March 8 2020 is International Women’s Day – and in preparation we’re being asked who is an inspiring woman in your life. I just lost mine. My mum died February 25th in her 95th year. She was my hero, the woman I most admired, and certainly a great inspiration to me all my life. I miss her deeply. But I am also deeply grateful for the rich, full experience that came with being her daughter, and I know full well how lucky I am.
My mother drove a stick shift 320i BMW that she deemed her little green jewel, and which, as she smugly informed more than one policeman who pulled her over for speeding, “just loved to fly!” People who rankled her with what she deemed phony behavior and insincere words were summarily dismissed, often with equally offensive language and usually a complete lack of regard for propriety. Cammie Christie not only marched to the beat of her own drum, she led a one woman band for much of her life, never deviating from the path she chose to walk. Sometimes she held a sharp axe in her fist, and was still chopping small trees down at 80; sometimes those lovely hands were covered in kid leather, and folded patiently in her lap while we were in church. I am glad that I have pictures of us holding hands. It is her hands I remember best, last, now that she is gone.
It has been a week since I last saw them, a week since I touched and kissed them goodbye. Such soft, paper thin skin, such a tiny, firm hand in mine – how could it be that it was now so utterly still, utterly stopped? My mother’s hands were rarely still, at least not in my clearest memories of her: clicking knitting needles being wrapped in yarn by deft, swift fingers; floury hands rolling then pinching pie crust over apples neatly pared and sliced; sure palms smoothing and guiding viyella fabric under the needle of her sewing machine, smoothing and pressing viyella shirts under the hot iron; I can see her hands building little fires in her kitchen woodstove with kindling chopped only minutes before. She could strip an antique chair with a thick piece of dull glass, steel wool old metal until it gleamed, and polish by hand hard wood floors. I treasure the memories of her hands at work.
It seemed she was always at work, always busy, always a little distracted by her innumerable tasks, not terribly surprising given that she had six children. My mum was certainly tender with us when she read stories at bedtime, sang lullabies each night, or soothed our brows when we were sick. But in the everyday world outside of our rooms she was not given to fond caresses or pinches on the cheek. Pinches in church to shush us, yes; frequent threats of getting out the wooden spoon, for sure. Memories of impulsive, warm hugs and gently held hands are far and few between. She was the least sentimental person in the world, I thought; she was certainly the busiest.