s beautiful costumes every Halloween when they were little. These costumes held such love and creative power that her granddaughter became a costume designer, and her grandson became a builder of worlds.
Mom taught me how to cook and how the power of food, lovingly prepared, could care for people and heal them. She taught me how to wrap hamburger in a ring of bacon and make it as wonderful as any filet mignon. We, her children, dubbed these little creations “gorilla ears.” It made her smile. On rare occasions, her steaks were tough, and my brother would pretend his steak knife was a chain saw. She laughed right along with him. I laughed too — he was and still is really funny — but I remember also feeling a little bit sad because I could sense what was underneath that tough steak.
When Mom patiently showed me embroidery stitches — lazy daisies, backstitches, French knots — she encouraged me to turn each piece over. You want the back to look as neat as the front, she’d say. Even though nobody can see the back, you’d know that there was a knotted mess back there, and you wouldn’t want that. She taught me that the underneath matters. I’ve been able to see it ever since, often to my peril. I later realized, with children of my own, how much of her went into those dinners, even when the steaks were tough.
I knew that before she met my Dad, she played the piano and composed award-winning poetry in high school. I never got to read any of her poems because she didn’t think enough of them to keep them, but I did get to cherish the little notes she’d send in my lunchboxes and inside greeting cards after I had moved far away. The curve of her handwriting was full of love.
Mom had an eye for good art. She came from poverty but was more cultured than those who were bred to it. I treasure memories of her and me at the Denver Art Museum, discussing French Impressionists, what she liked about certain pieces, what was just too weird. I am no Picasso, but I offered her a choice of my oil paintings once, and a little grin broke out on her face as she chose what we both knew was the best one.
She was musical and literary and creative and brilliant, but she was content to defer to the light of lesser people. She was content to let them take the stage and the credit, content to cover her light with the proverbial bushel basket. Because I could see underneath, I could see that light. I would have been nothing but another arrogant narcissist without her. She made me into a human being. She gets all the credit.
Her light was bright like a supernova, but it never burned because she never shoved it at anyone, never allowed it to blaze except through the slats of that bushel basket. I didn’t always let her know that I saw her light. If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t show her often enough how precious she was and how much I recognized and valued her.
There was a fierceness to her that can only be called purely Irish. Growing up, we all believed that there was a streak of English blood in her father, from whom she inherited the Mudd name. But when her sister discovered in a search for ancestry that every drop of Mom’s blood was Irish, I was not surprised, and neither was she. At her funeral, I wore a pin she gave me years ago: Erin Go Bragh! (Long Live Ireland!). Few knew it was there.
Mom once told me that she could see what her soul looked like. It was a small, clean little room, simple and well swept, bright and quiet and well cared for. My first painting was of such a room. It hung in her house for a long time. When she died, I didn’t have the heart to keep it.
Mom knew how to love people, not in spite of their flaws but because of them. If she liked someone, she was warm like a cup of hot cocoa. If she didn’t, she could be colder than space. She was never loud about it, never obvious, but if you were spaced, you knew it. Mom was a Grand Master of passive aggression.
She was tiny and beautiful and held a universe of marvelous, hidden things inside her. She deserved a host of angels singing at her funeral, the best choir in the world, a crowd of thousands grieving her loss. But she would have been content with the single, beautiful voice and piano, and the COVID-exhausted priest’s simple prayers and eulogies that she had.