Missing Mom

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What’s your favorite memory of your mom? It’s easy to pick out the mushy stuff, which is fine. But what about the quirky, odd memories? The ones that, in hindsight, remind you how much you take her for granted.

When I was in the third grade, our family lived in northern Italy. My dad was in the Air Force, and we were stationed near Lake Garda for a couple of years.

Our school was a small island of American military kids, clustered along a river running through Verona, Italy. Field trips are always fun, sure, but they really get interesting when you don’t speak the language.

One gorgeous fall day, with my mom as one of the parent volunteers, we all hopped on buses and headed out to the countryside. We were in search of fossils in a hilly, forested landscape. There were few houses anywhere in sight, just narrow dirt trails snaking through the trees.

Like most 8-year-olds, my friends and I shrieked and laughed as we scampered down the trails, until our large group was deep in the woods. It was at this point that I glanced around to see where my mom was.

And she wasn’t there. Anywhere in sight. In the middle of nowhere. I left my friends and started back up the trail. Which branched left and right, some of the trails disappearing into the mist.

I began to get concerned. I mean, where was she? The concern turned to worry. Five minutes later the worry bordered on panic.

Eventually I stumbled into a very small village. I remember some kind-hearted Italian women alarmed at seeing an American kid who was flustered and frightened. They tried asking me questions, but I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.

So, naturally, my panicked eight-year-old brain reached this conclusion: I may never see my mom again. She’s gone.

Which is ridiculous, I know. And you’re reading this and saying, “Right, that’s not a big deal. Toughen up, kid.”

Okay, yeah, it’s embarrassing now. But it’s different when you’re a little kid in a completely alien landscape, unable to communicate. Rational thought evaporates.

I know for a fact I finally started crying as I rushed back out of the village. I’d never imagined a world without my mom. I mean, it’s MOM. She’s always there. What if she was lost in these woods for good, or she’d been kidnapped, or she’d fallen into a pit somewhere, or . . .

Ten minutes later, through my tear-flushed eyes, I saw my mom. She was coming slowly down one of the trails, along with another mom and one of the kids from our class.

The kid was on crutches and the two moms had lingered to help him hobble along. The rest of us had run off and left them behind. They’d taken one wrong turn in the dim, shadowed woods, then figured it out.

They weren’t really lost. They were just helping out and the going was slow. And I’d completely freaked out.

I never forgot that day. There’s no doubt I’d always taken my mom for granted, and, in all honesty, I’m sure I did again after that.

And then, a mere 13 years later, she was gone. My mom developed leukemia at age 52 and died when I was 21.

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The reason I write these words today is because I’ve just seen another post from someone about how Mother’s Day is a silly Hallmark holiday. Or how it’s the same thing over and over, every year. Another person said, “Well, guess I gotta run to the store and get something for my mother. Ugh.”

I keep quiet, but in my mind I think about that fear of losing my mom when I was a kid, and compare that to the outright crushing despair of losing her for real. Sure, the “holiday” is a pain for some folks. Are you inconvenienced just a bit?

What I wouldn’t give to be inconvenienced this weekend.

Miss you, Mom. Hope the trail you’re on right now is splashed with sunshine.

P.O. Box 370567     Denver, CO     80237