Making "Momories"

May 08, 2021 by Alice C. Early

Though May is one of my favorite months because it is so full of promise—long light, lilacs blooming, roses coming soon, the Island opening up to welcome summer and the visitors it brings—Mother’s Day sparks bittersweet emotions.

I loved celebrating my Mom on Mother’s Day, partly because it was a rare occasion when she’d allow a fuss. After I moved from New York City to Martha’s Vineyard, I managed to take her out for a few Mother’s Day brunches before her increasing dementia and later physical infirmity made that impossible. My favorite of those events was Mother’s Day 1998 because it included not only my mother but her sister, my beloved godmother.

Mom and her younger sister Fontaine, known to all as “Timmy,” were often described as “inseparable.” They were married two weeks apart during WWII, wearing the same dress, Mom in heels, Timmy in flats to compensate for their difference in height. In their early married years, both couples settled a few blocks apart in New York’s east 80s. As children came along, they all moved to Connecticut, buying a property with two homes, and living next door to one another for decades. My three cousins and my four siblings and I drifted between the two houses. It was like having two sets of parents. Mom and Timmy spoke every day if they didn’t see each other.

In the late 1970s both couples moved to the family land on Martha’s Vineyard where we had shared summers all my life. Timmy’s family took the old house, the land was divided, and Mom and Dad built a contemporary home on their half. Living next door to one another for the rest of their lives, they continued to speak daily, argue over who owed whom for small purchases, and take winter cruises as foursomes. We could hardly believe they didn’t want a break from each other’s company.

On that Mother’s Day in 1998, one of my sisters, my then sister-in-law and I took Mom and Timmy out to lunch. Church clothes all around. Desserts for everyone. Someone snapped a photo of the two sisters side by side in the booth, laughing and leaning toward each other, a characteristic pose. My copy is around here somewhere, buried in the boxes of memorabilia I cleared out of our family home after Mom’s death. If I could find it, it would grace this post. As it is, I’ve chosen a favorite photo of Mom taken at about that time.

As we enjoyed that Mother's Day lunch, little did any of us suspect that Timmy would be gone three days later. She died of a massive stroke, leaving everyone un-moored, most painfully her husband of 54 years and Mom, her confidante of 83 years. And, yes, the four of them now rest in plots a few steps distant from one another in the West Tisbury cemetery.

But on that day, in that sunny restaurant overlooking Edgartown Harbor, the two sisters were giggling, eating too much, and enjoying being teased and toasted with love. I’m forever grateful we had that chance to celebrate them together. I miss both my Moms. I remember them with such gratitude for the examples they set of fortitude, competence, grace, humor, and unflappability in the face of everything their lives and families threw at them. In their devotion to us and to one another they were unswerving.

Ever since Mom died in 2009, Mother’s Day has been a poignant day of reflection for me. I hope you can celebrate your Mom this Mother’s Day, or that your “momories” are joyous.