I was never ashamed to curl up in Mom’s lap. Even when I reached my full height of 5 feet 5 ½ inches. She still stroked my hair with my head in her lap. I could always count on that. She and her second husband had a TV in their bedroom, and they went to sleep every night with the dulcet tones of Johnny Carson laughing about beaming from beautiful downtown Burbank.
She wrote in her bedside diary that upon her death, we were instructed to destroy that diary, so we did. Mom must have known that the anger she was venting in that last bedside journal was not the real essence. I wish I had the rest of her writings – they wound up in the hands of my stepfather, who has isolated himself from a world he fears. Though usually I’m not a material girl, I tend to hoard memories and photographs not valuables. There is this memento that I would be bereft to lose – her graduation pen, black tip, gold barrel. Engraved on the top piece that clicks into place both fore and aft is my mother’s chosen name: TERA. It came in a velveteen-lined case from the Cross Pen company. It has a twin that twists to open – that ballpoint pen is for the keeping of accounts. The Writer’s Pen has a felt tip. It feels right in my hand, as I write about my aversion to camping. Mom was so shocked when I stated loudly and dramatically that I hated camping. As a matter of fact, I went down on one knee, shook my fist at the air and proclaimed in my best Scarlett O’Hara that “I will nevah go campin’ agin!” The tent was a canvas monstrosity that you had to zip all the way up and all the way down every time you entered. And no matter how thick the sleeping bags were, the ground was still cold and hard in these makeshift beds. Couldn’t my parents see that these nice people in Yosemite Valley had built hotels and motels and cabins nearby just so we did not have to build them ourselves? It was a fifteen-minute drive to the Oakland Redwoods from our house if you wanted to commune with nature, they had even gotten married in the Redwood Bowl, with peace pipes and organic bulgur salads, and music under the trees, and hadn’t they gotten over that phase yet?
Many many years later, I photo safaried in Africa. There, we dwelt in Canvas Villas with running water, copper bathtubs, verandas, indoor and outdoor showers, stationery to write home with, desks and couches, hot water for bush tea, fresh towels folded in the shapes of elephants. No phones, no internet, that was ok – our wakeup call was one of the guides standing outside the steps up to our front cloth door – saying “knock knock” – not actually knocking of course, because the door was not made of wood, just saying “knock knock” until we mumbled back. Every month, at least once, I want to go back to Botswana so much it aches. I think, though, that my mother would have said that I did love camping after all, and laughed and laughed and laughed.