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This is my mom, Erna. Today is her birthday. She would have been seventy-four years old. She was kind and generous and loving, and made the best pork chops on the planet, and while I’ve kind of emotionally gaff-taped together a way to live without her, I still miss her like crazy.

I’m forever grateful for her, and my dad, and the way they cared for us and encouraged us over the years. Our family wasn’t without problems, of course, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize just how many people experienced such horrifically dysfunctional parenting — I guess it makes me want to tell people about her, and my dad, which is kind of all I can do now since I can’t tell them directly that I’ve sorted this stuff out.

They were the kind of parents that would make a pot of coffee and hang out with my friends to help them through their bullshit, and would love them and encourage them and give them a little bit of hope, and have them over on holidays and on regular days when they didn’t have anywhere else to go. Or couldn’t bring themselves to go where they were supposed to go. Kind of like picking up strays, you know? Tending to them and loving them up before they sent them back out into the world to go deal with whatever was coming next.

The first Fourth of July after my dad died, I stopped over the house, and she was sitting out on the back deck alone and a little melancholy, with a glass of wine and a transistor radio, watching the neighbors shooting off fireworks. It struck me right in the center of my chest, how she was kind of okay and not okay all at once, with the music on for company, never once telling us she needed anything and shooing us off to wherever we were all headed that night.

I’ve about that night almost every time I’ve heard or seen fireworks since.

Anyway. I can only hope to age as gracefully as she did, and be half the woman she was, in whatever amount of time I get to spend on the planet.

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