I’ll Be There

“kitten,” my mother said to me one day, “you should be my mother.”

I was all of 14 years old, the oldest girl in a family of eight kids. I had dreams of becoming an actor and was painting a rhapsodic picture of my future in the theater when Mother offered her outlandish suggestion. “You’re strong, capable, sturdy,” she said. “You would be a great mother.”

We both laughed at the absurdity of it, the sheer eccentricity, but she went on to say how much she missed having a mother. Hers had died when she was very young. “You can’t get over it,” she said. “It’s a gap you never fill.”

She herself was a wonderful mother, though not much of a housekeeper—the laundry proliferated on top of the washing machine, there was never enough toilet paper or soap, and she hardly looked at what she was cleaning. But she was full of laughter and creativity.

An artist at heart, she converted a bedroom in our rambling house on the outskirts of Dubuque, Iowa, into

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