my mom circa 1933
Several things happen when you start reliving the important moments in your life a few days or weeks after they happen – first and foremost is l’esprit d’escalier, which literally-translated means “wit on the staircase,” or “something you wished you said at the time, but only thought of it on your way downstairs.” For me, my formal wedding toast presented two such moments: I wanted to have said something about my great-grandfather John Evans, and I wanted to say something to my mom.
It might have been a little self-indulgent, but paying a little bit of respect to my ancestry has always been important to me, not just because I’m a closeted Mormon, but because I am the arbitrary conclusion of their long-dusty existences. John Evans was a quiet man with intense blue eyes who came to America from Wales with “some books and an old violin” (in the words of one of my mom’s songs), walked to Colorado and married the crazy-as-a-demented-bat Pearl (here’s a picture of them), and then set the stage for everything I know.
John apparently used to sing soft songs in Welsh from his boyhood in the coal mines, and that’s about all my mom can remember. I intended to hoist a drink aloft to John Evans, but when you get in front of the kind of crowd our wedding attracted, you had better be funny and quick.
My mom, however, was sitting right there, and my toast to her was addled by millions of neurons firing in different directions. I managed to give a shout-out to my grandma (who died a few years ago) and even my aunts and uncles at one table, but somehow my mom’s toast got lost, and as I drove away in the limousine, I told Tessa that I had missed my chance to pay my respects in a public place.
That is, until tonight, when I remembered that this blog certainly counts as a public space. So, consider me with a nice aged single-malt scotch in my hand (or Veuve Cliquot, mom’s narcotic of choice in the 1970s) saying the following:
I would like to toast my mother, who, like a favorite color, quietly adorns everything I have. In grade school, while I was being terrorized by fourth graders who already had facial hair, the sight of her yellow Subaru shone forth like a lighthouse of salvation. Usually, when I got home, there was a comic book placed on my pillow, a Peanuts volume or a non-fiction tome about how things worked. She helped me escape the brutality of school by letting me learn in safer moments.
The ability to be a successful artist – which I hope to be someday – comes from the unlikely combination of psychological acumen and dogged craftsmanship. While my dad taught me charisma and how to believe in my own worth, my mom showed me how to stay in a room for four months and emerge with a symphonic piece for orchestra. Of course, these roles could be reversed (my dad could obsess over Mahler for weeks at a time, and my mom always knew how to get a paying gig) but somehow, they brought vastly different things to the dining room table. The conductor gets the applause; the composer gets only the ambient radiation.
It is easy to forget to tell our mom how much we love her. She has been like a sibling to us for so long that our familiarity has bred complacency. She is always there, to be woken up on the cell phone, to divulge some weird ingredient to a recipe (usually: butter, 1 stick) and to be a surprise guest on a long road trip. Her ability to blend in and make everyone feel comfortable has made her so easy to be around that we have occasionally taken advantage of her good graces. She takes our teasing with such good humor that she will smile through the story of her leaving the car keys in the freezer even after the 147th time.
She grew up in a Mormon family, and managed to stay spiritually untethered. She sought a job in a man’s career – in the 1950s, no less – and has been doing it for half a century. She is 72, yet talks with the pop culture chatter of her grandchildren. She bought me Rubber Soul in 1978, and she got me a PlayStation 2 for my wedding. I mean, what else do you want?
So this toast is for you, mom, in all your squalor, in all your delight, in your messiness and charm and fucked-up rental cars and fabulous stories, your orange rolls and your wit, your heartbreaking talent and your sensualist thirst for the world. We love you and I love you.