My Mother’s Arms
My mother. Backlit against memory. Pink Red Sox hat pulled down against the sun. She towers into the light, swaying gently, a slung child hugged to chest, tenderly. A brother, with two more in the double stroller she’s pushing. Veins run down Mom’s strong arms, blue like the Connecticut River that we so often wandered across on Hadley’s bicycle bridge together. And blue like her clear eyes. My eyes.
Eyes that have seen the Rhine River, white Egrets huddled in the Gulf of Bahrain; goats scramble up cliffs in Tenerife; smiling faces of Mexican street boys, their arms wrapped around my neck so tightly I can’t breathe. Their eyes so clear and bright.
And I hug back with my mother’s arms. Lean, powerful, her’s strong from carrying eight children, boys, often covered in flour or stale dishwater. Mine from hugging younger brothers, mostly covered in ink or sweat. I picked them up, rogue, from off the staircase gate, then collapsed into the Lego pile. Or tugged another brother up from the outside gravel, screaming, blood oozing down shins from scraped knees. A bicycle lies in the dirt.
That’s when Mom’s arms were strongest; when they were comforting. I remember them warm, soft, and compassionate. A soothing defense against pain no matter how many tears fell onto Saturday morning’s crossword puzzle, half-finished in red ink beside a steaming cup of tea. And never mind the discarded drawings, scattered toys, and dirty dishes in the sink. Or the battered walls of that blue duplex, her castle.
Those same arms raised in Sunday morning worship to Jesus, blue eyes closed, joyful with tears. Upturned face washed in sunlight and grace. Another brother in the sling this time gazing up in wonder.
Later, sunlight showed their strength as Mom bent over the kitchen table, hands spread out on paper, helping another brother with homework. They’re defined, scratched, and bruised by many sons as she picks up a pile of books, opens one to help explain things. He’s frustrated, she’s not.
Then they’re crossed over another young brother’s chest holding him back on the staircase, tightly, when he’s lost control in anger. His tearful face is ugly, grimaced; her’s is sad, compassionate. She sings softly above his screams.
Once I awoke screaming and Mom was there in the dark. I couldn’t see her but those arms wrapped me up. And then I was almost asleep again, soothed by Mom’s soft singing and a loving touch, her long hands rubbing my back through the comforter.
Now these 20 years later in Wednesday morning’s overcast light my arms are hidden by a green sweater. The light reflects in my blue eyes. Eyes that have seen magnificent sights, the best and worst of humanity. They’re like my mother’s, clear and blue as the Connecticut River.
As blue as the veins on my arms, which have climbed mountains, pulled a firehouse into a burning building, and lifted 600 pounds of iron in the gym. They’re powerful, bulky, strong from work. But I wonder if they’re as compassionate, or quick to hug loved ones, or lend their use to others in need, as are my mother’s arms. I wonder if they’re as strong.