One of my earliest memories is of going out the back door to the camellia bushes before going to church on Mother’s Day. My mother always cut red camellias for my sisters and me, and another for herself. I remember the year that she cut a white one for herself. When I asked why, she answered that white was for a mother who had passed away. I remember thinking at her funeral that now I had to wear a white camellia on Mother’s Day.
My mother was an enigma when I was little. She slept from the time my brother and sisters left for school to the time they got home in the afternoon. I didn’t recognize the signs of depression for a few decades, despite being immersed in it myself since my teens. Every so often, I could rouse her to talk to me about the plants she loved, but it often made her yearn for an acre of deep, dark, earth that would respond to her touch, rather than the red clay of our Atlanta back yard. I hated to make her sad.
When I was in college, my mother convinced my father to let her take art courses at the same women’s college I attended. She bloomed there in a way I had never seen before. My mother was intelligent, with an intellectual curiosity and love of learning she passed on to me and my siblings. She excelled in art, enjoying every medium, but falling in love with textiles and pottery. I remember seeing her with her friends in the campus center, laughing and smiling, as she shared some hard-won life lessons with them.
After my mother’s death, my sister found hundreds of pictures that had been kept in the attic for decades, all dating from before my parents’ marriage. Neither she nor I had ever seen them before. The mother we knew was quiet, almost dour. She did not complain, but she did not seem to enjoy her life. These pictures showed a vibrant, laughing young woman having dinner with friends, or shockingly, posing with a young serviceman whose hat she had placed on her own head. The serviceman was not our father, either.
In them I saw the smile from her college years. I recognized that young woman, confident and smiling with her friends, vibrant and playful. I often wonder what happened to that young woman in the intervening years. My guess is that she was forced to choose between marrying and taking care of a husband and children or staying unmarried and taking care of her parents. I think she would have chosen to live alone until her mid- or late-twenties, something that is no longer unusual. I write about women in the middle ages with limited choices about how to live their lives, yet am surprised at the lack of choices my mother had in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps I am not the only one born in the wrong century.
I have to do some magic with math to make this excerpt fit. If one takes the end numbers from the year 2 + 4, and adds the final digit of the date + 7, one gets 247 words. Ha! I pulled that magic off!
My alien sons drew unknown resonances from me as they travelled through childhood. On an early morning walk, my two-year-old tugged me down to his level, pointing at the grass. I ended up lying on the wet, cool, grass to see the rainbow displayed in a drop of dew. My explorations in childhood had been through books, except for pools of water large enough to swim. The senses were suspect, kept muted and at bay, so that the life of the mind could run unimpeded by the physical body that wrapped it in flesh and bone.
My sons were bold explorers of the life of the senses. The first time my son snuggled next to me, glorying in my touch, I felt a trespasser in a foreign land, as these ways were not countenanced in my parents’ house. My father often teased my mother, proclaiming the smoothness of his cheek after a morning shave. I can’t have been more than six, pressing my cheek to his to feel what he meant. He turned to stone as if my hair were snakes, pushing me roughly from him. I never touched him again without invitation. He willingly touched me for the first time when I was moving a thousand miles away at age 22. My sons’ bold assessment of, and joy in, the physical world allowed me to see through the curiosity and somehow right reckoning of my boys, opening my mind and heart to things unknown, unseen, and untasted.
I give you 13 sentences of my memoir for the 13th day of the month. WIPpet Wednesday is hosted by KL Schwengel. If you would like to participate, post a date-related (calendar date, not romantic date) snippet of a WIP (hence, WIPpet) here.
My complicated childhood echoed through the years in odd ways. Although family is very important to me, I rarely tell any of my family how important they are to me. My sons encouraged that reticence when they were teenagers, fleeing emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid. However, those sons also helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who acted nothing like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0 to 3 was unmapped wilderness, filled with snapping wolves and lumbering bears. My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear. They put up with my inability to help them with math and physics homework, as well as my crying through nearly every movie I took them to see. Well, not Pokemon.
My daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, weathered my learning how to be a mom. I remember the stark terror I felt when my oldest daughter handed me a Barbie, inviting me to play with her. I had never played dolls with anyone in my life, and I knew nothing about being a child. She was very gentle with me, explaining the rules, “Barbies are plastic, so they can’t talk back to us. We can imagine them talking, though.”
