She wears her black and white housecoat, a nightgown and sandals.
It is Easter morning. My mother stands in her driveway, racquet in hand. Cars slow down, drivers curious about the woman playing tennis in her pajamas.
“I look like heck,” she says, running her hand through unbrushed hair.
Laughing, she curtseys, smiling for my camera before gently serving to her granddaughters. Despite their erratic racquet swings, my mother offers encouragement. A winner of several past tournaments, she plays year-round and is a patient coach.
“You guys are learning early,” she tells my daughters. “I didn’t start playing until 1968.”
In 1968, my mother was 32. She gave birth that year to twin girls — the last of six daughters. Her large family kept her busy, running from one task to the next. I do not remember my mother sitting when I was a child. She was, and still is, always in motion.
On this warm Sunday morning, she is a few days shy of celebrating her 79th birthday. Yet she has the curiosity of a 10-year-old and the stamina of a person half her age.
My mother crams more into a day than I do in a week. In a 12-hour stretch, she will have hung and taken in a few loads of laundry from the clothesline (trudging through snow in winter), weeded her vegetable and flower gardens, baked muffins, cookies or a cake, played a game of tennis, cleaned her house, worked on a couple sewing projects, and prepared dinner for herself and my father.
The eldest child of Daniel and Mabel Enis, Patricia Ann grew up in the Highlands of Lowell, Massachusetts. The daughter of millworkers, she learned the value of hard work and a good wage. Her mother also taught Patricia to bake, cook and the importance of hospitality in the home. Her father shared his passion for travel. On weekends (sometimes in the middle of the night), he packed his five kids and wife into the sedan and set off determined to find adventure and new vistas.
Carrying on her father’s wanderlust, my mother has traveled to Switzerland, Portugal, England, Ireland and New York City with my sisters and me, trips she savored more than all of us put together. Decades past, during a New York City excursion, she was so thrilled to be with her six daughters, she skipped like Dorothy along a Manhattan street singing “Follow the yellow brick road.” Caught up in her routine, she tripped and lost her footing. A city laborer poked his head from a nearby manhole to find my mother on the ground laughing.
During the early 1990s in Ireland, with me relegated as a passenger (after I clipped a mirror off a bus), my mother drove along narrow and winding country roads. She navigated around sheep, cows and steep cliffs as she sang to an Irish tape and a newly discovered favorite song, “Down at the Red Rose Cafe.” From our car windows, the music blared, and her voice carried the lyrics as Irish farmers smiled at the two Yanks passing by.
Later on this Easter day that began with an impromptu tennis game in the driveway, she sits at a table surrounded by family. Her eight grandchildren sing an early happy birthday song to her and offer gifts. In the card to her grandmother, my daughter Emma writes: “I love you Grammy. You make me feel good.”
That night I lie awake thinking about my mom, and I realize no matter where she is or who she is with, my mother makes everyone feel good. Visions of her skipping down a Manhattan street and serenading Irish farmers prompt me to smile in the dark. And I know then, and have always known, that I want to be like her, 79 years young, laughing in my housecoat, teaching tennis to my granddaughters and making memories that will never fade.
A Maine resident, Barbara Walsh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm.” She grew up in Pelham, New Hampshire, where her parents still live. She has yet to make a sour cream coffee cake as good as her mother’s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.