If it were any other institution besides the Institute of Lucillology, I might expect a whopping 100 billion dollar bill for the courses (10 katrillion dollars after applying the avalanche of delinquency charges - Hello, Georgia Institute of Technology!) -
WALKING 5/3/75 - 7/15/75 $500 million
TALKING 7/23/74 - 5/19/78 $100 million
DRINKING FROM A CUP 11/26/75 - 12/24/75 $10 million
USING A FORK 9/2/77 - 10/18/77 $10 million
GOOD GRAMMAR 7/23/74 - PRESENT $200 zillion
But not only does she have no intention of ever billing me for her services, the fact that she never complained about administering her services warrants canonization, if not popehood. That I still use these lessons on a daily basis not only attests to her level of excellence but to the incalculable market value of her services. Which is to say: There is no way I can possibly repay her.
And so, while I am not one to get caught up in the commercial craze of holidays - never been big on birthdays, Christmas, etc. - I do hold Mother's Day (and Father's Day, for that matter) holy. And so it is that I end up in this panic annually in the second week of May.
Before I go any further I should tell you some things about my mother. Lucille is not a fussy woman - she rarely wears make-up or perfume; doesn't wear dangling earrings or much in the way of jewelry; doesn't care particularly for fancy restaurants; and her favorite color is BEIGE.
"Beige?" I, an eight year old, questioned, as if she had just defied a law of physics.
"That's not a color. What's your favorite color? "
"Beige is a color."
"No, I mean like red or purple or green."
"Oh," she said, as if she had never considered red or purple or green. "Well, then... tan!"
Which is all to say that my mother has simple tastes. And while this may lead one to believe that it is easy to make her happy, quite the contrary is true. It took me years to learn that her very genuine "That's nice" upon receiving gifts was a showing of genuine appreciation - not genuine happiness.
Over the years through trial and error, through permanently-closeted mohair sweaters and still-shrinkwrapped music cassettes, I managed to figure out that my mother likes three things: 1) a nice meal, 2) shopping, and 3) flowers.
Which is to say that I have seen my mother genuinely happy before, and that is a joy greater than any in the world. But as I am settling into the role of artist, as 'the cultured one' in the family, I feel an added responsibility to produce something beyond brunch, beyond a bouquet of roses - something one-of-a-kind to make her happy.
This year I decided on the Atlanta Botanical Gardens' "The Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour," a 13-home tour of Atlanta's finest private gardens which have been opened to the public. After reading samples from the brochure:
1. BERNADINE & JEAN-PAUL RICHARD 1295 Heards Ferry Rd., Atlanta, Ga. 30328 Sandy Springs. Eight fabulous acres rich with whimsy include a fanciful symphony garden, terrace garden, tropical lily garden, and notable Cunninghamia stand. Tiny stone chapel, meditation garden and labyrinth, abundant water features, sparkling fountains and stream. Dreamy stone garden house.
4. NANCY & JOHN WILLIAMS 4615 Northside Dr. NW, Atlanta, Ga, 30327 North Buckhead Ten-acre tour de force never before on tour! Entry drive, 1/3-acre lake, notable Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’, largest in the U.S. Formal oval garden, “ruins”, rose, vegetable, hillside and hydrangea gardens. Streams play into koi ponds. Easy living includes pool and treehouse/ playground areas.
Between "largest in the U.S.," "ten acre tour de force," the scientific names I couldn't pronounce, and "ruins" - a house with ruins? - she would be bombarded with beauteousness-ness. I was sold.
And so on Sunday, Mother's Day, a little before noon, car shined and I, freshly showered and groomed, floated through cloudless skies to a ticket location, the Buckhead Pike Nurseries, to pick up my passway to my Mother's happiness.
It was a hive of activity. I had to wait in a line of five - on a Sunday morning no less - just to purchase.
When I finally reached the register:
"I'm sorry," the cashier said, "but we don't have any more tickets."
"What!" I said before I knew it as my heart crashed through the floor.