My Lost Mother’s Last Receipt
It was my little sister, Anna, who found the purse.
“Was this hers?” she asked.
One of our brothers nodded. “Must be the last one she ever used.”
It had been 20 years since our mother died. Twenty to the day since her funeral.
But we hadn’t been looking for mementos; we’d just been cleaning out the garage. I’d unearthed a painting of the Roald Dahl title character Matilda dedicated to me by the book’s illustrator, Quentin Blake. Anna stumbled on a writing assignment from second grade, where she said she wanted to grow up to “be an art-school girl” but also “study shells and emotions.”
不过，那天我们不是在找点什么来睹物思人，只是在清理车库。我挖出了一幅罗尔德·达尔(Roald Dahl)小说《玛蒂达》(Matilda)主角的画像，是那本书的插画师昆汀·布莱克(Quentin Blake)题赠给我的。安娜则意外发现了她小学二年级的作文，里面写着她长大以后想当个“念艺术学校的女孩”，同时要“研究贝壳与情感”。(《玛蒂达》于1996年改编成电影，由本文作者饰演主角──译注)
Earlier that week, my sister and I had visited our mother’s grave, me for the first time. She had been a beloved daughter, wife and mother — “devoted to children,” the marker read. I was 8 when she died. My brothers were 17, 15 and 13. Anna had just turned 3.
“Tell me things you remember about her,” Anna said while we sat by her grave. Not the big things, which she already knew, but the small, day-to-day things.
“Her favorite movie was ‘Sullivan’s Travels.’ She hated ‘Love Story.’ She had a low speaking voice, but could sing soprano. She was so good at calligraphy she hand-lettered her own wedding invitations. She would help me write notes to the Tooth Fairy and set out grapes and raisins for her. She ate tomatoes like they were apples.”
“她最喜欢的电影是《苏利文的旅行》(Sullivan's Travels)。她讨厌《爱情故事》(Love Story)。她说话的声音很低，却能唱女高音。她写得一手好书法，她的婚礼请柬都是自己写的。她会帮我写纸条给牙仙子、摆些葡萄跟葡萄干给它；她像吃苹果那样吃西红柿。”
Our mother was known as the only Burbank Unified School District board member who could use two expletives in one sentence. Many seemed to find her intimidating, but after her death, several people told us, “Your mother was my best friend.” She was talented and theatrical, and yet she never had a career. Instead she had five children. None of us could imagine anyone smarter or stronger than her.
I became a child actor at 5, and after some unexpected successes, my mother took on the role of manager. She never would have called herself that — her biggest fear was being labeled a “stage mother” — but it’s what she was, and she was good at it. On film sets, she never let me out of her sight. I was there to do a job, and she was there to make sure I did it safely and took it seriously. Out of all of us, she and I probably spent the most time together. I’m grateful I had that, though I regret every day the time I took away from my siblings.
Our father remarried when I was a teenager, and Anna was adopted by our stepmother, whom she calls “Mom” or “Inay,” the Filipino word for mother. She has since taken on several of our stepmother’s mannerisms — saying she is going to “close the lights,” eating with a fork and spoon, instead of a fork and knife. She remembers very little of her birth mother. As a child, she once told me, “You made a face like Mama just now,” and another time, she cried when I sang her a song our mother used to sing. But that was all she seemed to remember. For a long time, she had only one photo of herself with our mother, and none of them alone together.
We took the purse upstairs. The leather was worn, and the hinge didn’t quite close.
“She never zipped or buttoned her purses shut,” my brother said. I smiled. I never seem to do that, either.
Gingerly, we started looking through it. The first thing we found was a date and address book. There, in her handwriting, were entries for people like Sally Field and Danny DeVito, my earliest co-stars. A week after what would be her last day, she had written, “Fly to D.C.”
我们开始小心翼翼地查看包里有些什么。我们发现的第一样东西是一本行事历兼通讯录。上面有她亲笔记录的莎莉·菲尔德(Sally Field)、丹尼·德维托(Danny DeVito)这些人，是在我的演艺生涯最初时与我合演的明星。在她生命最后一天的一周之后，她写着“飞往华盛顿特区”。
“Oh, that’s right,” my brother said. “We were supposed to go to Virginia. But …”
We found unopened makeup, a pill bottle full of medicine to be taken “as needed.” We found a photo of a guru and an invoice from a yoga instructor. When traditional medicine failed to halt her cancer, our mother had turned to herbs and acupuncture. I don’t know if she believed in that stuff, but it did seem to make her more comfortable. Except the time I found her in the kitchen, dumping a smoothie down the drain. “Ugh!” she sputtered, “Fish oil!”
At the bottom of the purse, we pulled out a receipt.
“This is from the day she died,” our brother said. “I remember talking to her that day before school. That morning, she was lucid. That night, she … wasn’t.”
I remembered, too. Do you think she knew, I wanted to ask? But I couldn’t. “What’s it for?”
He hesitated for a moment. “Baby clothes. Toddler size.”
We turned to look at Anna. She sat still, looking straight ahead.
“Can I take the purse?” she said, at last, quietly. “I want to get it fixed.”
We don’t know who our mother would have been if she hadn’t worked menial jobs and raised five children. We don’t know who she would have been if she had beat cancer, the way she had promised us she would. But with her last act, she showed us who she was: a woman devoted to her children, to the very end.
“Is there anything you want to keep?” Anna asked me the next morning, before we said our goodbyes.
I thought of all the photos of me and my mother, the years I got to spend with her that Anna never had.
“No, that’s O.K.,” I told Anna. “You keep it all.”