We can’t live in the world of ‘what if,’ but we can visit and imagine

When she walked into my living room, I couldn’t believe it.

She looked young. Maybe that’s because the last time I saw her, she was 40 — younger than I am right now.

She was wearing jeans, a blue sweatshirt and small, gold earrings.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” I whispered in awe.

“Well, I thought it was time to see where you live,” she said, smiling.

She ran her hand over the piano in the corner.

“Some of the keys don’t work,” she said, not necessarily scolding, but I felt guilty because she was right. I haven’t done a proper job of maintenance, when it comes to her favorite piece of furniture.

“What a good picture of you two,” she said, looking at my wedding photo, which has been hanging on the wall for decades.

We walked around the house, as I gave her a tour. I wanted to ask questions, but something was preventing me from doing so. It was like there was an understanding between the two of us that I couldn’t inquire about certain things. Some things are better left unsaid — that was the thought in my mind.

I felt a certain joy, being with her again. Just the smile on her face made me want to burst with happiness . . . and then . . .

I woke up. Startled, I sat up in bed and looked around the room. It was all just a dream.

“Oh, what if that could have been real?” I thought, as I put my head back on the pillow. “You need to quit having dreams and asking what if,” I silently told myself. “That part of your life was over a long time ago.”

But as I went back to sleep, I was hoping the dream with my mother would continue. It didn’t.

This morning, I thought about the dream. And wondered, what if . . .

I wondered what it would be like if I could actually visit with my mother after all these years. Then I laughed at how stupid I was being. She’s been gone longer than I even knew her. It’s stupid to still miss her — I should be over it, I reasoned. And I am over it. I don’t feel bad about it any longer. But there’s still that gnawing feeling that creeps up every now and again, when I wonder what it would be like to have a mom.

I remember it, but I was just a kid. What would it be like to have a mother, now that I’m an adult? What if?

I imagine that if I could visit her on the farm, she’d show me how to raise the most beautiful flowers. She’d teach me which kinds need to have to full sun, which ones do better in the shade.

I imagine that she’d snip pieces of her giant house plants, start the roots in jars of water for me and then show me how to repot them . . . and keep them alive.

I imagine that she would still make scrambled eggs in the microwave (weird, but her way) and that she’d still mix up Watergate salad for every family gathering.

I imagine that she’d be addicted to her big bunch of wonderful grandchildren, going to their sporting events, sitting in their speech meets and recitals, their livestock shows, their graduations and coming of age events, and beaming from ear to ear. She’d marvel at the adults some of them are becoming and the amazing triumphs the young ones are experiencing.

I imagine my husband having long talks with her at the big kitchen table. They always did before. She was supportive of his dreams and goals, I’m sure she’d be proud of the man he turned out to be. And she’d marvel that he can tolerate me.

I imagine her reading my column. Isn’t that stupid? I wonder what she’d think about me telling our family stories and if she’d be embarrassed. I’m guessing the answer is probably.

I imagine hearing her voice at the other end of the telephone. She’d probably love the theory of the small cell phones we have now. I don’t think she even had a big bag phone, back in the day. I can still see her all wrapped up in the extra long phone cord, as she talked with my Aunt Susie while she did the dishes.

I imagine her decorating her Christmas tree with the grandkids’ homemade ornaments and showing them how to string popcorn and cranberries. She didn’t believe in Martha Stewart-style designer trees and such. She said ornaments needed to be hand-made, with flaws and imperfections. She didn’t even like the tree itself to be perfect, she’d always pick the odd ball “because it is unique.” Wow, she would have loved some of my messes over the years!

I imagine her peeling apples and making homemade ice cream with her hand-churned maker. Everything always had to be from scratch.

I imagine her driving a pickup into the yard on the farm — wearing her overshoes and water-proof vest. But in my world of what if, she wouldn’t have to work so much. At this point in the game, if she were still alive, she’d just be the boss lady while my brothers and their employees did all the hard work.

I imagine her with her sisters, sitting in Aunt Linda’s kitchen, drinking coffee, talking about corn prices, raising chickens and their latest methods of losing weight while eating butterscotch pudding on a graham cracker crust.

I imagine her still lamenting her flat chest, coloring her gray hair and looking for makeup that makes her look young.

I imagine her hanging clothes on the line, even though she’d now have a drier in her house. Back in the day, our house wasn’t big enough for the appliance, so it had to be kept in an outside shed. She always said there would come a day that she could dry clothes in the house — but she’d still hang them up with clothespins because she liked the smell.

I imagine her coming to visit, just like she did in my dream. But when she’d leave, she’d say “see you soon.”

We can’t live in the world of what if. But it’s fun to visit every once in a while, if we just imagine.


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