Learning to Trust That Mother Knows Best for Herself

I spoke to my mother midweek and, after hanging up the phone, had one of those crystallizing moments. Something came into focus that I've been expecting but that was still oddly unsettling.

Simply put, Mom had a date.

She was in Texas visiting her mother, who will be 98 in July. The Gulf Coast is my mother's old turf. She and a Yankee from Nebraska named Bud Parsons met on her college campus in Louisiana during World War II. He was there for Marine Corps officer candidate school and young Pearl Guidry from Abbeville was a dark-haired co-ed and, apparently, a sucker for a guy with a line.

They married in October of 1944 and were together for more than 48 years until Dad died in January of last year. Somehow, one of Mom's high school classmates from Louisiana heard the news and, after a respectful period of time, wrote her a letter.

They had had a couple conversations on the phone in recent months, but Mom never sounded overly enthusiastic. I told her the guy probably had a mild obsession going, given that he hadn't seen her since high school and knew nothing about her. But when he learned that she would be coming to Texas this month, he asked for a lunch date, and Mom accepted.

When she called last week, we talked about Grandma and the weather and the relatives and the price of tea in China before she got to the good stuff.

"Well, we won't have to worry about him anymore," she said, mentioning the man's name.

Let's hear about it, I said.

"He was kind of ugly," she began. "And a sloppy dresser. I suppose I'll always compare everybody to Dad, because he was always so neat and well groomed."

That's too bad, I said. Was he a nice guy?

"Plus, he had a beard, which I don't like."

By now, she was having fun.

"Plus, he had a big bulbous nose. . . . "

She was laughing too much for me to shut her up.

" . . . and squinty little eyes."

All right, I get the picture, I said. What about the conversation? Was it awkward?

She said it was OK when he came to pick her up at Grandma's, because my uncle was there and the two men hit it off. But when Mom and he went to lunch, the spark just wasn't there. She said she "didn't want to tell him a lot of stuff about me."

When she came back from lunch, she told Grandma, "I don't think I'll pursue this."

She said Grandma replied, "I didn't think you would, the minute he walked in the door."

There's something almost comforting about a 98-year-old mother still inspecting her 68-year-old daughter's dates.

Mom is now back home in Colorado. This little episode with the Louisiana Pretender is over.

But now more than ever, I'm preparing myself for this new phase of her life. My sister has given me orders not to discourage her from meeting other would-be suitors. I have vowed to faithfully obey.

And yet, it's hard to picture Mom feeling comfortable or confidential with another man. After all, how could anyone hope to match my dad's special gift for both driving her nuts and making her laugh?

But is it Mom feeling comfortable and confidential I'm really worried about, or is it me?

The truth is, Mom is much cooler about the whole business than I. She says she's not looking to "meet anyone" and in fact already has told a couple of the guys at the golf course that she's not interested. She's learning how to fill up the days by herself but says it would be nice sometimes to have some good company. The silence in the house after 48 years can be overwhelming.

Now that I'm the wise old patriarch of the family, I tell her it probably will happen and that it was good she met her old classmate. And no sooner do the words come out of my mouth than I marvel at the fact I'm discussing the singles scene with my mother.

And so, maybe this Mother's Day is a good time to start getting into the transitional mode. As I celebrate the longest and most unwavering relationship I've ever had--that between me and my mother--I wonder if I have the maturity to allow her to someday change the nature of that relationship.

Can I step aside, if need be, and let my selfish domination of her time and thoughts be usurped by another man? Can I remember to accept her judgment about some man she may meet down the road? Can I remind myself at that moment that it's her life and that if anyone deserves unbounded happiness, it's she?

I've trusted her on everything she's ever said or done. Can I trust her to make good decisions for herself?

I think I can. I hope I can.

That's my Mother's Day wish, 1994.

My Mother's Day wish for me, not for her.

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