“Please play ‘Melody in F’ again, Mom,” I asked.

My mother would, without hesitation, sweep her long fingers effortlessly across the keyboard and play the Anton Rubinstein piece again for me.

That is the way my mother was. Though she had played it once, she was always generous, always willing to please.

The music that flowed from our old piano in the living room, day in and day out, is one of the things about my childhood I will remember most, long into my twilight years.

It was a sweet thing to wake in the morning to the sounds of Chopin, Bach and Mozart wafting up the stairs and into my room. When Mom was older, she got hooked on Scott Joplin’s music and would play it with verve, literally bouncing off the piano seat.

My mother was a jubilant person. She loved life. If there was a gathering of family or friends, she’d be the first one there and the last to leave. If we wanted to go to Marden’s or the coast, or even just for a ride out into the country, she was game.

I had 58 years with my mother, and when she died on Jan. 1 at 92, I knew my life would be forever changed.

They say that when you lose your mother, you lose a big part of yourself. For me, this is true.

It is shock at first, of course, though you know she is leaving and try to prepare yourself.

But there really is no preparation for such a profound loss; and afterward, you are faced with having to redefine your life — trying to figure out who you are without her.

When my father died four years ago and wanted her to go at the same time, she said, in her characteristically practical manner, “I’m not ready yet!”

When a momentary twinge of guilt crept in, I assured her she had at least four more years to go — that he had lasted until 92 and she must, too. I think she liked that rationale.

My mother had much more to do, places to go and music to play.

After the initial shock of my father’s death, she settled in, as did we, and adapted to life without him.

Time heals, it’s true. We had some fun times after that and were able to laugh and enjoy life, though in a different way.

And in the void my father left, we had a focus — Mom.

We did everything we could to make her comfortable and give her the things she wanted, although she did not want for much. She was happy just to have us around her.

Mom thought about death once in a while, but she wasn’t afraid of it, unlike my father. Mostly, she worried about what would happen to her beloved cat, Tootsie, when she was no longer around.

“Who will take her? Where will she go? What will she do if she doesn’t have all this land to run around on, the barn to chase mice in, the gardens to hide in, the trees to climb?”

I told Mom not to worry — that one of us would take her.

Indeed, the Sunday before she died, my sister, Jane, brought Tootsie to her house to live, with her two cats.

My mother was barely conscious that last week, but I got to tell her that Tootsie was OK — that she actually loved being at Jane’s. My mother flinched as if to say she understood, but I couldn’t tell if she approved, as Tootsie would no longer rule the roost.

I think Mom now would approve. I visit Tootsie often and she greets me with recognition every time, seeming to know I am part of her former world with my mother.

That world was a warm, comforting, safe place, where music and laughter and the scent of sweet stollen bread baking in my mother’s oven would waft up the stairs to meet me in the morning. There was always something exciting happening downstairs when my mother was home, and I didn’t want to miss out.

Those were happy times, in a house that is now eerily quiet. Cleaning it out these past few months has been hard — painful, yet cathartic in a way.

My mother’s presence is there in every book, every photo, newspaper clipping, recipe, every scrap of paper I find with her handwriting scrawled across it. Her scent is in every drawer, every piece of clothing, every banged-up pot and pan in which she baked her incredible pastries, pies and loaves of bread.

In the now silent upstairs, I can hear her voice, her irrepressible laughter, echoing off the walls of the empty rooms — rooms that once held our dreams as we lay in beds made up with my mother’s wind-dried, sun-kissed sheets.

I found a few treasures in my quest to see and touch everything in that house before it is sold. There is the dress my mother made for me in 1974 when I was a senior in high school and needed something to wear for class night. The long, flowery gown with puffy sleeves and pearl buttons was in the bottom of a trunk, all bunched up and wrinkled, but in excellent shape. Unable to bear parting with it, I had it cleaned and it now hangs on the door in our guest room, where it serves as a reminder — not only of her workmanship, but also of the generosity with which she would sew a dress, bake a cake, listen to my stories or perform a piano piece whenever I asked.

In the maelstrom of organizing nearly 60 years’ worth of accumulated household items and mementos, I also discovered four 35 mm films, only one of which was marked, with “Florida, 1958,” in my father’s handwriting.

I sent the films off to Las Vegas to be placed onto a DVD. A few weeks later, the DVD arrived, offering the biggest gift of all.

It is 15 minutes of pure joy, watching my mother and father in Boca Raton more than a half-century ago, playing tennis and golf, diving into a pool and having a grand time away from us seven rambunctious children.

They are so young and happy, bouncing up the steps of the airplane for their return flight to Maine. Like movie stars, they smile glamorously as they wave good-bye.

But I know their happiness is not all about having a much-needed vacation in the sun — it is that they know they are coming home to us.

And that is the way I will remember my mother on Sunday, Mother’s Day, and all the days thereafter — young, energetic and throwing her head back in laughter.

Frances Emma Rowell Calder, 92, of Skowhegan died Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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