There are 85.4 million mothers in America.
On Mother’s Day this year my mother isn’t one of them, and for the first time since Babe died in 2014, I’m glad.
Neither of my parents pursued any activity that today would qualify as “exercise.” Theirs was many generations before Jane Fonda’s “feel the burn!” workout videos, before isometrics and aerobics, before latex and Under Armour, before they even knew that regular exercise was good for them. My parents didn’t even know how to swim, except in a pinch Dad could dog-paddle.
But, boy, could they dance.
At 95, Babe still had a valid U.S. passport.
But by then the most my mother, who was known as Babe, could manage was a domestic flight from Houston to Los Angeles to visit me, and even that was a stretch. So I dreaded dropping the news that Ed, my husband, and I were leaving for China. It didn’t seem fair that I could still up and go, and she couldn’t.
AFTER MY GRANDMOTHER DIED in 1962, my mom blew her entire inheritance on a red Ford Sunliner convertible. She drove my brother, my baby sister, and my 15-year-old, bikini-clad, sun-seeking self, all the way from Houston to Seattle to visit her mother’s grave, and — ta dah! — to see the Seattle World’s Fair.
When I was young, maybe seven or eight, my girls’ club made terrycloth covers, with dog faces, that fit over bars of Ivory soap. When we distributed them to a nursing home, the residents’ naked neediness as they reached out for their silly hand-made gifts – their scrawny outstretched arms demanding that their little visitors enter their rooms and stay awhile – haunted me for the next five decades.
My ensuing aversion – dare I call it what it was? repulsion – to the elderly was ironic because as a child I’d shared a bedroom with my grandmother, the person after whom I was named – Josephine, Jo – and the person I loved best.
The afternoon my husband and I arrived at the Explora Lodge Patagonia, which they describe as located in one of the most remote places in the world, we were disappointed that the gray weather was bleak and overcast. Other guests in the lobby pointed out the windows and said that when the clouds lifted, that over there, beyond the far side of Lake Pehoe, was a majestic, snow-capped mountain range–the Paine massif. “You’ll see,” said our hiking guide, assuring us that this location in the Torres del Paine National Park would live up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
One day Babe and I were discussing why some people we knew were so unhappy and cranky. I asked her, “Why do you think I turned out so happy?”
“Because you take after me,” she said.
That’s when the idea of Lessons from Babe was born.