About a week ago, I found myself going on about some of my mother’s adorable/ridiculous idiosyncrasies…like the fact that she believed so strongly in the importance of properly recognizing and celebrating birthdays that she flat out lied about the date of mine, choosing instead to celebrate it on June 27th rather than December 27th, so that it didn’t get folded in and forgotten with Christmas/New Year’s festivities. One of my friends chimed in that she would really like to meet my mom, that she sounded fascinating. I smiled. She really was.
She passed away a little over a decade ago, and I can honestly say that I think about her everyday–mostly fairly happy memories or fun ideas, like that I think she would be tickled pink that I still core and slice apples like her (there are many different techniques!) or that I’ve finally come around to hating the cold but loving snow. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I get inexplicably sad. It hurts my heart a little to think that she never knew John or the Y’s & Co. or my colleagues and mentors from college and beyond who did so much to, like her, shape who I am. In the blur that was our wedding day, one interaction will always stand out for me: in the midst of drinking and revelry, Mr. W (our neighbor of 20+ years) pulled me aside to tell me that he and his wife were so happy for us, and that he knew my mother was proud. Well, I know mom would decidedly not be proud of everything I’ve done in the last 10+ years (good God, she would cringe at the indiscretion of a public blog!), but in that moment I believed him.
Clearly, I could on for far too long on this subject so, in typical anna-fashion, I’m just going to resort to a top ten list (hmmm, more like “first ten”; I’m sure I’ll want to include another ten or twenty as soon as I hit “publish”)…I’ll try to exercise some amount of length restraint (I will fail):
- Born in Czechoslovakia during WWII, my mother was named Gunda Carmela Sporer. I swear she was the only Gunda out there who was not an Eastern European speed skater. In response to a lifetime of people butchering her name, she chose to name all four of her children names that were easy to pronounce and easy to translate.
- She had, no joke, actual synesthesia: she saw letters and numbers in very specific colors. I remember once coloring in enlarged numbers in a coloring book and she looked over my shoulder and said, “Honey, the number 3 is always pink.” I was four, and I still remember thinking to myself, What the f—??
- Mom loved reptiles, amphibians, and tigers. She would catch a frog just so that we could kiss him to see if he would turn into a prince. For one of her last birthdays, Dad arranged to have a three-week old tiger brought to the house. Mom got to name him (Amir), and he would suck on our fingers because he was teething…the jaw strength of a tiger cub is just a little unsettling.
- Like I mentioned, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but her family moved to Southern France in 1945, where she lived until she received a scholarship to go to college…in Wisconsin (hater of cold that she was). As a result, her cooking was a mixture of Mediterranean and good ol’ American home cookin’, with a side of spaetzle to give credit to her Eastern European roots. When we ran out of deli meat, my mom would send me to school with a piece of dark chocolate shoved between two slices of baguette. I was a lucky, albeit slightly chubby, child.
- Gunda spoke seven (seven) different languages fluently, and.she had an accent in every single one. She raised me speaking French, and she and I would flow in and out of French and English without realizing. It drove my friends crazy.
- She was a flippin’ amazing educator, teaching foreign languages (French, Spanish, German mostly) to all age levels (mostly second grade through college). Parents would drive their kids from hours away in order to be tutored by her.
- My mother had a special love of mixed tapes, especially ones that included classics by the Gypsy Kings, Dire Straits, and the Eagles (her favorite song was “Take It Easy”…go figure).
- Mom would pull me out of school a few weeks early so that we could go to France that much earlier to hang with the fam. “You’re in third grade…what are you really going to learn that you can’t make up with a couple extra weeks surrounded by French speakers?”
- She loved gardening and art. One year, the family went out to Monet’s garden at Giverny. She pulled aside this man with a white beard because she thought he looked like Monet: “Excuse me, but would you take a picture with my daughter?” So now, in our home in Virginia, we have an 8×10 of 10-year-old anna with a random old man in front of water lilies.
- On mother’s day, it’s important to recognize the mothers who truly have, especially in the wake of my mother’s passing, treated me like family. I know that I am likely forgetting someone in my rush to get back to studying the physiology of sexual response (tough life), so please don’t be shy and give me an earful. Francoise, Teda, Genevieve, Leslie, Christine, Jean, Jill, Mary Ann, Pamela, Jane, Emily, Judy, Donna, Priscilla, Terry, Linda, Mieko: I am so very lucky to have your love and support. Happy Mothers’ Day!