This picture of my mother’s family hung on the wall of my childhood home, and I saw it in many of the houses I visited frequently as a child. Mom is about fifteen years old here, the first girl on the left in the front row, sitting beside her father. All told, my grandparents had fifteen children. One died as an infant; the others grew up to have families of their own. My mother was the eleventh child, daughter number ten. She often joked that she didn’t have friends, she had sisters, and because I grew up on the family farm in southwest Washington, where my mother was born, I knew this reality intimately. My grandparents lived in a house a little ways down the creek, a house which their sons and sons-in-law built.I had cousins who were only a year or two younger than Mom, and their children were my age-mates. Who needed friends, when I had so many cousins?
When my Aunt Aronda died in March, at the age of 94 (she is to the left of the oldest brother, in the back row), it left us with only six of the original siblings. Aunt Aronda’s death reminded me of how much loss my mother has endured in recent years. And I felt keenly my own loss.
Losing my aunt, who took me in when I was twenty and couldn’t figure out how to leave home, a woman who I continued to visit and call over the years, felt especially hard. She was smart and always full of news. “Sharp as a tack,” as we say. Since my mother’s decline began a few years back, I had gotten into a habit of telling her she was my role model. She liked to wake up in the morning and sit outside with a cup of coffee. She liked to talk on the phone. And she still liked to read, which is just one thing among many that my mother has lost.
At 94, I would like to still be getting up every morning and writing. No matter what I write about, I know I’ll keep circling back to that over-populated childhood, and that farm that nurtured so many childhoods besides my own.