The Way It is

By Irene Noble 

My mother, my friend,
died when she was 91. I miss her still, yet it was eighteen years ago. 
She was a beautiful, elegant, stylish lady. More than that, she was
forgiving, uncomplicated by her total honesty, always willing to learn
new ways, new directions even though it might require a reversal of old

When our family gathers around a Christmas tree,
a dinner table or backyard barbeque, we usually bring in to our
conversation the people who are no longer with us. We laugh at moments
we remember, we cherish the time they were here and, sometimes, we mock
the things they used to say. My mother summed up just about everything
with these words, “That’s the way it is.” I can’t count the times we
have all laughed and said in unison when we speak of her, “That’s the
way it is.”  So simple, yet so profound in meaning: accept the things
we cannot change, own what is, deal with it, store it for safe-keeping
and continue your journey.

My mother was widowed when she was
twenty-four and I was three. In 1924, a young widow was hardly equipped
to support herself, let alone a child. A little girl hurt by the
disappearance of a father and hurt even more by the constant change of
caretakers could not help but feel abandoned. I was too young to
understand the pain my mother felt and too young to know that every
minute we were apart she was involved in every avenue available to her
to better herself, to learn skills that would provide an income to
bring us together. By the time I was eleven, she had reached a certain
amount of success, though far below the ‘glass ceiling,’ and had
attained a fairly high level of prominence in our small Western State.
The days of my wonderful grandmother’s care and several others (not
quite so caring) along with a stint in private school ended. My mother
and I were finally united, and remained so until it was time for me to
go to college.

To be sure, I acted out a range of
self-indulgent problems for her to handle, but for the most part we
were friends. To pretend we didn’t have mother/daughter fights would
not be true to either one of us, but they were seldom, they were brief,
and without a residue of smoldering anger. I always knew she was in my
corner. I could trust her, tell her anything, and disagree with her
without permanent condemnation.

I could count on her to make me
proud. She had little vanities about appearance. She would say, “When
you get up in the morning, comb your hair, put on your lipstick and
straighten up the living room…then you’re ready for anything.” She
expected to be proud of me. “Learn a new word, use it in a sentence,
and make it yours.” “Discuss the daily news.” “Write ‘thank you
notes’.” “Look your best…”

She had several opportunities that
might have taken her to the top of her profession, but she, without
regret, chose to stay where she was so that I could have a more normal
girlhood than in my past. I am grateful and yet sorry, for she deserved
to climb her mountain.

In her late seventies, Mother came to
live near me.  The intervening years had been life-changing for each of
us. We shared a war, we both lost friends. She remarried, lived on a
ranch and learned new ways. I chose suburban life and the PTA. We had
occasional visits, phone calls and weekly letters to keep the glue of
our relationship fresh. When she was widowed for the second time, we
both knew it was time for us to be together again.

In our last
years together, we took some trips, had tea in china cups with
conversation about ideas. I watched as she lost her vision and her
freedoms, depending more and more on the steel within her to finish her
journey with the dignity that had been her life-long ally. She was
sometimes frustrated and sometimes angry, but never did I see a
willingness to be a lesser person than she had taught herself to be.

like to think those genes flow through my veins. I look in the mirror
and see tiny reminders. I look at my life and know it was her influence
that helped me raise my children. I see great strength in them when
adversity breaks their hearts. I see minds with a willingness to try a
better way, and an understanding that learning is forever. I look at my
grandchildren and see her history revealed in their success. I watch
them treat mistakes as avenues to better possibilities.

She was
gone by the time I lost my precious oldest son. I needed her and yet I
know by then she would have been too frail to see her only child in
such despair. I know also, had she been here, after we had cried and
cried and cried and cried, she would have held me close and somewhere
along the way she would have said, “That’s the way it is.”

© 2008 Irene Noble. All rights reserved.