Jan. 16, 2022, marked the 19th year since my mom passed. She died suddenly at 65. Back in my earlier years of having a column in The Signal, I would often write about my mom. She was witty, bright and loved to say things for shock value, nothing too embarrassing. Well, I take that back. One time while she and I were shopping at Toys R Us, she asked the cashier if she could purchase Geoffrey Dahmers. I looked at her and said, “Mom, really… good grief, they’re Geoffrey Dollars and you know that!” The cashier smiled as I apologized profusely.
Come to think of it there were quite a few Mom-isms that I remember being cringe-worthy. She called The Donner Party, the dinner party. When my stepbrother was in a band in the late 1980s playing at The Whiskey and hanging out at The Rainbow, my mom would always be there and would ask me if I was going to the “after birth” when the show was over. And I would tell her, “Mom, don’t you mean ‘after party,’” and she’d giggle, and I’d roll my eyes. She was quite the witty one.
One of our extended family members years ago was always ill with something and mom called her Mary Munchausen, not by proxy, because her kids were fine. But leave it to mom to call out each gathering that Mary attended with all of her ailments readily discussed with anyone who would listen. She also had a nickname for my father-in-law — she called him “Sam You Made The Pants Too Long.” We’ll just leave it at that.
About a year after my mom’s death, I was sitting on Lyons Avenue, waiting for the light to turn green, and I looked up at the sky ever so blue and asked my mom if she was having a good time in heaven, and then I looked at the car in front of me. I saw the license plate frame said, “I’d rather be in Vegas.” I giggled because the last trip my mom and I went on was a swim meet in Las Vegas. Oh man, she still had her wit.
Three days before my mom died, my brother was arrested for cocaine possession. He had been involved in a sting operation at an auto body shop in the valley. He had taken his car in and also found out that the shop offered other items not related to cars for more fun and frolic. He literally was rounded up with the others and driven to jail in a paddy wagon. You cannot make this stuff up.
My mom was at my house when my brother called and told me he had been arrested. His first words to me were, “Don’t preach your religious views to me, just get me out of here.” I was this close to hanging the phone up after what he had said. But my saint of a husband offered to take my mom to the jail to bail my brother out. Since it was his first offense, he was able to be released.
My husband got home at 3 in the morning and together we hoped this would be a wake-up call for my brother, who was not only married, but a father also. My mom worked in the valley and once a week she would stay at my brother’s apartment and take her granddaughter to Barnes and Noble and then afterward they would eat dinner at Coco’s restaurant. The second night after my brother’s arrest was the night my mom was going to visit; in her heart she knew her granddaughter needed a sense of normalcy post the arrest.
I had tried to reach my mother that afternoon, but she had already left work. I remember it like it was yesterday. I left her a message saying, “Oh I’m sorry I missed you, we can talk tomorrow.”
But that was never going to get to happen. She died on the base of the porch steps leading to my brother’s apartment. She had gone to her car to get her overnight bag and never made it back. She died of a heart attack, and her arm was outstretched as if she was reaching out, as Shakespearean-esque as could be.
I got the call at 8:30 that night. My sister told me mom had fallen and it didn’t look good. As I drove down the freeway, I was thinking, OK, a fall, a broken hip, with proper surgery and physical therapy she’d get through this. When I got to the hospital, my entire family was there, my dad, his wife, my stepmother and her friend, my sister and my brother and his wife, and their daughter. My stepbrother was there, too.
I knew by the look on their faces that my mom was gone. The hospital staff allowed us to see her so we could say our goodbyes. I went in and held her hand. I will never forget how cold she was.
While my mother’s body was in the mortuary, pending her cremation, I felt the need to see her just one more time, so my sister and I asked if we could each have a private moment with her. The mortician obliged. My sister – always the bravest —went first. She came out and said, “You can do this Jen, go, she looks great, well, you know what I mean.” So, I mustered up my strength and went in. I saw my mother’s body lying on the table, still in the clothes she had died in. I kissed her forehead, it was ice cold to the touch, and I told her how much I loved her. I laid my head near her cheek — it was to be our last time to touch mother to daughter. My tears were so great that I barely could contain myself. I stroked her fine gray hair in awe of how soft and comforting it was to touch. I said out loud, “I wish I could have a lock of your hair to remember you by.”
I went out the door and asked my sister if she had any scissors. To my surprise she said, “Yes.” Now that was odd because my sister is such a minimalist — with the smallest purse a gal could have — so to have scissors, WOW, talk about synchronicity.
I ran back into the viewing room. By now the morticians were close to calling the men in the white coats to come and fetch the two crazy sisters. I cut a lock of my mom’s hair. As I held it, I said, “I need something to hold it together.” I looked around and saw nothing suitable, but something guided me to keep pulling mom’s hair up. So, I continued to pull her strand of hair up and a tiny black hair clip appeared, hanging only by a thin strand. I undid the clasp and put it around the piece of hair I had snipped. I thanked her and said a final goodbye.
That lock of hair is very special to me. It is the only tangible thing I have left that was a part of her being. And sometimes when I really miss her, I take that lock of hair out, place it near my cheek, close my eyes and remember.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.