The only question people ever ask me during holidays is “What’s your holiday tradition?”. Sorry, writing cards in beautiful calligraphic handwriting, or shopping for gifts, or hanging the lights and wreaths, or taking advantage of the discounts in the shoe store, or trying every little holiday dessert at Costco are not considered a part of a “tradition”. Holiday picture isn’t considered a tradition either. I blank out, trying to come up with a story of my own. There are no traditions when it comes to this family. Or better yet, the tradition is, to do whatever makes you happy and enjoy the season without stressing yourself to repeat something you don’t even remember. I don’t think I can come up with a tradition to follow every year, but I can always make up a tradition to do something new every year.
Today we got ceiling lamps installed. I took the morning off from work. I don’t get that luxury often. I take mornings or afternoons off because there is something else I have to accommodate while I work on the go. There is always something to clean, something to organize, something to take care of. But this morning, the house was clean, the kids were at school, and the husband was tied up with meetings. The installers worked in every room of the house except dining room and kitchen. I had access to coffee, phone and laptop, nothing else. I called my mom, talked to her for over an hour, gathered all details about my baby brother’s new bride, and baby sister’s new groom, and a thousand other things.
Suddenly realized that this year will be the first year in my life that I won’t visit my parents. Otherwise every year either they visited us, or we visited them keeping the tradition of spending time with them at least once a year. There was a tradition, of meeting parents every year, and of calling mom every day, and this year I have broken both. I talked to her after three long days, and I have canceled my trip home thanks to the greenback harvesting program. Catching up on things here and there, I read an email I sent to a group of my virtual sisters a while ago, sharing an article on Huffington Post by Wendy Bradford “What will children remember?”. What my children will remember is left up to my children. But I can certainly share what I remember of my mother, snippets, nothing serious, nothing poetic, just ordinary life that we shared, mundane moments of our lives.
My mother trying to find her glasses. Every morning. Sometimes they would be tucked in hair because they fogged up while she sipped coffee reading her newspaper. Sometimes they would below her bed because she did late night fiction reading and pushed them below her bed when she was done so that no one tripped on them. They were of gold frame, and were meant for reading only. For a woman who detested gold and jewelry, that was a surprising choice. Some days she would run to class without glasses proudly declaring that its been such a long career, she has memorized the text book. Thankfully she only needed reading glasses. Imagine the horror when your mother says I know my street, it’s been a long life and walks off into a busy intersection without glasses!
My mother telling me it’s OK, I am still young, I will get over it no matter what it was. She said that when I lost my precious Hero pen, she told me that when I lost my ring which was grandmother’s gift, and when R moved back to US after our wedding. It seems big today, but one day, it won’t matter according to her. At that matter it did. I never thought I would agree with her, but been such a long life now, I don’t see the misery in all those things that happened. There are so many pens in the pen stand, yet I don’t use them for anything other than signing, and there are so many beautiful memories with R, I barely remember the woes of our long distance relationship. End of the day it was all OK. I like to glorify each little thing and whine, and she managed her job, her family and her reading/ writing without ever saying a word about how hard it was for a woman to have it all, or to want it all.
My mother wore cotton saris, always. It hit me one day that I could earn awesome allowance starching and ironing her saris. So I brought the supplies, and became her personal laundry girl. It didn’t go well with her when I tore her sari trying to separate the folds when it was dry and ready to iron. That was the end of my short dry cleaning/ starch and ironing career. She treasures her saris a lot! Her wedding sari looks like it was bought last evening. Not a single crease, not a single stain, and it’s not even the stain proof, waterproof variety like mine. Her cupboards overflow with saris at any given moment, and so does her suitcase. Packing light doesn’t apply to her.
She was not the cooking and cleaning type, but she made holiday delicacies and special items that dad and I loved. When she cooked, I assisted. There was not a moment in my house where everyone else sat down watching TV while the woman of the household made dinner for the family. My dad would sit and talk to her while she cooked, even if it was at 5 am. The pressure cooker went off at 7 am, and the curry leaves would splutter in the oil at 7.15am, and the faint smell of Jasmine soap would drown all that by 7.30am. That’s the smell I associate with her. Jasmine. No wonder my backyard is filled with jasmines of all kinds, and most importantly her favorite Mysore Mallige- Arabian Jasmine.
She loved to read. She read every book that was released. Even though I learned in English medium, she made sure I learned enough Kannada to read and write. One proud moment she could never get over was, when I was eighteen, both of our poems made it to a leading magazine called Tushar. It took time for me to get over it because my poem got a special mention, and hers was selected as the best poem. Even now, she buys me every book that she likes, and tries to get the author’s autograph for me. When I was little, there was a corner of the bed that she liked to read on. Her, her specs, and her book, and peace around. Now when she visits us, it’s her, her specs, and her book, and peace around till we wake up. She finds time, in every chaos to spend time with her books. She finds time for herself unlike me who gets lost in the chaos. There is always a stack of magazines and books in every room she occupies.
So many other memories surround me on a cold California evening, and I bring out a sweater that she forgot in my house and wear it. I know, I will stretch it out, but one thing my daughter has taught me is, that’s OK. There will be other sweaters. There will be other shoes too, though I don’t believe in that theory. A shoe gone is a shoe gone and no other shoe will fill that void, ever. Anyway, shoes are not her issues, they are mine, and my daughters will write about it one day in 140 characters or less. May be something like “OMG MOM #SHOEADDICT #FREAKING OUT #MOM MEMORIES”. I don’t know. I can’t do that kind of texting. I will pay a dollar more, but I will use my words.
All these memories of her saris, her starch and ironing routine, and her obsession came up only because she has agreed to be generous enough to donate her sari (a box full that she left behind in my house a couple of a years ago) to the non profit Wishwas – the ladies there will make beautiful items out of them, and repurpose them. Talking about repurposing, there used to be a sari in the family with real gold woven in silk. It was the color of the pomegranate seeds. I wore it whenever my grandmother opened her box and let us touch her treasures. But one day my grandmother was gone.. so was her sari.. taking the memory of her mother with her.. I wish I had, so that I could get something done out of it, and keep it in my house forever, as her memory, as a part of family history.
What’s your tradition?
What do you remember of your childhood?
What was your mundane when you were not leading your life?