LESLIE CRISS: 53 years later, my mama still holds my heart

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.”
– Mark Twain

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
– Robert Heinlein

“Who, being loved, is poor?”
– Oscar Wilde

She was my very first valentine. It seems only fitting, since she loved me even before I entered this world.
For nine months she carried me in close proximity to her heart as she prepared for my arrival. I’m sure it was a time of great anxiety for her as she awaited the birth of her first child 1,500 miles away from her own mother in Arizona.
Much well-meaning advice and guidance came from her mother-in-law and a few of her husband’s aunts.
The story of my birth is one I’ve heard many times through the years.
While I was wrapped snuggly in the nursery, being nuzzled by nurses, my mother lay alone in a hospital room in an under-renovation wing of the red-brick Grenada hospital. Her call button was not functioning and not one nurse checked on her during the night.
Apparently, back in the dark ages when I came to be, folks didn’t hang out in hospital rooms overnight with patients. It was no fault of mine, but I’m glad my mother still wanted me after all that negligence suffered at the hands of that old hospital.
She continued to love me through my crankiness caused by colic.
And when it became crystal clear I’d not gotten any of her genes to gently guide me to pick up a paintbrush and a palette, it didn’t seem to matter. If she was disappointed I was not born to be an artist like she was, it never showed.
For years, through kindergarten and early elementary school, when it got to be February, I’d begin to feel queasy. I knew what was coming.
A teacher would inevitably hand out to my classmates and me red construction paper, scissors, paste, a white doily and then volunteer vague instructions on turning it all into something heart-shaped and lovely.
No matter how hard I tried, my offering always fell way left of lovely, with gooey glumps of paste turning my doily into a wet and wrinkled mess. And heart-shaped? That was a matter of perception.
But, you know what? Not long ago, in a box filled with mementos from my childhood, I found one of those dastardly creations. My mama had, with great care, held onto my heart.

The little things matter
She was always forgiving of any foolishness in which I might have found myself. Most of the time, her admonition was limited to a gentle scolding.
She allowed me the freedom to find myself, no matter where that search took me and no matter the enormity of her anxiety.
One Sunday evening before a long-ago Christmas, my mother drove the two of us to our church of the Episcopal kind to see the Nativity pageant. As we got out of the car, she took my hand, but as we walked toward the church we were told we’d missed it. It had been earlier than my mother thought.
So determined was she that I not be disappointed, she drove down the street and took me to the Christmas musical performed by our Baptist brethren.
It seems a silly thing to remember, but it’s one of my fondest memories of my mama and me.
It’s the little things.
And I’m remembering today that she was, indeed, my very first valentine.
I hope she remembers, too.
Happy hearts day.

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@journalinc.net or (662) 678-1584.