violets, part I: a mother’s day story

The day begins with violets. The tradition of picking violets for my mother started when my first nephew was four years old, long before I was a mother myself. One early Mother’s Day morning, I took Luis José to walk my parent’s dogs in the neighborhood park. The park had a section that was ignored by the landscapers and thus was wild and beautiful. On the edges of the manicured sports fields and running track, there was a small forest with big boulders spread around. Luis José loved to climb the smooth rocks that felt gigantic to him. There was a well-worn dirt path that ran down into the park from the tiny forest. It ran down and then up, like a roller coaster track. It was great fun to run down at full speed and so Luis José, the dogs and me ran down and suddenly found ourselves in a leafy hollow that was filled with wild violets. We waded into the greenery and starting picking. Luis José, with his brown eyes smiling, proudly marched home holding two fat bouquets of the delicate flowers, one for his mother and one for his grandmother. The hunt for wild violets in the park on Mother’s Day morning became a tradition and when his little sisters and my own daughters were born, they all joined in.

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I taught the children how to pick the flower from the bottom so that the stems would be nice and long. They children searched for the hidden violets in the ivy-covered hollow, shouting out to each other when they found a particulary abundant cluster. The older cousins would help the littlest ones so that they would have a respectable bunch to present to those of the matriarchal line. My mother was the number one recipient of the floral booty. Everyone understood that the violets were meant for her. She was top mom. She got the most. The other mothers got a gesture.

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My mother had a wooden corner cupboard with glass windows where she kept her best china and crystal. She was very proud of that cupboard. It was an extravagance that she purchased as a newly arrived immigrant. Every morning on her way to work, she’d walked past a furniture store and admired that cupboard. So, she made a deal with the storeowner and gave him five dollars every week from her paycheck behind by father’s back until it was paid for. She brought it home and filled it with the things that she thought were the most beautiful.

The little band of cousins would return from the park with fists full of violets. The children burst into the house and clustered around their grandmother offering up their bouquets of white and purple wild violets. My mother would go to her wooden cupboard and ceremoniously pull out her crystal champagne flutes and place each child’s bouquet in one. She would then set them all in a row on the dining room table where the sunlight would catch the etchings in the crystal flutes holding the gifts of violets. Happy Mother’s Day.

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the dove’s tale – a mother’s day story

May 11, 2003, on the anniversary of my mother’s birth in the year of her death, I was walking home with my daughter Camelia in the late afternoon sun. The street trees in front of the apartment building were heavy with brand new leaves. They cast dappled shadows on the sidewalk in front of our door, so that at first we did not see the little dove standing there. We approached her slowly and she did not move. We were surprised that she let us get so close. Suddenly, she flew up like a helicopter into the tree. She was clumsy and it was clear she was not used to flying. She then soared off the tree and slammed into the garden fence. This stunned her and she fell to the ground. I was able to pick her up. I cupped her in my hands and brought her inside. While Camelia unlocked our front door, the little dove’s pupils dilated wildly with fear and her head turned all the way around like Regan in the Exorcist. I told Camelia to go fetch the dog kennel from the basement to put her in. The dove was home.

My mother had a ringneck dove she named Cucu. She and my father found the dove sitting on the hood of their car in the garage one cold morning in late autumn. They could see that it was not a wild animal and it would not make it through the coming winter outdoors. Like mine, it was an escaped pet. The dove allowed them to capture him and cup him in their hands and bring him inside. Cucu became a beloved pet who had free range of my parent’s house. When my mother died, a friend of hers who lived alone promised us that she would let Cucu fly free in her house and so she took him in. At the time, it seemed for the best. But I secretly regretted not having taken Cucu myself.

At the time of our dove’s arrival, it was the first mother’s day I would experience without my mother. The dove is a presence. A gift. She is a balm to my heart.