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Once upon a time in Seattle, a little girl went downtown with her mother and baby sister and had a grand adventure. They may have shopped at Frederick & Nelson’s. They could have sipped milkshakes in the Paul Bunyan Room. But the excitement meter started spinning like crazy when the car broke down.

            I was that little girl. What I remember is this: the pale green Pontiac thudded to a halt. Mom twisted the keys and the steering wheel. The car wheezed weakly—and then went silent. Mom sighed, got out, opened the back door, scooped up baby Lisa from her car bed and motioned for me to slide across the vast back seat.

            “What are we doing?” I asked, as I scrambled down to the sidewalk. “Are we going to visit this castle?” We were standing in front of a brick building with a grassy courtyard and white columns flanking the oversized front door.

            Mom laughed. “That’s not a castle, honey. That’s an apartment building. And look—here’s a bus stop right in front of it! Are you ready for your very first bus ride?”

            Was I ever. This was a trip downtown I would never forget!

And I didn’t. As I wrote in my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, “In my three-year-old mind, it was the ideal moment: the complete safety of Mom; the thrilling adventure of the bus. Our mother was the opposite of fear, the opposite of worry, the handler of everything.”

It’s that castle-like apartment building that kept this scrap of memory alive for me. I see it often. Many Seattleites do. The Williamsburg Court stands at 1007 Stewart Street, just west of Boren. Earlier this year, the owners sold it to a Texas real estate developer, which plans to replace it with a 21-story office tower. It’s progress, 21st-century Seattle-style. But 49 tenants will have to move. And I’ll have to let go of one easy way to remember my cheerful mom, with her natural talent for making lemonade—exciting bus ride!—out of lemons: a dead car.

Before Alzheimer’s began chipping away at her brain, one of my mom’s greatest gifts was her plucky, practical approach to whatever life threw at her. Car stops running, two tiny kids in tow? Park it. Catch the bus. Divorce unavoidable? Head back to college and become a teacher.

What she never did was panic. Or complain. Or assume the worst. At least not in front of her children.

When I look back on my own early motherhood years, I see, at best, a mix: part plucky Mom, part insecure second-guesser. Part of me wonders how my grown-up children remember me then, but part of me is afraid to ask. And with all the writing I’ve done in recent years, I suspect they now know the cracks in my confidence much better than I knew my mother’s.

Raising kids is not as easy as my mom made it look. I think even she knew that. But she also knew children need to feel two things, as close to all of the time as is humanly possible: safe and loved.

And that’s how I have always felt as I passed by the Williamsburg Court apartments and remembered that long-ago day. I was safe. I was loved. Thank you, Mom, for that. Happy Mother’s Day. I miss you.


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