Both girls guided me through playing in the park, swinging and talking, giving me a childhood I had imagined but never lived.
My ROW80 check-in is at the bottom of this post, if you want only to look at that.
Shan Jeniah, a writer I have met through ROW80 is participating in Thankvember. While I haven’t signed up, I have been thinking about gratitude. Going through some of my posts while combining my various blogs into one, I found this one still rang true.
The holiday season that ends the calendar year often focuses on family. Many of the bloggers I read have recently posted about family and family celebrations during the holiday season. I, too, am very grateful for my family, but I have very few traditions to draw upon.
My parents both had such Dickensian childhoods, it is nearly unbelievable that they grew up in the 20th century. My father was supposed to be the daughter that arrived two years after his birth. A fourth son, he was seen as completely superfluous. My mother was the youngest daughter in her family; in the Southern tradition I thought went away by the end of the 19th century, she was marked to stay with her parents and care for them until their death. To that end, she was taught early how to run the household, standing on an orange crate to cook and wash dishes at four years old.
My mother and father met on a blind date and married within a year. Because my father was an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts and my mother a Southern Baptist from Georgia, both of their families summarily disowned them. My mother’s family went so far as to obliterate her name from the family Bible. Eventually, some members of both families had some contact with our family, but for most of them, it was limited in both time and warmth. It left a legacy of a real lack of warmth among my own siblings, which is something I realized only in contrast with other families.
Also, my parents seem to have very little tradition to call upon. My father has resisted all my questions about holiday family traditions; my mother has been only slightly more informative, saying that she often got nothing but an orange for Christmas. Because my mother then spun into her “you ungrateful children” speech at that point, I never asked for more details. Given these deficits, my parents tried to give us children the American dream holidays. We rarely had a turkey for Thanksgiving, due to the cost, but my father did relax that day. Christmas Day was a bigger deal, with presents under the tree for the four children. I did notice we never had any other family around, like all my schoolmates did.
Due to this upbringing, I really didn’t bring any holiday traditions to my married life; in my first marriage, I played along with traditions I didn’t feel inside. When I married my second husband, we worked to create traditions together, melding his traditions with my dream holidays. We went through the common tug-of-war between the families, whom to visit when, whom to eat with, whom to stay with if we had travelled. The situation was complicated by my daughters having their own traditions, as well as another set of grandparents, aunts, and uncles to visit. Thankfully, it got much easier as the girls became older and made their own decisions about the scheduling, rather than being pulled so many different directions. Even when they spent less time with us, I felt better knowing they were making the decisions.
Perhaps because of my background, family is very important to me. I don’t tell them often enough how important they are to me. Some of that reticence is due to my teenage sons, who flee emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid, but sometimes I take all of them for granted.
I am grateful for my sons, who defied all medical opinion to exist, appearing after three doctors had told me I could not have children. They helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who didn’t act at all like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0-3 was uncharted territory. My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear.
I am grateful for my daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, and weathered my learning to walk the tightrope, and how to be that second mom. Recently, one of my sons-in-law paid me one of the best compliments I’ve gotten. He told me that the way I accepted and loved my youngest daughter showed her how to love and accept his two children. He said she might not have married him had she not grown up with me. It brought me to tears when he told me, and it does so now.
And I am grateful for my husband, who puts up with my weird mental glitch, where I point right and say left, especially annoying when giving directions in the car; follow the hand, not the voice, is the trick. He accepts my ADD as well as my Irish temper; he glories in my nerdiness, and thinks I’m still as interesting as I was when he met me so very long ago.
To all of you, thank you for keeping me sane, human, and open to the people around me.
ROW80: Not much to report here, I feel like a cop, saying “Move along, people, nothing to see here.” While there is a lot going on beneath the surface, I have very little on the surface that reflects the changes. I am learning and working hard in the blogging class; I have managed to keep up my sponsor duties; I have written scads and scads of words on the academic article and procedural documents at the day job (woo-hoo!)
I will return to the novel and blogging by the end of the year. For now, please go encourage someone in the ROW80 group. They are a great bunch, and can be found here.