My mother's hands were strong. She was small, shorter than me, taller than most of her friends (she loved librarians, little ladies who drank pink wine, I found her and Jane napping together, blankets under their chins, Jane's hand keeping my mother's bald head warm), but her hands were her: strong, capable, graceful. I can see the pores on my mother's hands, the long nail beds. She died with a month-old perfect manicure, Mademoiselle, the color I still get, little moons bare where her nails had grown out, perfect nails on her unused hands, the hands that once had changed our diapers, and held mine for 32 years, Adam's for 29, Michael's for 26.
My brothers and I sold our house, and in 2 weeks, another family will live there. My mother died in our den, but when I think of the house, I see my mother in her workshirts that came to her knees, making oatmeal, or sitting next to the sliding glass door in the kitchen, on the phone, always on the phone. I see my mother doing laundry, taking a bath, lying next to me in her bed, snoring, with the tv on low. I see her yelling at us, wrangling her cat-children, late, as we always were, for temple, or a holiday dinner. I see my mother exploding with laughter so fierce it nearly strangled her. There she is in the dining room, crumpling, boxing glove covering her face, after getting socked in the nose by Petey, vowing never to play with him again. My mother loved boxing; it was her way of getting close to her boys when they were teenagers, young men, who pushed her away, and it was a sad, sad day when her gloves had to be hung up. Her bones had become too fragile for boxing, but by then, my brothers kissed her, and hugged her, and snuggled with her, and held her strong hands, that startled me when I held them with their smallness, delicate bones under skin yellower than mine, for there is no one stronger than your mother.
The boxes are packed; we gave our mother's clothes to charity. I will bring my grandmother's credenza, and a painting that hung in my parents' bedroom, and 4 boxes full of my life to my husband's family's home in Pennsylvania. My brothers and I will say goodbye to our house, to the town we have had three houses in, to my mother's voice on the answering machine, to the bagels and the black and white cookies, to the pizza and the Thai food, to the duck pond, and the smell of the bay that leads to the beach, to the house that we lived in, to the house that our mother died in. We three have our lives, our furniture, our dogs and our cats, our apartments, and the boxes full of our childhoods. We three have each other, and we have all that she gave us: love and a moral compass to navigate the world without her.