My mother’s laughter was like a waterfall. Loud, fluid, bigger than any room she occupied. She is not here anymore, but fortunately her laughter remains.
It was (and is) cobbled with layers and textures and memories of home.
It was home.
As a child, if we were separated in the grocery store or movie theatre, I could always find her before she found me. I’d stop, listen, and sure enough within a minute or so, her bubbly eruption would fill my ears; implausibly loud and long. That infectious wave of mirth made others within earshot happy too. More than strangers would recall her appearance; they would have been able to pluck her laugh from a sound booth.
It was genuine delight, sunshine and wonder. Unapologetic, free, and easy.
You could see the fillings in her back teeth, watch her nose twitch a little before the ruckus began, and get startled by the sometimes midway snort. Her whole body shook.
If I had to give it a color, that laugh was blood orange – bright and juicy. Sometimes when it went on for minutes, she’d start fanning herself as if she’d just run a marathon, take a breath and start in again. It was so beyond a belly laugh that when I heard the phrase “cracking up,” I knew it had been coined for her kind of laughter.
Looking back, I don’t know what she found so funny most of the time, or how she still had laughter in her after growing up in the racist, sexist, depression era times that she did or surviving my father who was more married to drink and violence.
If you drilled into her psyche, you would find a tale of two women. One – The baby of the big family who liked to have fun, finagle her way out of chores with a Lena Horn charm, and who high school friends voted Most Liked. Two – the better half of a torrential and wrong marriage with too many kids and too little money, who free of my father, miraculously found her way back to simple school-girl pleasures. Shopping, Saturday matinees, fried chicken, chocolate, card games, action flicks, romance novels, and dancing.
Some years after she retired, I suddenly noticed duller facial expressions and The Laugh was gone. Just poof. Gone. Friends said signs of aging whither vitality, like maybe she was too worn out for emotion after six decades. I never expected The Laugh to disappear, so I stubbornly took her to a doctor and pointed it out to him too with an expression that undoubtedly shouted “Fix her!” After some tests, he said she’d probably had a series of mini strokes and it was what it was.
If I had known I was never going to hear it again, I would have savored the last laugh. Without it, she was a shell of herself as her health rapidly flew downhill. She wasn’t a hugger or into heart-to-heart talks, but that laughter filled in a lot of those intimacy gaps and I found a richness to it that almost satisfied my heart. Whatever love is beyond pure emotion, it is an indelible grip of sight and sound that connects us, present or absent. For me with her, it was largely The Laugh, so without it, I felt a sort of frustration, sadness, disappointment and grief that could have been spread over ten people or two life times.
I missed that thing. That wonderful thing that for so long provided deep-down joy and comfort without any words.
These days, though, it rings out again, like yesterday at Central Intelligence, a corny action packed feel-good movie. I foolishly scanned the theatre for the source as others were turning to smile at me—the source.