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Remembering Addie on Mother's Day

I miss my mom. I miss my mom. I could fill this page with those four little words.

Mom would've hated that. When I was feeling morose, she'd give me a hug and tell me to "stop eating worms."

Mary Adeline "Addie" Dorn Smith was a bootstrap optimist who saw little point in bemoaning life's challenges.

"Go put your face on and get out in the world. You never know what the day will bring," she'd say.

I was a late-life baby, the youngest of her three offspring. Mom was in her mid-40s when I was born in 1957. It never occurred to her to worry about the possible risks to either of us.

"I guess I was just too dumb to know," she'd say with a shrug.

Hardly. The woman did daily crossword puzzles into her 90s. She said it kept her brain from "moldering."

The story goes that I arrived precisely nine months after my parents enjoyed a wild weekend in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"Ha! I was an accident," I'd say.

"No, dear. You were a surprise," she'd respond with a twinkle.

She never budged from her position that I was a welcome addition to the family. Amazing. I can barely care for an aging dog and two parrots. I can't imagine facing menopause while raising a baby — and two teenagers.

Apparently, daily naps were the key to our mutual survival. One of my earliest memories involves a nap we shared when I was about 3.

Having survived the Great Depression and two world wars, Mom was resilient. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw her cry. But this particular afternoon, Mom's face was turned into her pillow, and she had a handkerchief in her hand.

"Are you crying?" I asked, snuggling up against her on the king-size bed.

She was sad about Uncle Bob, she said. Stroking my ponytail, she hummed my favorite lullaby until we both fell asleep.

In my young mind, my uncle was a charismatic candy man who loved to tease Mom by giving me gumdrops — sometimes before breakfast.

"Robert! You're going to spoil her rotten," she'd scold. "And rot her teeth!" she'd add, snapping her kitchen towel at him.

Her oldest brother had suffered a fatal heart attack that day. Later, I felt badly I'd had no words of comfort for her. But life has taught me there are no perfect words. Only love.

Mom always said I kept her young. In truth, I gave her gray hairs.

My teenage boyfriend rode motorcycles. She adored him. Hated his bike. One summer day we rode to a mountain lake, promising to be back before dark. Of course we broke down.

There were no cell phones. Not even a pay phone. As day slipped into night, I wondered how long I'd be grounded.

We finally made it home shortly before 10 p.m. My answers were well-rehearsed.

"It wasn't my fault. I'm fine. You worry too much. I'm almost an adult."

But the lights were out. The house dark and silent. Maybe I could sneak in. Undetected. Unpunished.

Closing the door softly, I heard a sound in the living room. Choked and muffled.

"Mom? Why are you standing here in the dark?"

Only an teenager could ask such a question.

The streetlight illuminated her face as she crossed before the window. That her child was safe hadn't yet fully registered. Before Mom could don the proper parental mask, the pain in her eyes nearly dropped me to my knees.

My adolescent world shifted on its axis. I realized she existed as a person. Not simply a mother, preordained to nag me about rules, fix my lunch or patiently listen to my problems. I wanted to be her friend, as well as her daughter.

Three years ago, Mom had a stroke. She was 93. Her body was failing. But her mind, and her sense of humor, were still strong. "Bully for me!" she hollered when the ER doc told Mom about her condition.

I slept in her hospital room one long night. We talked between short naps. Though she truly loved life, she was ready to die. Still, this great-grandmother worried about her baby girl.

"I'm tired," Mom said, reaching for my hand. "I'm ready to go. Will you be OK?"

I smiled. Gave her a squeeze. And lied through my teeth.

"Yes, Mom. You can go. And I'll be fine. I promise," I said. She died two weeks later.

I am fine. Except that I miss my best friend.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.