My mom would be turning 90 this year. A lot of August 29ths have passed since she died more than 15 years ago, and there have been a few times that I've simply let the day go by without hardly giving it a thought. I'm kind of bad about birthdays that way. Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don't. If my four kids weren't all born the same month I might forget theirs, but I get them all over with and then have eleven months break before I have to remember again. It's easier that way.
There are other days, however, when I can't stop thinking of her, especially holidays. She loved them all, perhaps in part because she enjoyed her kitchen and loved to bake, and what's a holiday without a few pastries and other goodies lying around? She made the most delectable mincemeat pie with the flakiest of crusts sprinkled lightly with sugar for Thanksgiving, and the special fruit salad and popcorn balls that she and my dad made every Christmas have become traditions with my own family. Memorial Day and Veterans' Day weekends were excuses to make her decadent, walnut-filled chocolate brownies and ever-popular carrot cake. I've never found a better recipe for either, and as I follow the instructions written in her own hand, I remember her and wish she were here to show me how to roll out the perfect pie crust for my strawberry-rhubarb pie. I have yet to roll it out in a perfect circle like she was able to do with so little effort.
I never thought to ask my mom which was her favorite. I imagine Christmas and Thanksgiving were right up there, but the day I miss her the very most is July 4th. My mom loved America about as much as she loved us. She couldn't get through the National Anthem without tears or see an American flag without placing her hand on her heart. And if a flag passed by during a parade or a marching song was being played that stirred her, she would always stand to attention for a few moments.
I was in Alabama the winter she died. She'd been sick for a long time, so when I got word that she was gone I felt mostly relief that it was over for her. In fact, I was amazed at how well I was handling her death during those first months. Of course I missed her, especially the phone calls and letters, but all in all I was doing pretty well. And then July 4th came. The day was full of activities: a pool party, a picnic, lots of people, lots of food. But when I returned home that evening, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and loss. Memories of past years' celebrations came flooding into my mind and I longed for those times again. And I longed for my mother.
I'll be traveling home in a few days to spend the Fourth with my family. We'll picnic at my brother's in Olean and go to Bradner's Stadium in the evening to watch the fireworks. We'll get there a bit early and sit on the field on blankets and lawn chairs anticipating that moment when the sun drops over the horizon and the display of lights and sparkle begins. But first, right when it's almost time, the Star-Spangled Banner will come through the speakers. All will stand to their feet and some will hold their hands to their hearts. It is then I will remember and stand all the prouder, grateful for my nation and my heritage. It is especially at that moment I will miss her and wish she could be there.