My mother called last night when I was out. Her voice on the answering machine sounded somewhat depressed but the message belied her tone.
“Hello darling, this is mom. I’m calling with some good news. We’ve turned the clocks back an hour, so there’s only a two-hour time difference between us now. Isn’t that wonderful? Call me back soon.”
Upon hearing my 89-year-old mother’s words, I immediately sensed that her message was merely a cover-up for the things she couldn’t say, either because she hadn’t sufficiently put her feelings into words yet or because what she wanted to share was just too hard to talk about. I guessed it was the latter.
My mother’s sense of family has always been time-bound. When I was 10 years old she told me the story about how her parents had died. She didn’t remember much about the accident because she was only 2 years old at the time, but she did recall the exact time of day, 1:30 in the afternoon, when the policeman knocked on the door and told her family that her father had drowned. And she recalled even less about her 28-year-old mother who died from a broken heart exactly one month later, giving birth to her baby sister. What she did remember was the time, 7:20 in the evening, because the nurse told her she should go to bed like a good girl.
Having lost so much, so early in life was a hardship my mother never overcame. Her best defense to the loneliness and abandonment she carried was to become the all-encompassing mother. She kept track of me like a mama bear with her cubs. And when I felt smothered or overwhelmed, I tried to remember that I had been given everything that she had lost as a young child.
I didn’t recognize at the time how hard it was for her when I left home for college; that my departure was the trigger that caused her emotions to spiral downward into what I thought of as her “black hole.” Time became even more important to her after I left. Sundays at 5 p.m. was “our time.” Of course, without cell phones, it wasn’t as easy to stay in touch. But I knew my call was her touchstone and I rarely missed a Sunday throughout college.
Over the years, Mom has marked her life by the events in mine — the afternoon I graduated from law school, the evening of my wedding, the morning when my son was born, the first time she set eyes on my daughter.
My life is much more hectic than hers and she appreciates the efforts I make to stay in touch. Gone are the once a week conversations, replaced by daily check-ins about life’s ups and downs, the books she is reading, her new favorite doctor who told her she can still drink one can of diet soda a day. Cell phones make it easier to stay connected but they also betray the tension in my voice as I rush between home and work or need to hang up because one of my kids is calling. I assure her it’s no big deal but somehow, the busy-ness of my life seems to distance us and underscores the fact that so much happens between the times we see each other.
So when my mother called last night, what she was really saying was that she feels somehow closer to me now, knowing that only two hours of daylight separate us.
If you visit my mother’s kitchen, the first thing you notice is her clocks, none of which are set at the same time. The microwave is set an hour before the antique wall clock, which reads at least a half-hour later than the digital clock radio. Yet regardless of her inability to keep track of “real” time, whenever I call, her response to my voice is always the same.
“Hello, dear. I was hoping it was you. Of course I can talk. It’s the perfect time.”
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an author, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney who lives in Tucson and serves as a legacy consultant for the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. Her columns in the AJP have won awards from the American Jewish Press Association, the Arizona Newspapers Association and the Arizona Press Club for excellence in commentary. Visit her website at www.amyhirshberglederman.com.