Saturday, May 18, 2013

* Mothering Spirit

(For I.W., 1900-1995)

Irene with two of the kids and their Grandmother, 1987, three months before her life ended.
Irene, Mother

I don’t know what to do with your death, Irene. It would be easy to stay in the anger: A young mother of four, wiped-out by a drunk driver, himself twenty-five and killed.

You and I used to debate the rules of life when we shared Carol’s 200-year-old, red farmhouse in South Royalton with your kids, Carol and her little boy. We both knew those rules are unfair, or, at best, random.

You, more than most people, knew who you were, Irene. You knew your power: Motherhood; creation ; nurturing. Your whole graceful body swayed gently with the message of your twinkling eyes: “All is well, Earth Mother is at work.”

And your work itself was motherhood. Nurse at the birthing center of a small hospital two towns over, you smiled calmly at the mystery of pain and blood by which Nature makes one into two, makes us each into the legacy of motherhood.

From that red farmhouse, and then from your own house on Windsor hill, you made your own children the special beneficiaries of that brimming motherliness with which Nature flooded you. Your little station-wagon, with baby-seat, was crammed with fishing rods, balls and bats and gloves, sled, skates and skis, depending on the season; a dozen bags of groceries and junk food, depending on the day; and some, or all, of your frolicking, boisterous brood (Patrick, Jonah, Jessica, Sarah), depending on the mother’s mission.
That little buggy seemed to wheel so gently, so naturally over the winding roads of our breasty Vermont. When I would see you drive past I would feel something special was Right in our little town: That Mother, that Nature, was at work.

You were not a silk and satin mother, Irene, even though you were softness and grace itself. You got under the car and changed the oil. You hauled bales of children’s clothes to the washer and bales of hay to the barn. In winter you thwarted frozen trough by hauling water in gallon jugs to the horses every day. If the electricity went out, you lit candles and made a game of coping with ten dark rooms and three staircases. You stoked a wood fire with the best of them, and all this with a smile and those twinkling eyes. Even in moments of exasperation your severest epithet loosed upon the world came out “Fiddlesticks!”

If dinner dishes didn’t get done it was because you knew what was more important: Cuddling on the couch with Patrick; fishing for Jonah; a drive to a friend’s for Jessica; or ice-cream down-street for everyone! Let’s go!

Dishes could wait till the kids went to bed. Dishes didn’t need a mother.

You’d sleep for an hour or so after the kids went to bed before you headed for the hospital a 10:30. You’d drive home in the morning at seven, get the kids fed and dressed and off to school and day-care, then –dog tired –you’d do your errands at the Post Office and bank, bidding the tellers good morning by announcing, “Good night, ladies, I’m going home to bed.”

When I came to live with you and Carol and the kids in the winter of ’85 the snow was a foot deep and the temperature below zero in South Royalton. I was recovering from watching life and death pumped into my mother in an Oregon Intensive Care Unit for four months, and the last thing in the world I wanted to do was think about hospitals. For me they were places of sickness and death.

You changed that. Birth, birth, birth; bringing forth, issuing into fullness ---these were the offices of your life, these were the beats of your heart.

Once I saw you pluck some lifeless thorns and grasses from the roadside and transform them into an elegant centerpiece for the big, varnished cable-spool we used as a round kitchen table in the red house.

Irene, you have been ripped up on the roadside and I could stay in the anger.

I could.

But anger would poison your legacy: Anger shrinks. Anger dries. Anger shrivels and starves. For you to live now, Irene, we must let you be born of this world’s blood and pain into the message of your new life in us: “All is well, mothering spirit is at work.”
With Love,


Paul Keane
Master of Divinity
Yale University

Class of 1980

South Royalton, Vermont
November 2, 1987

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