If she had somehow lived to see it, today would have been Mom’s 60th birthday. It was always a sort of relief to Mom that her birthday came just one day after Christmas, because she could let it get lost in the shuffle. Usually, we’d give nearly all our presents for her on Christmas morning, and then each of us would give one present the next day. That suited her just fine. She was always much happier giving presents than receiving them. It’s a trait I absorbed from her at some point; like she did, I feel a bit awkward about receiving a gift, even from family members.
For that and other reasons, neither Mom nor I enjoyed Christmas very much, except in the last few years, when Kat dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the holiday spirit, whether we wanted to or not. She’s good that way. The joy and pleasure she feels over things like Christmas and Disney World is so pure and unbounded that it spills over into people around her. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to have married Kat. In her last days, as we said our good-byes without ever uttering those words, Mom never once told Kat to take care of me, nor me to take care of Kat. She knew it wasn’t necessary.
Neither did Mom ask me to speak well of her to my children, whenever I had them. In that case, she probably never even gave thought to her legacy, because it wasn’t her way to think about herself. But again, it wasn’t necessary. When Carolyn asks me about my childhood, I will tell her how Mom would read a chapter of a book to me and my sister every night, and how Mom wept every time Charlotte died. How she made toad-in-the-hole for breakfast after we’d read Danny, Champion of the World. The way she could admonish me with a look, the one we called the Hairy Eyeball, capitals and all. There will be warmth and love in my voice, but also wistfulness and loss.
I look at Carolyn, named in honor of the grandmother who never knew her, and try to imagine all the things she has yet to learn. I wish she could have learned some of them from her namesake, and indeed we have books that Mom bought for our children—some before the cancer was discovered, and some after. A few of them contain her name, in short inscriptions written years before they would reach their intended audience.
When I read those books to Carolyn and any future siblings, I think it will be hard for me to avoid tears, even though none of them is Charlotte’s Web. Partly that’s because I will regret that Mom wasn’t able to give many more gifts to her grandchildren, gifts of books and learning toys and words of wisdom, but there’s deeper reason. I will always read these few precious gifts to my children when they ask to hear them, but I will always wish that another voice, a softer and wiser voice, were reading them instead.