Thanking Mom

I grew up in Ashland. Each time I come back to visit, I turn a corner and bump headlong into my 10- and 14- and 18-year-old self.

I have a lot of help with this. Others call her Judy, but I know her as Mom. No matter how far I travel or how grown-up I feel, my mother and my hometown have a way of working together to remind me of who I am and what really matters.

This week's visit was no exception. On Monday, Mom and I were in the car on our way to Market of Choice. I have had a driver's license for over two decades and not received a single ticket, but in Mom's mind, it is still 1987, the year I rolled her old Mazda on a dirt road up above Lithia Park. Whenever we are together in her car, I am not allowed to drive. Anywhere. No exceptions.

I glance over at her as she downshifts. "Mom, your sweatpants have a hole in them — and they're stained!" I say.

"Oh Angela," she sighs, her turn signal indicating left as she switches to the right lane, befuddling the drivers behind us. "There are so many more important things to think about. Like world hunger. You should get upset about starving children instead of my clothes."

"Why can't I worry about both?" I ask, but she just shakes her head. Looking out the window as we drive through downtown, I notice that Ashland seems to weigh in on Mom's side. There aren't many Prada purses or perfect pedicures on display, but plenty of fliers for free nature walks, meditation classes and public lectures at SOU.

We moved to Ashland when I was in the fifth grade. The fields I used to cut through to get to Helman School have given way to condos. Blue Mountain Café, where I'd buy chocolate chip cookies after class at AHS, has been replaced by a gleaming fire station. Yet many other things remain the same: the golden play of light against the foothills at sunset, the warm smell of fir trees on Strawberry Lane, the friendly way that strangers greet one another as they pass along the street.

As an adult, I have lived in New York, Cape Town and London. Friends from abroad laugh when I tell them that my ideal home is either a metropolis of at least 3 million people or Ashland, population 21,630. They don't understand that what I love about big city life exists here too: walkable neighborhoods, ambitious art, music and theater, people trying to change the world, the sense that anything is possible.

This Mother's Day, I want to thank Mom not only for her enduring level-headedness and unfaltering love, but also for bringing our family here to Ashland all those years ago. I'm sure that there are other far-flung children who will be calling home on Sunday — and feeling the same way.

Angela Uherbelau graduated from Ashland High School in 1989. She is now a freelance writer living in London.

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