Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Mothers (05/02/05)
TITLE: Ever Before Me, Ever Behind
By Lois Jennison Tribble
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How odd: She looks more like her mother now than she does herself. Was I staring now at myself in thirty years? I picked through the memories bubbling up like dumplings in Mother's stew: I was three years old and Mom was pregnant with my sister. I'd locked the door and closed it when we went out front to water Great-Grandma's peonies, the ones Mom tenderly transplanted from her grave: they grew first by the front door of Great-Grandma's cottage, cultivated by her own work-worn hands. It was an accident: I didn't mean to lock us out -- I was playing and I didn't understand. Mom tried to boost herself through the window but pregnancy grounded her, removing that option. She stood me on her shoulders and pushed me through the opening, imagining everything would turn out as planned. I fell on my head instead, taking her favorite lead-crystal birds with me. I would heal, but the birds shattered beyond repair.
Shattered dreams: Mother's dreams. Had she ever had any? I was ten when we found her diary in the forbidden hope chest, buried inside her closet like a coffin. She wrote of George, then married John. Just like that: one page it was George and the next, John. She never said why: what else had she stored there, hidden from us who love her? The pungent smell permeated my childhood, cedar with the power to sustain everything but her old blue wedding gown; its elusively sheer fabric crumbled into unrecognizable rags in fifty years. How strange: a perfectly preserved piece of their wedding cake -- the one my Grandma baked -- remained intact, still snuggled in a napkin from their reception. What could that mean?
Quietly, I walked down the hospital corridor to glance into the waiting room at my own restless brood. Mother's eyes stared out from Bobbie, and curling around Connie's face was Mother's rich, lustrous hair as I remembered it when she was young. Then there was Vickie, my eldest, the electron like her grandma with that same work-driven nature. On her shoulders, she bounced her own sweet baby girl. Everywhere I looked, I saw my mother: beyond me, behind me, and every morning in the mirror. Her voice was my voice -- so many words, so many expressions belonged to her first. . . . perhaps. Perhaps they were even older, passed down like our family recipes from mother to daughter: our family's chain of wisdom and experience striving to empower dreams embedded yet unfulfilled, as each new generation stood on its own mother's shoulders to accomplish them.
Unfulfilled dreams: my own hope chest was full of them. Looking around the room, what did it matter? Here was my life's clay, a living exhibition God was sculpting daily for His own intricate work. What a privilege He'd given me, laying aside my own self-centered ambitions to build into His Eternal Temple ageless stones for His Kingdom. There stood the best of my mother filtered through me into their lives, a blended essence like skillfully brewed coffee. Though discarded in the garden for fertilizer, those precious grounds deserved the greater honor.
My offspring hadn't seen me as I peeked around the corner. They were fine; they could manage without me. I stood in the hallway between generations: Heading back into my mother's room, it was she who needed me most. She had borne me and cradled me, boosting me through the window so I'd be there to help her now, through the door. She opened her eyes and smiled as I approached. "I was dreaming," she told me: "Such a nice dream." Her eyes grew misty. "I was there by my grandma's peonies, playing in Mother's garden. Mom put down her work. . . That was the strange part -- I can't remember her doing that. Then she sat in the dirt beside me and we talked: just the two of us, playing in the garden, and singing. There we sat, just she and I, watching the peonies dance."
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