Sunday, March 17, 2013

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, WHILE WE WERE STILL IN FLORIDA, MY MOM CAME TO STAY WITH US FOR A FEW DAYS. The prospect was strange and nerve-wracking as I hadn't spent five straight days with her since our last family vacation as a pre-teen. Come to think of it, we were more the weekend warrior types, road-tripping or camping in quick, tumultuous spurts rather than jetting to some foreign place for two weeks at a time. So perhaps we hadn't spent five entire days together since I was a toddler, in those few, spare years before school would separate us for most of each day.

Skipping ahead, though, it was wonderful. I think she felt it, too, a sense of togetherness and focus we hadn't experienced in so long. Quiet enjoyment, and also a lot of talking. I asked to hear stories I'd heard before and others that were new. And she told them, gladly and openly. We talked about her father, who left them when she was 12, and her mom, who died when I was 6. She told me how my dad moved into their house shortly after they met (at 14 and 16 years old) and how he helped pay the household bills. She told me how he saved her family all those years ago. She talked about loyalty. She talked about marriage at 18 and two kids by 20 and how hard that was. She talked about the full-time job of guarding us from certain realities. These topics weren't hard or painful - just the facts. My mom is nothing if not to-the-point, rarely one to editorialize, but hearing these stories felt different this time.

I've written a lot about my dad over the years, but rarely my mom. I think, maybe, it was because I didn't really get her. The Hudson gene is strong and repetitive, so I have a good understanding of crazy, myself included. But my mom isn't crazy at all. She is, I've come to discover, the least crazy person I know. But when you're the quiet centre in a household of chaos and neurosis, you somehow seem the strangest of the lot.

With all this time behind us, I'm beginning to see who she was. Her pivotal role in our family unit was never in question, but through the lens of adulthood I have a better understanding. I wrote the bit below in 2005, but it took me all these years to understand what I actually meant by it.

*       *       *

My mom existed as a series of noises. You wouldn't necessarily know she was there if it weren't for a teaspoon clinking the side of her coffee mug, or the way you could hear her ankles crack with every step. She existed only in noises. The thin, glossy newsprint pages of Women's World Weekly turning between sips of overly-sweetened Maxwell House. The way she breathed loudly though her mouth, sucking oxygen through a DuMaurier King Sized Ultra Light. 

She existed in noises. The sound of her flipping between the country music channel and Donahue. The sound of knitting needles clicking together, like a mouse nibbling on a piece of plastic-coated cheese. Her pen scratching out crossword puzzles, or tapping on the table as she thought through words. As technology advanced, she became a series of clicks and double-clicks when she discovered Solitaire before Tetris and Mahjongg replaced the mouse with even-quieter arrow keys. The computer was at the back of our family room where I'd sit watching the Home Shopping Channel, reminded of her presence through an occasional lung-congested cough or that soothing, muted tech-noise. In our 800 square foot bungalow, she was always nearby.

When she did talk, it was often frantic and explosive, as if a pressure-valve had given way. She'd arrive home from work on a summer afternoon to find my sister and I hadn't done the dishes or suitably stacked a pile of Star magazines on the end table. She'd wonder what we'd done with ourselves all day while she and our father had worked so hard to provide us with all the things we had. We'd listen, sometimes argue, and always steal glances at each other while she slammed something against the countertop. Perhaps, subconsciously, we neglected household chores so she'd speak to us. 

Then Mom would go back to her noises before shouting "Dinner!" and quiet again until our nightly viewing of Jeopardy! As a family, we'd sit together and watch her win every time. It was her most sociable time of day: one word every 8 seconds or so. I kept score. As I got older and more sophisticated, I paid very close attention, giving the same number of points the contestants were awarded on TV, and taking them away for a wrong answer, smugly striking 1000 points. Eventually my mom stopped winning; my sister and I started knowing the answers, and she couldn't get a word in edgewise. 

She wasn't a bad mother. Not even close. She loved us in practical, tangible ways. But she was lucky my sister and I were always sensitive enough to read smoke signals and auditory tea leaves. Had we been troubled, we would've needed more proof, more of her attention. As it was, she and I self-sufficient and tended to by one another, we didn't require much more. She was there if we needed help bedecking Barbie in one of her more-difficult, one-piece ensembles, or if the drawstring had become inextricably lost in the waistband of our pyjama pants. We had wordless communication, simply handing over a wrinkly shirt and getting it back later, ironed dutifully, though without a whisper of Mrs. Cleaver-customer service. But there was often butterscotch pudding for dessert and when I had an all-too-common nightmare, she'd toss back the covers and make space for me, without cluttering the air with reassurances, only offering the comfort of her warm breath on the back of my neck.

Perhaps it's the reason I loved crouching in the hall while she chatted on the phone with a girlfriend, absorbing every word and effervescent laughing fit. I wasn't quite sure who this person was, but I knew I liked it when she spoke this way. It might also be the reason my sister and I cannot seem to shut the fuck up at any given point, living an overly-communicated existence, prattling on ad nauseum while our partners roll their eyes. It was, and continues to be, our rebellion against a silent mother, her self-possessed duty to reduce the voices in a deafening home.


  1. Beautifully written.
    The best kind of love story.

  2. You're such a gifted writer. I rarely afford myself time to delve into stories on the internet, but yours -always- draw me in.

  3. Thank you so much, Kate and Desiree. Very kind.

  4. Wow. I don't even know what else to say, except for thank you for writing this. It reminds me so much of my mother and I really appreciate the quotation you shared at the end. I think I've been waiting most of my life for my mom to be the perfect mother. Kind of silly, I suppose.

  5. Omg Jason, your writing is beautiful, just like your photography.


  6. What a picture you have painted with your words. It seems that my late twenties have been consumed with remembering my mother. Questioning who she was, who she is and how I am exactly like her just as much as I am exactly the opposite of her. Family lineage is a strange and wonderful beast.

  7. Seriously great stuff here. That last paragraph killed me.

  8. Thank you, that was beautiful and much needed this morning.