Sunday, May 8, 2011

Maternal Charm

The word “charm” is rarely used as a sole descriptive. So often it is paired with a negative attribute or deceptive quality. It’s a word we save to describe sly criminals and beauty queens. We use it to manipulate and blame it when we are the scammed. People beware of charm as much as they flock to it. It is a scary power and when nourished from its innate resting place in the most unintelligent personalities, it can put total idiots in the Oval Office.

I digress, though. Evil charisma has no hold on me, because I have had the privilege of being raised by charm, in its most pure and genuine form. Charm not used to compensate for faults or maneuver through life carelessly; but actual, real-life, wholesome charm—constantly exuding from a human being for the pure enjoyment and comfort of others. I am of course referring to my mother.

Shopping was never an activity I enjoyed. I still wait for an empty fridge and pantry to shop for groceries in the middle of the night. I prefer to shop for clothes online and pray that things fit so I do not have to make any in-person returns. So when I tagged along with my mother as a child, I spent little time admiring dresses, eying candy bars and reaching toward the toy aisle. Instead, I watched her. Of course, she was the center of my world. She was my mother. But she seemed to be the center of everything, the moment someone glanced our way or the checkout lady said hello. Smiles flashed across people’s faces and random strangers would ask her for assistance. An old woman clutched her arm and listened intently as my mother gave directions to the laundry detergent. Other mothers looked at her lovingly as she held the door open for a flock of children and a cart full of groceries.

As I got older, I realized that my mother’s interaction with total strangers was rare in our society. Folks in the Midwest are certainly polite, but in her presence, they become friendly. When people ask her, “How are you?” they want to hear an honest answer. When she says “Good morning,” people believe that the morning is, indeed, good.

My father’s stories about her in high school confirmed this magical effect she had on others. Just as the word “charm” is used negatively, the word “popular” has an even dimmer reputation. But not for her. She was popular because she was sunshine, and everyone wanted to feel her warmth and see her smile.

Other kids were always jealous of my parents. They were sufficiently lenient and treated my brother and me with respect. They were not too strict, but strict enough for us to know they cared. They made my friends laugh and played with us without fear of embarrassment. I could count on them to bring my own popularity to a new level.

Close groups of friends erupt around my mother and though she would never admit it, we are because she is. She doesn’t know the impact she leaves on people, whether she was the helpful stranger in the store or the best friend just a phone call away. Instead, she is grateful. Instead, she humbly bestows all of her confidence and support on us.

And still, I like to think that people are a bit jealous of me. After all, no matter the connection or the friendship. No matter the amount of time spent in her presence. She is my mother, and I will get to say that for the rest of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. You are brilliantly charming.

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