“Dear auntie will come with puja-presents and will ask, ‘Where is our baby, sister?’ Mother, you will tell her softly, ‘He is in the pupils of my eyes, he is in my [bones] and in my soul.'” (Tagore. “The End”)
I don’t remember at all when or where I read this line, written by the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, but I know it was in my mind soon after my mother died in July of 1994. Nearly a year later, when her ashes were returned to me by the research center of the University of Alabama, Tagore’s words had become part of my way of thinking about her.
I kept those ashes in Michigan, where I was then living, until my son and I could take them to North Georgia to dig them into the dirt over my father’s grave. As I walked around my house and land in Michigan, which my mother never saw, I imagined I was looking at everything through her eyes–which were now somehow inside my own. She seemed, in fact, to be “in the pupils of my eyes.” And my world looked different as a result.
I have never lost that palpable sense of her presence–of her with me, of her in me. It is one of the ways I think of all the women in this family of women–six sisters, their mother–all dead for many years now–their daughters, my five cousins and I. .
Leonard Cohen wrote:
“You say you’ve gone away from me/but I can feel you when you breathe.”
I am a granddaughter and a daughter and a mother and, as of a year ago, a grandmother.
I am sitting in my living room at 3:00 on a Friday morning, keeping the unpredictable hours of a seventy-year-old woman in questionable health, and looking at walls, deep window ledges, and tables covered with photographs of my mother and all her sisters and their mother and my father’s mother. I can’t imagine starting my day without them.
I never tire of looking at these photographs of my mother–Garner Inez Gentry Robertson–lounging on a park bench, clad in dark clothes and sunglasses on a rocky coastline somewhere I don’t know. She looks glamorous in these pictures. As a schoolgirl–possibly twelve and, I’ve been told, sixteen, she is just lovely. No matter how much I have moved in my gypsy existence, these photos have never been misplaced.. My mother, my aunts–all mothers to me at one time or another–their mother. I see them all. I have no way of thinking about Mother’s Day without thinking about every one of them. Without, in fact, thinking about all the mothers–my daughter-in-law; myself.
And I think about Lydia Roper and her houseful of children on Freemason Street in Norfolk, Virginia. Her great-granddaughter, Molly, says that one thing we know for certain about Lydia Roper is that her children adored her.
I would think that would be enough for any of us, celebrating our motherhood today.