This is a love story. Thirty seven years ago when I got my spouse, I was gifted with a second mother. She and I have always shared a funny sort of humor so I called her today and thanked her for the burner she got me for my birthday. It took a moment then she caught on. I used my birthday check from her to help purchase my new stove. We have designated the left rear burner as the one she got for me.
Through the past year and a half since the fire she has been a stalwart support. Mom does not travel as much as she used to but she was with us in spirit immediately. Right after the fire when things were darkest and most confused we received flowers from her. It was the perfect thing to bring some life into the dreary and sorrowful hotel room where we were. Today as we move ever closer to our new house that replaces our burned one, she is still with us, every step of the way—including getting me a new burner for my stove.
Mom and Dad lived in Australia when my spouse and I meet in 1974. In 1975 when they came to the US for their annual visit they meet my mom but I was out of town and so I did not meet until after my spouse and I had established our first household together.
In the summer of 1977 Mom and Dad came to stay at our house. I had spent three days with them at a large family gathering in the summer of 1976 but had no sense of who my in-laws really were. This impending visit was not a meet and greet but a full on visit. We had just bought a tiny old railroad house. It is one of the houses I wrote about it in the blog entry “A Real House.” With their impending visit I struggled for weeks to get the creaky old house clean and to make it as nice as I could without spending money we needed to save for the extra food when they came.
I had a foot locker of fabric when I got married; it was a sort of dowry. Before my in-laws arrived I dug deep into that foot locker to make new curtains and fix up the house. I was so nervous! Finally they arrived. That night I cooked the best dinner I could, served it on our miss-matched dishes and hoped it would be OK. At some point it came up that the back left burner on the 50-year old stove did not work. After dinner my father-in-law, an engineer, just had to try to fix the eye. I trundled over standing against the stove as best I could without being rude. I had not cleaned behind it. Who knew what the previous 50 years had deposited back there. I lost. He pulled the stove out and I looked in horror at the accumulation of detritus. My, then mother-in-law, not yet my “mom” leaned over and looked behind the stove and proclaimed, “Oh, look! It looks just like my house!” At that moment I fell in love. I no longer had a mother-in-law, I had a second mom.
One of our most treasured family stories is the “Two Moms.” Shortly after my spouse and I finished graduate school I took a position teaching at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Both of our mothers wanted to come to Alaska to visit. It came to pass that the only time they could come happened to be at the same time. After a bit of consideration all of us thought it would be fine. My spouse and I arranged their flights so that they rendezvoused in Seattle and flew the last leg to Alaska together. When we picked them up at the airport they awfully tired and jet lagged but getting along famously.
In our town north of Anchorage there was an arched foot bridge that passed over the highway on the way into town. It was always decorated with welcome home, good luck, and congratulations messages. I decided—to the chagrin of my spouse—to put up a banner that said, “Welcome to the Two Moms.” I could not figure out how to execute it so I ended up with sharpies and a bed sheet. It was a sad effort but it was sincere. We picked them up from the airport and drove home slowing down dramatically just as we got to the bridge. I don’t remember if they saw it or if we pointed it out but the banner was a big hit. We got lattes and sat on our deck at midnight, in the dusk, drinking what was then an exotic drink. It was a great start to one of the best 10 days of our lives. We took all of the requisite Alaska Road trips gazing at wildlife, glaciers and mountain splendor.
When I set about to write this blog tonight I said to my spouse, “Honey, I don’t want to upset you but I need to ask. Do we have a copy of the picture of the two moms or did that burn?” We allowed as how it had burned. The sheet burned. A month before the fire when I was cleaning out a closet I came across and folded it tenderly and tucked it away. With the sheet and the photo gone, all we had were memories.
Something made me check our electronic photo archive. In 2002 we scanned some of the important old family photos and I found the Two Moms photo. In the morning when I share this story with my spouse he will, as I do now, have moist eyes knowing that we have memories and we have a copy of the photograph that sat on the book shelf in our den for 20 years before being consumed by the hungry fire.
My thoughts tonight of my second mom tie my life full circle from the first few months of her son’s and my marriage to the house where we will live soon. Like the bridge in Alaska, my life’s bridge arches over times like the Two Moms. At the beginning of that bridge and at the end of the bridge here now, is a stove.
From my first house with fifty years of accumulated dust to my last house that became ash, to this house soon to be she has been with me. In the last week of February when they deliver my stove, she will see us safely tucked into our new house. I will make a cup of tea on the back left burner and think of her.