Here is my schmaltzy Mother’s Day tribute.
My mother had a fun spirit. Even though she suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 46, she always taught us to make the best of things. My memories of her are filled happy spots…before my awkward teen years.
One time we went down to big river in rural Michigan to ride in a canoe. I was beside myself with excitement. I must have been about eight years old and my older sister, just over nine and a half. We were out in farm country close to where Mother was raised and not too far from the University of Michigan. I don’t remember exactly where now; I just remember the splendid woods, the birds, and the sprawling meadows that seemed abuzz during summer. Queen Ann’s lace, buttercups, and Solomon’s seal grew in the thick woods. Once in a while we would come across a jack-in-the-pulpit, with its green and purple stripes, a visual treat tailor-made for a little girl who loved to read My Side of the Mountain and The Yearling.
We found the campsites and landing dock where Mother arranged to rent a canoe from the groundskeeper. Then we set out for our adventure. The water lapped on either side of the boat as we paddled along negotiating the rapids and trying to work out our river rhythms. We navigated around some bends and turns, making our way downstream, merrily, merrily. We were getting the hang of it, our focus on the waterways temporarily keeping two girls close in age out of fierce competition. I felt safe and secure in the middle of the canoe, with my sister in the bow, and Mother steering from the back. My knobby knees would slip and hit the centerboard once in a while, but the joy of the outing replaced any concerns over shin damage.
Every once in a while I would glance back at Mother, her dark brown eyes shining with anticipation. She had long slender arms, and a willowy frame. Her strong hands firmly held the paddle. Her black hair lay soft and lovely just above her shoulders. She seemed to know just how to keep her daughters occupied.
Suddenly the water became still and shallow, and we slowed to a stop. The narrowed river crevice had us trapped. The canoe was stuck on the rocks. It bobbed and tipped. We could not move. We dug our paddles into the rocks on either side, pushing and poking trying to dislodge the canoe. Nothing worked. We were unable to move the boat, stranded out in the big creek. We could give up and try to walk out and leave the boat. No time to pout. Mother never let us pout for too long over anything. She quickly came up with a plan.
“Ok girls, on the count of three, push yourselves with a big nudge. I want you to rock forward with all your might.”
Andrea and I braced ourselves forward, ready to push with our little tushies, determined to get the canoe off the rocks. Mom gave the command.
“One, two, three!”
“Everybody UNH! Everybody UNH, One, two, three, four, everybody UNH!”
Andrea and I joined in the chorus, bumping ourselves forward to each count.
“Everybody UNH! Everybody UNH!” Mom cheered us on in her best Michigan pep rally voice.
Little by little, we made it out of the log jam with those great big “oomphs.” We continued on until we found the loading dock a long mile downstream. We kept up our fits of girlish laughter as we climbed out of the canoe, safely on land again.