Several years ago, my daughter, Ayni, was given a writing assignment in a class. She wrote the piece below. Today, she came across it and sent it to me, telling me that it was still true. She just loves to make me cry.
When She Laughs
by Ayni Smith
I watched my mother, standing in the doorway. Shadowed by the dark behind her, it made her nothing but a silhouette in the spring sunset. It was the week before my birthday and we were gathered at my grandparents’ house in Florida. Nanny, my grandmother, was inside making chicken with rice, the smell wafting out the door. My grandfather, Popaw, was posted up at their orange stand, selling the last of the oranges for the day. My mother walked farther into the house, talking to Nanny, as I dozed on the porch allowing the disappearing sun to warm my face. I listened to their muffled voices, and my mother laughed. Her laugh boomed, like laughing into a microphone. It went on for way too long. When she started to speak again, the residuals of her laugh was still there. It’s infectious. Hearing that laugh made me giggle in my drowsiness.
I stood up, shook off my sleepiness and walked into the house. My mother, standing next to her mother is almost a foot taller. I giggled again. They simultaneously turned to look at me. I felt such an overwhelming sense of familiarity at that moment; I wished I could take a picture. My mother’s eyes would be considered hazel. They are so much more than that- blue, flecked brown and green. They are truly windows to her soul, at least for me. When we are together, there’s no way she could ever lie to me because her eyes tell the real truth. I can see her happiness and her excitement, her pain and her anger. When she laughs, so do her eyes, sparkling blue with excitement. When she’s sad her eyes become almost totally brown and dull, filled with agony and despair.
Standing together, there is no doubt that we are related. Put my grandmother in the mix and you can see the generations moving through time. I look again at my mother, with a round face and rosy cheeks, soft, light skin and a few spattered freckles. I know she’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever met, inside and out. She’s calm and understanding. She can be cool and collected sometimes. At others “Mama Mia” makes her cry. So do the “Gilmore Girls” and Johnson and Johnson commercials. She laughs then too, knowing that it’s silly to cry at commercials. She still calls me baby. “Come sit by me, Baby,” I look at her with a hint of disdain, “I am not a baby anymore, Mama” “I know, but you’ll always be my baby,” she said, her smiling eyes tearing up as she leaned in for a hug. I hugged her back and told her I love her.
My mother and I talk as often as we can. Sometimes we talk twice a week, sometimes twice a month. When I was assigned to give a profile of someone, something or someplace, the first thing I thought of was calling her. I told her that I was struggling. That I didn’t have any idea of what to write about. She laughed, “You could always tell a story about your dear old mom,” then immediately dismissed the idea as if I would never be interested in that. She then suggested to me that I should tell a story about my father. She encouraged me to tell the story of a man who has been absent most of my life, making him important, in that he’s not. As I listened to her talk, I realized that she was the one. She’s the one who was always there for me and me for her. Forever it was just the two of us against the world. There were times that we were so poor, we would housesit for people, just to give us a roof over our heads, but we were always there together. She would swallow her pride and ask people she barely knew for things just so I would never go without. She is someone who has done nothing but support and teach me. The one thing she really wanted me to learn was how to laugh, even in the tough times.
“You know, not everything about your father was bad,” my mother told me when we were talking, “He actually did some really good things, like take in children who didn’t have anywhere else to go or take old people for rides in his cab, just to give them something to do.” She told me this because most of my life I have only heard negative things about my father. She laughed telling me he just has “fuzzy morals.” Suddenly she laughed loud and hard, so I had to pull the phone from my ear. My boyfriend came in from the other room and looked at me, puzzled as to what could be that funny. I just laughed and shrugged. After she stopped laughing she started rattling off facts about him. Many I knew, but some more personal things about him, were new to me. It made me rethink everything. She laughed again, “Have you ever read any Robert Heinlein?” she asked me. “It’s one of his idols, it explains so much about him.”
My mother (the lawyer who doesn’t practice law) spends her time these days trying to change the world. She stopped practicing law years ago in order to follow her true passion. What would the world be if we didn’t have those people? J Kim Wright JD is a self-proclaimed peace making attorney, coach, workshop leader, speaker, change agent and magazine publisher.
We talked recently and she told me she’s thinking of going back to practice law again. It’s been years since I’ve heard her express an interest in that. I told her that maybe it’s time for her to learn from her clients again. That was one of the reasons she became so passionate about changing the law profession in the first place. “Maybe this will take you back to where it all began,” I told her and she laughed. She said that was exactly what she was thinking.
Yesterday she was the first person I wanted to call after getting the news. When I told her about my friend killing himself, she didn’t laugh. She listen to me talk, telling her things about him. “He was like my big brother,” I told her with tears in my eyes and pain in my voice. “I’m sorry baby. I’m sorry that you lost your friend. What can I do for you?” I told her there was nothing; I just needed to talk to someone about it. Then she was just there for me. She didn’t give me excuses or try to make everything better. She gave me the space to be upset and just let it out. That’s why I love her. She knows sometimes I just need to be heard.
When we got off the phone, I returned to that day in Florida. Once again I was sitting there on my grandparents’ porch, my mother in the next room, laughing her heart out. I remember the sense of ease I felt that day. Just being near her, made everything okay. It made me miss her but it made me feel stronger. Just knowing that I have someone like that in my life.