Dateline: May 1981
As I looked out the window, I noticed that the sky was cloudy. It looked as though it might rain. But it was Mother’s Day and I had promised my mother I’d be over with the kids. I had sent over a dozen red roses that I had bought for my mother—just as I had done every years since I got my first job. I thought of Diane, my wife. I wondered if I should buy flowers for her grave. But then I had never gotten flowers for her for Mother’s Day when she was alive. Somehow the thought of getting flowers for her now seemed…too late.
My mind went back to another Mother’s Day. It seemed so very long ago and yet it was just a few short years. I had stopped at the florist after work and ordered one dozen roses for my mother, to be delivered on Mother’s Day. Then I got into the car and drove home. Diane had been waiting for me at the front door. That was something she had never done before. Her face was radiant. She had loosened her hair and had brushed it over her shoulders. She was wearing a light blue dress made from some sort of soft material. I could tell at a glance that she had something that she was very anxious to tell me.
I parked the car at the curb in front of the house, then got out and started up the sidewalk. Diane met me about halfway.
“Hi.” I smiled, kissed her quickly, then put my arm around her waist, and continued to walk toward the house. I wanted to ask her what she was so happy about, but I didn’t want to rush her either. She apparently wanted to wait until we were inside the house to tell me.
We had just stepped into the house when she turned, faced me, then threw her arms around my neck. “Ryan, we did it. After three years we finally did it. We’re going to have a baby. Dr. Landers said positively yes and it should be sometime the first week of December.”
I had wanted a son for so long, but Diane just didn’t seem to get pregnant. Then I found myself not really caring whether the baby was a boy or a girl, if only we could just have a child.
“Honest?” I yelled as I picked her up and twirled her around in a circle. I wanted to call Mom and Dad right away to tell them the news, but I changed my mind.
Diane had grown up in a children’s home and had no relatives at all. I was an only child. Diane and I had wanted a child from the very beginning of our marriage. And Dad and Mom wanted a grandchild almost as much. Now at last we were going to have our baby. I just couldn’t tell them over the telephone and miss the expressions on their faces. My parents had asked us over for dinner the next day so I decided to wait until then. Besides it would be like adding an extra present to the roses.
Our baby didn’t wait until December to be born. On a sunny day in mid-November, our twin sons were born. I had wanted a son so much, I just couldn’t believe that I had two of them.
I loved Diane and I was so happy to have twin sons that I rushed right out and bought a dozen roses for her. I didn’t want to wait for the florist to deliver them, so I carried the roses back to the hospital myself. Her eyes lit up when she saw the roses.
“I would have been satisfied with just one rose.” She smiled as she held them close to her face and sniffed their fragrance.
Even today, I could still remember the exact look on her face. I was visualizing it when I felt a tug on my pant leg. I looked down.
“Daddy! Daddy!” It was Ryan. Or maybe it was Daniel. Diane could tell them apart easily, but sometimes I still had trouble.
“What is it?” I asked as my thoughts fluttered away.
“Are we going to Grandma and Grandpa’s today?”
“Yes,” I answered, “a little later, though. After your baby sister wakes up.” I tiptoed into the baby’s room. She was starting to stir. Her tiny arms and legs flew out suddenly to the sides as though she was trying to break a fall. I guess she was dreaming. I hurried to the kitchen to warm her bottle. I had just taken the bottle from the pan of hot water when I heard the twins arguing in the living room.
“What’s going on?” I demanded as I hurried into the living room, just in time to see Ryan shoving Daniel. Both boys stopped and looked up at me. It was Ryan who spoke first.
“Danny turned on the monster movie and you said he can’t watch it.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “I don’t get scared anymore, Daddy. Can I watch it now?”
I think he was trying to convince himself more than me. Right about the time that Diane had died the local television station had decided to run some old monster movies on Sundays at noon. Daniel had started having nightmares about the same time. At first I had thought the nightmares were caused from the trauma of losing his mother. But upon questioning him, he always related that he had been dreaming that a monster was after him. Because of the nightmares, I had put a stop to the boys watching any monster movies.
I heard the baby start to cry, so I cautioned the twins about keeping the noise down, then turned the television to another channel that usually had cartoons. I turned right in the middle of a florist’s commercial, urging last-minute shoppers to buy their mothers and wives flowers from Albert’s Nursery. The speaker was standing near a bouquet of red roses.
I began to think about roses again as I walked into the baby’s room and picked her up. The twins had been exactly six months old when Mother’s Day had come around again. As usual I had bought a dozen roses for my mother and we planned to have dinner there.
That morning Diane had gotten out of bed, had bathed the twins, fed them, and put them in the playpen. Then she started wandering from room to room as though searching for something.
“All right.” She smiled. “Where did you hide it?”
“Hide what?” I asked her.
“My Mother’s Day present. Where did you hide it?”
I couldn’t understand why she thought I would have gotten her something for Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was a day to remember one’s mother and Diane wasn’t my mother—she was my wife. I remembered Diane’s birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and our anniversary, but a man only has one mother and that day should be hers and hers alone.
