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My Mother’s Child

In lieu of flowers this Sunday.

By 5.12.06

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You are forever your mother's child. There's no way out, at least for me, even more than four decades after she brought me into this world. Though they might let go of the adult you have become, they never let go of the child you were.

For example. There I was on a blustery, sunny spring afternoon in the isolated berg of Choteau, Montana, tending to my bakery, "ZuZu's-It's a Wonderful Loaf." Blustery as in garbage cans tumbling down the street and into the open plains and my building trembling beneath and a cacophony of wind-whipped whistles, howls and rumbles. Isolated as in two thousand miles away from my mom.

A stranger entered the bakery and looked around the various books and CD's for sale in the gift section. An older fellow, gentle, with a comforting, intelligent face.

"Where you from?" I asked. Funny how I had only lived in Choteau, population 1500, for a year, but could already spot an outsider a mile away.

"Colorado," he replied. "Visiting my mother in the nursing home. I was raised here." His name was Bill Reiquam.

I gave him a cookie to nibble on. Funny how living in an isolated town of 1,500, for only a year at that, you become hungry for the conversation of outsiders. Reiquam's was a comforting voice. We chatted warmly on a number of subjects as I rolled out the sourdough breads. He chanced upon an anthology CD of Moroccan music (complete with a Paul Bowles poem, read by himself).

"I served in Morocco as a doctor when I was young," he offered. "I joined the Air Force after leaving Choteau."

"No kidding! I was born in Casablanca. My dad served there, too, at the U.S. Air Force Base."

Needless to say, that coincidence clinched the Morocco CD sale. I told him to drop by next time he was in town to see his mother at the nursing home.

A short while later the door to the back room of the bakery opened. Rather, Bill Reiquam pushed it open against the blustery wind and stuck his head inside, panting. Funny how the wind can steal your breath.

"When were you born?" he asked.

"September, 1955."

He smiled. "September. Then I was your pediatrician. I held you the very first minute of your life, at the Air Force hospital. I was the only pediatrician there." Funny how sometimes when your mouth can't find words, a few shared smiles, tears and hugs just take over and do the communicating.

The good Doctor Reiquam told me he probably saw me at least once a week for the first six months of my life. The many new American mothers, all of whom lived in apartments scattered throughout Casablanca, were lonely and homesick, and used imaginary illnesses of their babies as an excuse to make the somewhat adventurous journey out to the Air Force Hospital.

"There was nothing wrong with the babies," he said. "I was more of a psychiatrist to lonely mothers in a strange land than I was a pediatrician. And they visited each other in the waiting room. It was the only social gathering place they had."

I had a crazy idea. "I'm sure she'd like to talk to you again. Right now, in fact." I called her on the telephone and re-introduced her to Dr. Reiquam.

"Well," he said softly, no more than a minute into the conversation, "No, that's really nothing to worry about. Many newborns experience a red rash around the neck, where the chin touches the chest. You weren't doing anything wrong. Quite common. It wasn't a problem at all. Don't worry."

Almost fifty years later, and my mother is still worried, genuinely concerned!, about a neck rash I had at six weeks of age! Always my mother's child.

It was only a short time later we learned my mom had lung cancer, and only a short time after that when she breathed her final breath. Every Mother's Day since her passing (the windier the better), I try to take a particularly strenuous bike ride or maybe hike to the top of a mountain peak and make my heart pound and my lungs gulp air so that I may savor the gift of life she gave me and nurtured. For, I believe, her soul still keeps a careful watch on me, forever a mother's child.

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