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MOTHER'S GONE, BUT MEMORIES LINGER

ANOTHER MOTHER'S DAY has come and gone, and I, for one, couldn't be happier to put it out of its misery.

So how come I'm still thinking about it?As holidays go, Mother's Day has never been my favorite. All those unrealistic expectations. The good intentions gone bad. The lingering, if misguided, guilt. Who needs it? Aside from mothers, of course.

My mother was not what you'd call easy to please. But she never expected much, materially speaking. Which was good, because she never had much in the way of things.

Six months ago, when she was dying and wanted me to have a keepsake, she gave me a choice: her coat, which was 15 years old and four sizes too small, or a mismatched set of Tupperware, which had long since lost its lids. I opted instead for a piece of costume jewelry, an old metal brooch shaped like a flower, wilted and speckled with rust, that had once been my grandmother's prize.

"That old thing?" my mother said. "You sure you want that?"

She was pleased, I could tell, that I remembered the brooch and especially the story behind it.

It's not much of a story, but I'll tell it. Years ago, my grandmother, who loved rites of passage, took the brooch from her lapel (I can still see the marks it left, two ominous little black holes) and pinned it to my mother's dining room curtain.

"Try not to forget me," she said, stepping back to admire the brooch, "and say nice things about me when I'm gone."

I laugh, still, remembering it. First, there was no chance, none at all, that we'd forget her. Neither would you, had you known her. And second, she had never shown even a passing interest in having "nice things" said about her.

That was but one of the ways they differed, my mother and her mother. Odd, isn't it, how two women can be so different, yet so much the same?

One of the few things they seemed to agree on was the need to keep a clean porch. Every day of their lives, through all kinds of weather, political upheaval and unspeakable family strife, they went out each morning to sweep off a spotless porch.

Personally, I couldn't see it. Still can't. Why sweep a clean porch? It's like rinsing dishes before washing them, or ironing underwear that nobody sees. I can go for weeks without sweeping my porch. Doesn't bother me a bit.

I didn't expect this Mother's Day to bother me, either, any more than all the others I've known. It would be different, yes, this time around, having no one to buy a card for, to send flowers or phone.

Different, but not necessarily bad. I'd take comfort in knowing for the first time in years, my mother was no longer suffering. I pictured her spending the day with her mother, just the two of them, arguing about whatever and sweeping off God's front porch.

It was a good thought, served me well, held me through most of the day.

My husband, who'd just gotten out of the hospital, was happy to have, for once, an airtight excuse for not buying me a gift. And my children? The youngest, the 18-year-old, gave me a book of poems. His sister gave me a potted orchid. And their big brother called long distance with a promise to come home for a visit soon.

I thanked them all for thinking of me. Told them to say nice things about me when I'm gone. I read a few poems, found a spot for the orchid, made plans for when the boy comes home. I fished my grandmother's brooch out of a box and recalled what I learned as a child: The best gift, the real gift, is in the eyes of the giver.

Then I went out to sweep off my porch.