Cool and my mom 

"Helloo Franklin, good to see you!" I chirped two weeks ago at a high school friend I'd not seen in years.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not Franklin," said the now-obviously-total-stranger, edging away, back to the wall.

It had happened again. Momentarily, I was Peggy Gunn, circa 1970.

"Helloo Helen! Oh, you're not Helen. Sorry!" Peggy, my mother, would call through the windshield, beeping the horn and waggling her fingers at strangers as my brother and I, mortified, slid down below view in the back seat of the station wagon.

"You think you know everybody. Helloo stop sign! Helloo mailbox!" we mimicked, vowing we'd never make such fools of ourselves.

Thus resolved, I proceeded through my childhood, my teens, twenties and thirties, in dogged pursuit of that elusive quality, "being cool." I wasn't sure what cool was, but I knew what it wasn't.

Cool and my mom? Not even in the same galaxy.

For starters, my mom went to church. Twice a week. Definitely not cool.

Yet, only recently I've remembered that back then, in the 1960's and 1970's, when Savannah's public schools were segregated, my mom's little church had black members as well as white members. The congregation wasn't much for having social events, but when they did, everyone was invited. One small happy family.

About that same time my un-cool mom befriended two gentlemen, aged fortyish, that moved to town. They lived in a tidy cottage on Talahi Island. They never had any girlfriends. They went everywhere together. They were kind, smart, and funny, but different in a way that my dense pre-teen sensibilities did not understand. What Mom saw in them I could not fathom.

The un-hipness of my mother knew no bounds. Newly single in the 1970's, she took acting classes at Armstrong, gave a classical piano recital after years of lessons, and traveled with old friends, or made new ones, on trips to Tahiti, Egypt, the Holy Land. If she read a book and liked it, she'd write a letter to the author. Sometimes they became pen pals.

Meanwhile I continued my search, moving to Athens and then the west coast, aiming for the cool chick persona, consistently missing the mark.

In 1994, returning to Savannah, I worried that living in the same town as my mother might cramp my girl-about-town lifestyle. It never occurred to me that my presence here might box her in. And it turns out, it hasn't.

I call them "Peggy Sightings"-the reports from acquaintances telling me where they've spied my mother. "Just saw your mom leaving Brighter Day," a friend will tell me over coffee. "Saw your mom at the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority," I'm told by a former colleague.

"Saw your mom at Pilates," I'll hear the next afternoon. That sighting I'm used to, as she's been going twice a week for nearly ten years, the doyenne of the advanced class at the Islands Y.

Instead of a weekly game of bridge, Mom and three of her grade school girlfriends have a weekly 9:30 a.m. tennis match at Daffin Park. Instead of the garden club, Mom's photo recently appeared on Facebook, attending Jane Fishman's Spring Plant Swap. Instead of water aerobics, in the summertime Mom often cuts our phone visits short with, "It's high tide so I'm going for a swim" in Turners Creek, behind her house.

Sometimes we'll hit the streets together, like this past March when we took a short road trip to Monteith Community for the Collard Greens Festival. Among the crowd we spotted the state senator for my district and introduced ourselves. Seconds later, Mom whipped out her real estate business card and handed it over, mentioning a property she has listed in his district he might be interested in.

There was a pause while he looked at her card, then over at us.
I shrugged at him, "What can I say?"
"Mom is a player," he replied, eyebrows up, head nodding slightly.

Many times on separate outings, Mom and I have crossed paths, unplanned--at the Jewish Food Festival, at a Creative Minds lecture at Country Day, and on one airless June evening in 2005, when I bumped into her at Grayson Stadium.

At the Bob Dylan concert. On the field, just behind the "mosh pit."

She was wearing a khaki skirt and a little white blouse that sported a circular, teal "OT" sticker, leftover from a visit to the Owens Thomas House earlier that day. No ironic black t-shirt or deliberately scrunched straw cowboy hat for her.

Mom's way too cool for that.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, from your favorite daughter.


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Robin Wright Gunn

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