“Honey, that sun is about to blind me!” Mom scooched from recliner to couch and resumed her story.
“You know when I look back Mother had an awful time. Dad never sent a dime to help out and there weren’t that many jobs a woman could get. But she dove in and worked at whatever she could find. Never demeaned him to me either; she told me 'he’s your father, respect him.’”
Mom’s childhood reminiscences often commenced with such preamble before they veered off to one of a dozen or more intriguing narratives. Would this one be about the time she almost had the peewaddley scared out of her?
“How old were you?” I pictured the buster brown haircut; the long black stockings…
“Probably about seven and that would have made it early 1920’s. I was a latchkey kid before we ever heard of such a thing.” Mom smiled at her clever remark.
“You mean your mother let you walk home all by yourself?” I couldn’t help but think how anxious I would have been.
“She had no choice. Besides, Granville was no more than a whistle stop and we knew practically everybody.
“Anyway, school wasn’t so far - just about a half a mile. Our apartment was around back and I had to climb away up some rickety wooden stairs. Our landlady’s husband had passed so she divided her house into several dwellings.”
I sipped my tea. “But did the two of you ever actually go hungry?”
“Not really. But we didn’t have a lot of variety. For instance there were times we had bananas and times we didn’t! But there was always something…”
I didn’t need Mom to finish her sentence,
“…along with plenty of that old-fashioned kind of love that doesn’t speak so much as it acts.
“I remember the rooms had great high ceilings. First thing I did when I got in from school is wash my hands. I loved to let the cool water run through my fingers and smell the soap. Afterwards I’d find a rough spot in the towel and rub it back and forth across my face. I liked the way it felt.
“Most times we had soup but I didn’t mind. I always loved soup. Still do. It was my job to make supper. I would open the can and empty it into a saucepan the way Mother showed me. I felt so important. I’d always have the table set and everything ready to sit down. That day she didn’t come though. I waited and waited. Finally I went to our neighbor Mrs. Burke’s and beat on her door. She told me my mother was in the hospital and she was dying.”
What kind of person would say such a thing to a child?
“I’d never known real fear before. Sadness, yes - when my baby brother died at eighteen months. And I felt a little anxious I guess when Dad left. But never, ever the kind of terror I felt that day. I was so scared I could hardly breathe.
“I ran. Oh, how I ran. Out the door and down the stairs and through the gate. And I prayed, Oh, God, please don’t let my mother be dead. I knew the place: it looked more like a house than a hospital and it was only a few blocks off. But I thought I’d never get there. And then I couldn’t find a nurse. So I just tore through one room after another until I found her.
“It’s bound to have upset her; you know, my busting in like that.
“'Are you going to die?’ I remember burying my face in her breast in the white sheet.
“‘What is it, honey?’ She hugged me close.‘Of course I’m not going to die. What ever made you think such a thing? Mrs. Burke was to come over and sit.’
"'No, ma’am!’ I told her.
"'Just you wait until I get ‘ahold of that woman. Your mother only needed an operation, sweetheart.’
“She called a nurse then and Grandfather Elijah came and took me home with him.
“Mother had so many troubles. I did tell you about her two still births didn’t I? Two boys. One before little Elmer was born and another after he died. You know, your grandfather left us in an awful fix.”
Funny, I've always adored Grandfather Perkins. This gives me a lot to think about.
"I believe so, Mom. But I'm always up for another story!"
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