My mother – “Ma” to us kids – died 24 years ago. I was 35 at the time, old enough, you’d think, to have a pretty fair handle on who she was. Certainly I had a better understanding of her than if she had died when I was a teenager or in my early 20’s. I had a family of sorts – the love of my life was a woman with a daughter by a previous marriage and that daughter was 11, for a girl the most tempestuous and disdainful age of all – and I’d been beat around by life enough to appreciate, at least somewhat, the perspective of a woman who had been 11 in the depths of the Great Depression, fallen in love in the middle of the worst war in human history, and married on sheer hope almost as soon as her love’s boat docked in the first uncertain year after the war.
Actually, I hadn’t been beat by life so much as batted around like a cat toy. On one of my periodic visits home to rest and recoup, she asked what I had been up to and I told her – some of it, not all – and she said, with one of those uncharacteristic flashes of insight that unsettled us whenever they appeared, suddenly and without warning, like heat lightning, “You don’t have to live my life over again, you know. I already did.”