“I didn’t buy you a Mother’s Day present,” I told her.
Diane just smiled in a disbelieving way and said, “Ryan, don’t tease. Where is it?”
“I didn’t get one,” I said and walked away.
For a moment she had a look of disappointment, but then it disappeared and a look of having an inner knowledge appeared on her face.
When we arrived at my parents’ home that Mother’s Day, the florist had already been there and Mom had placed the roses I had sent in a vase on top of the television. One rose stood up higher than all the rest. Diane had walked up to the roses, taken the tallest one gently in her fingertips, and sniffed the fragrance.
“They’re beautiful,” Diane said turning to Mom, “but then roses are my favorite flower anyway.”
On the way home that night Diane hadn’t talked. She just murmured, “Ummm,” now and then to let me know that she was listening to me, but she didn’t talk. Something was bothering her, but I didn’t know what it was. Diane and Mom got along well and liked each other immensely. Nothing had happened during the day to upset her that I knew of, yet she seemed bothered. When we went to bed that night, Diane turned away from me. In four and a half years of marriage, she had never done that before.
“What’s wrong, honey?” I asked softly as I put my arm around her waist.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“Something’s wrong,” I said, “please tell me.”
“You really didn’t get me anything for Mother’s Day,” she said. “I thought maybe you were just teasing and had a gift for me at your parents’ home, but you really didn’t.”
I felt a pang of irritation. She was pouting like a child because I hadn’t gotten her a gift that she didn’t have any right to. Surely she knew that Mother’s Day was a day to honor one’s mother. She must have learned that in the children’s home.
“Why did you think that I should buy you a gift?” I asked her. Then without giving her a chance to answer I went on. “Mother’s Day is a special day to honor mothers.”
“But I am a mother,” she said, “and I’m your wife.”
“But that’s just it, Diane. You are my wife. You aren’t my mother.”
“Well, I’m Daniel and Ryan’s mother and they are your children.”
“I know that, Diane. And I’m proud that you’re the mother of my children, but when they are old enough to buy you a gift, they will. I know they will. And that’s because you’re their mother. But. . .” and I repeated myself, “you aren’t my mother.”
I don’t know why I couldn’t make her understand that, but she wasn’t willing to understand and I was tired of trying to explain. I had to go to work the next morning, so I had turned over in bed and had gone to sleep.
The baby wriggled in my arms and I could hear the sound of sucking air. I looked down to see that in my memory skipping, I had let the baby’s bottle drop. I lifted the bottle so that she could get the formula. I wasn’t good at this sort of thing.
Shortly after Diane had died, Mrs. Kramer, an older widowed woman, had moved in as a live-in babysitter and housekeeper. She had every Sunday and sometimes Saturday off, depending on whether or not I worked on Saturdays. I had watched Diane bathe the twins, change their diapers, and make formulas for them, but I had never really paid much attention to how it was done. Mrs. Kramer had shown me how to do all of that, but even so I wasn’t very good at it.
“Mrs. Kramer doesn’t pin Sissy’s diaper that way,” Daniel remarked as I pinned my daughter’s diaper. “She makes the pin go that way,” Ryan said, pointing from the front of the diaper toward the back. I had put the pin in so that it ran from the bottom to the top of the diaper.
“All right boys. I know I don’t do it as well as Mrs. Kramer, but I’ll learn. Now go get dressed.” I said.
I wasn’t particular about how the kids were dressed. But Mom loved to see them dressed up, so I had laid out their clothes. Although they were not yet three years old, they did pretty well dressing themselves.
They returned a little later, dressed, but not well. Ryan had put his shirt on backwards, and Daniel had put on different clothes than what I had left out for him. Both boys had their shoes on the wrong feet and Ryan didn’t have any socks on at all. By this time, the baby had gone back to sleep, so I laid her down in her bed, then set out to redress the boys.
Finally, I had them all in the car heading for my parents’ home. One of the boys turned on the car radio. Musical refrains floated throughout the car from the various singers. One song, “Big Bouquet of Roses,” sent me back on that trip down memory lane again. Only this time my mind wandered back to the first Father’s Day after the twins came.
I had come down to breakfast to find a happy smiling wife, a pair of cereal-faced twins in high chairs, and a large box wrapped in gaily colored paper waiting for me.
“Happy Father’s Day,” Diane had said as she bent to kiss me. Seated at the breakfast table I had looked up at her. Excitedly she had handed me the package. “Here, open it!” She’d smiled. I remembered my thoughts well. I didn’t know whether to accept the gift, or confront her with the thought that she was trying to make me feel guilty for not buying her a gift at Mother’s Day. She seemed so happy that I had decided against the accusation and accepted the gift.
Even though I had never expressed those thoughts in words, I had thought of the incident often over the next year. The more I thought of the gift, the more convinced I was that she had wanted to make me feel guilty with it. And I did at times. But then why should I have felt guilty? My father had never given my mother a Mother’s Day present either. She wasn’t his mother. She
was my mother and I’d saved every dime I got from my paper route for over a month to buy her that first dozen roses. I was only eleven and I remembered that she had cried.
