"The most painful was when you came to pick up your mattress at home after you graduated from college and said you were going to live in New York. I had that large kitchen table for all five of us, and each time one of you left I removed another leaf. That night I removed the last leaf and sat across from your father at a table that was too small but felt so large. I couldn't stand it. I had to take a tray and eat at the sofa." Tears start to flow freely on both sides of this table.
As with other painful aspects of her life, Mom had chosen to keep me sheltered from this because she believed I needed a tranquil mind for the kind of work I do as a writer and editor. She never told me how difficult it was to reconnect with Dad without the distraction of children. Somehow reducing Mom's sadness to an "empty nest" doesn't work when she's sitting directly across from me, weeping. She has fully let down her guard, allowing me to shoulder past pains with her.
I try again: "And what about a happy memory of me?"
Now there are joyful tears.
"There are so many, but if I had to pick one, it would be when you recently graduated with your master's, and I felt that no matter what happened to me now, you would be able to fight for a life worth living."
I tell her how important that day last May was for me too. I looked out over the audience at the graduation reading of my fiction (based partly on my grandparents' deaths) and saw the faces of my aunts, uncles, cousins, sister, and fiancée. I dedicated the reading to my grandparents because I miss them dearly and wanted to honor the sacrifices that allowed me to stand before my family, knowing this accomplishment was also theirs.
And now the interview becomes a reliving of heartwarming memories. Mom is five years old, and her father is returning home from Lisbon where he has been delivering milk. She sees him across a great expanse of forest. "Look, there comes your father!" her mother tells her. Father and daughter run towards each other with open arms. She is 16, linked arm-in-arm with her mother, helping her haul 100-kilo corn meal sacks onto a donkey cart. She is 26, and I'm born — a healthy baby boy — and the entire family is gathered in celebration at Saint James Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.
After the interview, Veronica snaps a couple of photos of us to archive with the CD. When the flash goes off, I'm finally holding Mom close and already reliving the experience. Veronica hands us the CD, and Mom clutches it to her chest before placing it in her purse. Once outside, the sounds of New York flood us, but we're both quiet while hailing a cab back to the train station.
Tonight we will gather around a CD player and listen to the interview in the kitchen. Dad is nearby, rubbing his eyes the entire time. The phone rings, but no one moves to see who it is.
"I don't even remember saying all these things," Mom says, tears brimming once again. "It was like I was hypnotized."
The CD ends, but Mom continues: "If you were to ask me again what one of my favorite memories was, I would have to say today."
Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner