By Daniel Dunaief
My mother often describes family rituals in her columns, whether they are the way we play baseball, the way we argue (remember the pancakes on my then teenage brother’s cantankerous head?) or the way we celebrate victories and help each other rise off the mat after defeats.
Ever the driven optimist, my mother can turn the most lemony lemons into something much more palatable, often, as Julie Andrews did in “My Favorite Things” with a spoonful, or two, of sugar.
It would be easy this week to lament the fact that, for the first time in decades, my family can’t see my mother on her birthday because of the danger from bringing the virus to her home. We recognize that so many people are enduring so much more challenging disruptions to their routines and that we are fortunate to have each other and can share the events of the week with her
So, instead of being disappointed by the distance, I will share ways in which my mother, who will celebrate this birthday with my brothers and not me, my wife and our children, has cast a long shadow, all the way to our doorstep.
Well, for starters, my children and I can be, and often are, serious when the moment demands. And yet, a part of us can’t help imagining uproariously funny images or interruptions to a somber and important speech at just the wrong moment. I’m sure part of what was so familiar about my wife’s similarly mischievous nature comes from recognizing the moment when one of us feels compelled to answer a rhetorical question or to laugh during a silence.
My mother also has a keen ear for the words people choose to use or that immortalize them, much the way my children and I do. Of the many Winston Churchill quotes, she has, on occasion, shared this one: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
I suppose that one isn’t too surprising, given her appreciation for animals which likely comes from her father, who grew up lactose intolerant on a dairy farm. Hmm, maybe that’s where she gets her sense
Moving along, my family revels in our senses. We smell something wonderful, like baking cookies or the scent of new flowers in the spring, and we take a moment to appreciate the gift of the scent and our senses, which enable us to perceive and process it.
My mother also has a spectacular appreciation for nature. A sudden dark sky isn’t cause for concern or disappointment, but is a chance to appreciate the variety of weather that makes the coldest day warmer and the warmest day cooler.
Now, given the times in which we live, I see my mother in both of our children as they handle the ever-changing rules and realities of a world that hasn’t yet conquered the virus. Our daughter could rue the inequities that are robbing her of a “normal” college education. Instead, she and her resilient friends are staying in touch, supporting each other, and looking forward, as my mother would, to the day when they can return to a campus they might have otherwise taken for granted.
As for our son, despite his dedication and passion for baseball, which is a rite of passage each spring, he kept his head up and took time to train on his own, waiting for the moment when he could return, stronger and faster, to his field of dreams.
We can’t wait to sing to you this year, mom, and to let you know that, even though we haven’t traveled to see each other, we are enjoying the echoes of your joie de vivre in the halls of our home.