As my mind wandered, I followed the streets automatically, up to my parents’ driveway. I stopped the car and turned off the engine. The twins didn’t waste any time. They jumped out of the car and raced up the stairs of the old frame house to the front door. I picked the baby up out of the bassinet that I’d sandwiched between the front and back seats and carried her up to the house. By now the twins had gone inside, and Mom stood at the door with open arms ready to take the baby from me.
The roses I’d ordered had arrived and Mom had placed them in a vase that she put on the buffet in the dining room. One rose stood up higher than all the rest. It reminded me of another Mother’s Day and for a moment I could see Diane gently holding the rose as she had done that first Mother’s Day after Daniel and Ryan were born. Without thinking about it, I walked over to the rose and took it gently in my fingertips. I rubbed my thumb lightly across the velvety petals, remembering how Diane had held the rose lovingly in her hand and how she had bent to sniff its fragrance. I thought of how much she loved roses. I must have said something aloud, because I heard Mom say, “Yes, she did love them so.” Conversation: Hear me talking to you As you lie there in your crib. Bet you didn’t know that Your mother was so glib; Spinning off slick stories, Reciting rhymes ad-lib. Now I hear you answer! If I only understood That soft and secret language Only known to babyhood, Which grownups can’t remember But wish that they still could.
I hadn’t noticed when Mom walked up, so I don’t know how long she had stood there while I was off in my own thoughts. The baby was awake in Mom’s arms. She looked up and smiled. She had a smile like Diane’s. I was thankful for that. Mom spoke softly, but my mind had gone back to the second Mother’s Day after Ryan and Daniel were born and all I heard was the murmur of her voice.
I hadn’t gotten Diane a gift that time either. She hadn’t said anything about not getting a gift that day, but I knew that she was bothered by it. She was moody all day and reminded me of a pouting child again. When she’d turned away from me again that night I felt as though she was trying to punish me. I lost my temper and told her she was acting worse than a child.
“All right. Maybe I am acting like a child, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I don’t care if you don’t buy me a dozen roses like you do for your mom, but couldn’t you buy just one rose for me from your sons?” She had started speaking in a loud voice, but her voice had softened as she finished and I heard the sniffle of a tear.
Diane knew that tears got to me and I calmed down a little. I was usually a soft touch where my wife and kids were concerned, but this had become a sore subject with me. Why couldn’t I make her understand?
“Honey, I love you and I try to show it. Why do you try to make me feel badly about not getting you a gift? When the boys are older they’ll realize what a wonderful mother you are and they’ll be eager to buy you a gift. And they’ll buy you gifts for the rest of your life. Please don’t be jealous of the gifts I get my mother.”
Diane lay there still and quiet. She didn’t say anything more to me about Mother’s Day that night.
The following Mother’s Day, I overheard her say something to Mom. I’d been in the living room talking with Dad and watching television. I started out to the kitchen to ask Diane something and I heard her say something to Mom about roses. I guess I did the unforgivable. I listened.
“I know you’d love roses, dear, but you’ll just have to love him and learn to forgive. He’s just like his father. Daniel would never buy me a gift either. He always said I wasn’t his mother. My heart used to ache, hoping he would change his mind and at least give Ryan the money to buy me some little gift, but he never did.” Mom had sided with Diane. She thought I was wrong, too.
I’d forgotten what I was going to ask Diane. I turned and went back to the living room. Dad was still sitting in his easy chair in front of the television. In my absence the twins had crawled up onto Dad’s lap. It was apparent that he too had forgotten our earlier conversation. As we watched television my thoughts weren’t on the program. I thought about Mom. I’d never known that she’d been hurt each Mother’s Day all those years. That must have been why she had cried when I gave her those first roses. The thought of hurting Mom had upset me. Was I hurting Diane the same way that Dad had hurt Mom? Maybe Diane was right and Dad was wrong. After all she wasn’t my mother, but she was the mother of my sons. Didn’t she deserve some remembrance at Mother’s Day? The day had been almost over. It was too late to do anything about it then, but I swore that I wouldn’t let another Mother’s Day go by hurting Diane. Only it wasn’t to be that way.
In the fall, Diane had learned that she was pregnant again. Something wasn’t going right in the pregnancy and she didn’t learn of the pregnancy until she was quite far along. In March, Melody Lynn came into the world. Diane lived long enough to hold and name our daughter, then died later that night.
Mom brushed against my shoulder. I looked down at her holding my sleeping daughter. I was still holding the rose gently in my fingertips. Mom looked up into my eyes. She nodded her head as though she could read my mind. I pulled the rose out of the bouquet, kissed Mom on the forehead, took the two boys, and turned, and walked out of the house. I got into the car and drove to the cemetery. Daniel and Ryan seemed to understand and were quiet as we walked slowly to Diane’s grave. When we got there I gently laid the rose down.
Copyright © 1981, 2012 by BroadLit