I was most fortunate when I was 5 years old, because I got to spend an entire morning -- every morning -- alone with my mother. Looking back now on that time of my life, I realize the truth in the words written by the philosopher Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward." Each of those precious mornings did indeed set me up for the course my life would take, but the true sweetness for me is in remembering.
I usually got out of bed shortly after the clamor associated with getting my older brother and sister off to school disappeared. When I thought it safe enough to emerge from my cozy cocoon -- my dog, Skipper, curled imperiously next to me -- I furtively made my way down the ancient, creaky stairs, every day changing where I stepped, hoping I could trick them into not announcing my arrival so that I could sneak up on my mother and give her a good fright.
There was almost always a betrayal from at least one step, though, and then I would abandon the game and head to the old-fashioned kitchen, where my mother hunched over her back-breakingly low sink, washing the dishes.
The house was quiet except for her humming. If it happened to be an exceptionally radiant day -- and it frequently was -- she broke out in scratch song as she prepared my toast with her own homemade strawberry jam, or my bowl of oatmeal, buried in butter and cinnamon and brown sugar.
The sweet fragrance of the lilac tree just outside our kitchen windows poured inside to me as I gazed out at my parents' "back 40" -- actually only two acres but a veritable haven to me, truly a heaven brought to earth.
I tingled with joy as I listened to my mother sing, "Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I've got a wonderful feeling, everything's going my way." I was especially fascinated, as she continued into the best part of the song, with the image of corn as high as an elephant's eye. My father had lots of corn in the back yard and I wished that I could bring an elephant into our cornfield some day and see if our corn would reach his eye!
When my breakfast was ready, I ate it slowly while my mother settled next to me with a second cup of coffee. Together we planned how we should spend the morning hours before I would depart for my afternoon kindergarten class.
Sometimes we planned a "work" day, but somehow activities like planting flowers, baking bread and cookies, or raking leaves never seemed like chores to me. Other days we decided to simply play. We made friends with a saucy red squirrel who perched on our front porch railing every morning. We searched for new crocuses poking up through the grass. We visited our friends or strolled to the library. Every morning held something special for us.
When it was time for me to leave for kindergarten, my mother accompanied me the long length of our street -- appropriately named Pleasant Avenue -- and around the corner onto busy Central Avenue. Along the way, we passed my favorite house in the world -- an oversized dollhouse.
These memories I will forever cherish. My mother, dead now, continued to bathe me in her love throughout my life. It is in the looking back that I am able to navigate my way forward. It is in the looking back that I am able to recognize and embrace the true richness of my life, knowing that such a legacy must be passed forward as unselfishly as it was given to me. Therein lies my future.
K. Joanne Miller, of East Aurora, cherishes the time she spent alone with her beloved mother.