CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If a woman said she received a lawn mower as a gift and it made her cry, most people would assume the tears were because she felt it was impersonal or she loathed practical gifts.
The thing is, this particular woman (me) happens to love practical gifts, and she knew the people who gave it (my parents) did so out of a simple desire to help.
The baffling part was my tears. Especially since I could've sworn I'd installed waterproof seals on my tear ducts.
I mean, I could understand a new mower bringing tears (of relief) to that poor Realtor trying to sell the house next door to our overgrown corner lot. But I couldn't figure out what it was about the gift that made my throat tighten, time and again.
It didn't make sense until I was driving home from work, alone in my car, half-listening to a talk radio conversation about Mother's Day between two or three men. None of the men still had a mom, and when one man referred to himself as an orphan, it clicked. I understood the reason for my lawnmower tears.
Not long after Papap Frankwich -- my mom's dad -- died back in 1990, I remember walking into my parent's kitchen and finding Mom staring at her telephone, deep in thought. She and Papap used to talk on the phone all the time, with him starting most every call by rattling off something in Polish, his gunshot at the start of the race -- "And we're off!"
That day, I remember Mom looking up at me and saying, "I'm an orphan."
What occurred so suddenly to her that day clicked differently for me as I drove in my car. For her it was the realization that, regardless of her age, she was an orphan. For me, it was that, regardless of my age, I was still someone's child.
My parents knew I'd been down, that my run of bad luck had been going on so long it qualified as a marathon. They knew I had trouble asking for help. That I wouldn't ask. That even if they offered, I might not accept.