The last piece of advice I learned from my mom was, “If you put a lemon rind in the garbage disposal and grind it, it will make your kitchen sink smell good.”
A simple motherly import, the lemon rind became a “life hack” for me, that at the time I took for granted.
But that wasn’t actually the last thing I learned from her. No, her lessons for me continue onward to this day.
My mom was a beautiful, bubbly, and sarcastic person. Someone who doesn’t truly know how funny they are. Sandy Lou quipped jokes in life’s pauses, and left rooms with flat statements for the person left to interpret. I miss her.
But as the fate of many Kentuckians, she succumbed to poor health and struggled with addiction. Throughout my college years I watched my mother dwindle, and her spirit. I wish for the ways she could have seen or lived a life otherwise.
When she passed, I was 23, having just moved to Washington, D.C. She was 53.
The notion that her life could have been so different is in the hearts of all of my family members left behind. Last week my Pappy said, “She could have had it made.”
This notion that her narrative could have been different, for me, has become the ultimate teacher.
I have Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” stuck in my head. And I can see my mom, fresh in her 40’s with wraparound Oakley sunglasses that people weed-eated with (or watched NASCAR), in the driver’s seat of her white Chrysler town-and-country van singing, I went 2.7 seconds, on a bull named Fumanchu!
This actually happened. There were many van karaoke moments.
As a red-headed youth, my mom was very outgoing and athletic. On her 18th birthday she sky-dived. Lauralee and I have since lost the t-shirt.
She was a great skier and known roller-blading talent. Had a dazzling smile, and as a young mother, donned floor-length dresses of many colors. Wore perfume titled, Moon and Stars. Her aura was engaging and articulate.
This is the mom that I would like to remember her as. And as time does truly heal, this becomes the mother that I choose to remember.
The outgoing woman who lived in the moment.
I remember my 23-year-old self, crying on the floor of my apartment in Rosslyn, Virginia. As I mourned, I also kept standing up. Kept attending graduate school classes. Kept meeting friends. Kept going.
While the cavern in my heart ached for her, the worrisome mother’s voice I carried in my head started to fade. Be careful. Don’t go there, began to evaporate.
With the outcome of death at each of our doorsteps, how could we not just pack-up and go?
Right now. Like, right now.
The summer I received my Master’s degree, I took planes to Paris, France and Sydney, Australia. Both to meet friends.
That fall, after working a grueling, fear-mongering temp-job near the Farragut West metro station for three months—where I would hide in the bathroom contemplating whether or not staying in D.C. was actually worth it—I quit and then boarded a plane to visit my friends in Mumbai, India, before returning home to Kentucky to contemplate home without my mom.
Undoubtedly, I acknowledge my privilege to travel. But being raised by a Kentucky family whose trauma in poverty taught them to constantly conserve had warped my brain to think that to travel was too much, too grandiose.
That I too, was asking for too much.
I saw how the last chapter of my mother’s life was crippled by fear. I would not let hers become my own.
Today I crave exploration. Even in the Bluegrass state. Because each day is an adventure. I frequently think about planning my next trip.
Some might call this grandiose. I call it living intentionally.