In Honor of Gloria Mae, by Mae Clair

Although spring officially begins in March, I’ve always considered May 1st as the true date of the season’s arrival. Perhaps it has to do with treasured memories of May Day from childhood or, perhaps, that everything is green and blooming, no longer mired in the muddy browns and bleak charcoals of a fading winter. May 1st holds a special place in my heart – – not only for the renewal it brings, but because it’s my mother’s birthday.

Me and my mom, a few years ago during a beach vacation. She loved the shore. Wow, my hair was short!

Me and my mom, several years ago during a beach vacation. She loved the shore!

She passed away last year on the first day of summer, timing that is oddly poetic to me. Spring, a season of newness and light, gave way to one of warmth and eternal promise, as if summer wanted to embrace her as well.

Had my mother lived, she would have been ninety this year. Rather than write a post to mark her passing in June, I chose today – – her birthday – – to celebrate her life.

It’s been hard without her for my siblings and me. We‘re a close family and we each struggle with the loss, but we’re blessed in knowing that our mother had a long, fulfilling life.

I was fortunate to have not only a mother/daughter relationship with my mom, but an abiding friendship as well.  From the time I was in my middle twenties, my mom and I spent practically every Saturday together – – shopping, the movies, lunch, sometimes all three in one day. We had shopping marathons, discussed movies, swapped books, purses and jewelry. I can trace my love of reading directly to my mother and father and, to this day, it feels odd to try on clothes and not have her there to give her opinion. She would often tell me I was too conservative and needed more “flash.” 😀

My mom (center) and her sisters. This is how I remember her -- always the life of the party.

My mom (center) and her sisters. This is how I remember her — always the life of the party.

Extremely young at heart, she went dancing until she was almost 80 and drove until she was 85. Eventually age and infirmity caught up with her, but she never lost her love for life. We no longer did shopping marathons but we did still go shopping. Mostly for books in those later years. We would collect our bounty, then stake out a table in Border’s café for a few hours and chat before making the way to the checkout with our purchases.

There is so much I could say in this post about who she was – – her love of glitzy clothes and fashionable rings, how she loved dancing (especially disco), or she how enjoyed going out . . . even if it was just to run to the mall for the afternoon. But what stands out most was something that struck me during the last couple years of her life.

My mother was always a socializer when she was out and about. She walked into a room and commanded it, and had the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. What amazed me — and I came to appreciate those last few years — was her natural charm. It wasn’t fabricated, never a façade. My mother had a gift to make anyone she talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world. I saw it time and time again with everyone she encountered. Why had I never noticed it before?

Another shot of me and my mom at the beach. Part of a yearly girls' trip with my sister.

Another shot of me and my mom at the beach. Part of a yearly girls’ trip with my sister.

Was it because that last year of her life was spent in a nursing home, where so many people struggled just to function? And yet my mother always had a kind word, compliment, and a friendly smile. It didn’t matter if you were a resident, medical personnel or staff. Even if she had a down day (and it’s hard not to in a nursing home), she still had compliments for anyone she encountered. People naturally gravitated to her because she made them feel special – – and in her eyes they were. That gift comes from the heart. It makes me wonder if I could do the same, facing similar circumstances. So many people told me, “Your mother is such a delight.” That tells me she touched many hearts, not just mine.

I don’t have her charisma. I am much more of a loner. As I’m the youngest of four siblings, my mom was fond of telling me “You’re my baby.” That never got old, even though I did. 🙂

So in memory of my mother, Gloria Mae, the daughter of Italian immigrants who found the love of her life in a stubborn, blond-haired, blue-eyed German, I’d much rather remember her life than her passing.

For all that you’ve taught me and all that you’re continuing to teach me – – Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you. What a reunion we’ll have . . . some day.

Mom Xmas at Lakewood Hills