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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Mother (as in maternal parent) (04/24/08)

TITLE: Benediction
By Ann Grover


“Stand back.”

Hot water cascaded into the washtub in a flurry of steam. The kitchen window was hazed over, a foggy curtain holding out the night.

Mother filled the pail from the barrel in the corner and lifted it onto the woodstove again. Droplets sputtered and sizzled.


Rachel slipped off her dress and held onto the rim as she slid into the tin tub. Already, the baby had splashed in the milky water, followed by Sarah, Rebecca, and Gracie. I jostled the squirming infant, who was vexed by the proceedings and restless for bed.

Water streamed into Rachel’s eyes as Mother lathered and rinsed her hair. Deftly, Mother frothed a cloth with a bar of soap and quickly scrubbed Rachel. A few dippersful of fresh water from a nearby pail and Rachel was done.

“Hand the baby to Rebecca, Leah.” It was my turn, but I could bathe myself. Mother poured in another half pail of hot water.

I added my clothing to the growing heap on the floor. Pinafores, dresses, unmentionables. Quickly, before the water cooled, I bathed.

“Let me check.” Mother made sure no suds remained in my hair and handed me a towel. Chilled, I drew my nightgown over my head.

I watched Mother’s fingers fly, rolling Sarah’s wet hair around strips of old sheeting, to be transformed by morning into glossy fat ringlets. The baby was whining in Rebecca’s arms, but he would have to endure a little longer while I braided Rebecca’s hair and Mother finished the other girls’ hair. My own fingers were awkward and slow. Poor, patient Rebecca.

Finally, the girls were done, and it was time for the boys. Mother poured more water into the tub in another surge of steam. Little Samuel and Luke were laughing, slippery trout, submerged beneath the foam, cresting waves over the edge of the tub to puddle on the wood floor. I dried their wriggling, plump bodies; they were evasive as eels, sturdy as calves.

Then, Mother had her bath.

We were swept from the damp and misty kitchen, and I wondered who checked Mother’s hair for wayward lather. By the time she came out of the kitchen, shiny-cheeked, her sleek hair was twisted into a neat roll again. The baby was whimpering and limp in Rebecca’s arms, eager to nestle with Mother, fragrant with rose water and warm.

We gathered around, the kerosene lamp spreading a golden glow on each face, and Mother sang, softly, quietly. The slippery fish sprawled, now drowsy puppies, and the girls in their nightgowns were like white doves, eyes glistening. A few voices joined in, some clearly, some murmuring, and I fumbled with the words, trying to add my faltering alto.

Eyes began to close. Soon, the only sound was the baby’s swallowing, contented. Mother rose, stepped over the little boys and carried the baby to his cradle. I saw her lay a hand on his head.

Mother roused the sleepy girls, and their nightgowns fluttered, twirling in the gentle light. The boys were flushed, and Mother put Luke over her shoulder, while I carried Samuel. I was intoxicated by his sweet breath whispering against my cheek. We put them in their bed, and they burrowed beneath the quilt, their fingers clasped together in dreaming games, tousled curls tossed in imaginary breezes.

Rachel and Rebecca pleaded for another song, and Mother obliged them while she caressed their foreheads, and I was amazed because I knew there was the mountain of laundry in the kitchen and the tub of tepid water to be hurled away. Yet, I’d thought of my own schemes for after the last child was tucked in, a book to read together, another song. How small my own consideration could be. I saw Mother’s lips move. The girls’ eyes closed, even before the lamp was extinguished.

I helped Mother pick up the dresses and unmentionables, towels and trousers. We baled the murky water from the tin tub and wiped the tub dry. A few tendrils worked themselves loose from Mother’s neat hair bun and fell into her eyes, and she pushed them back, and for a moment she looked young, like Rebecca.

“Tea, Leah?” Mother pulled the kettle forward on the woodstove and within minutes, the water was bubbling.

“You’re a good little mother, Leah. Thank you.” We sat together in the warm kitchen, still redolent with the scents of young bodies, soap, and wet towels.

The house sighed.

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Sara Harricharan 05/01/08
So much going on here! I could see all that busyness and had to smile at Leah wondering who checked Mother's hair for wayward suds. Cute! I liked the ending with "The House sighed" Lovely! ^_^
Beth LaBuff 05/03/08
I like your title in relation to this story. The scene, as you unfold it, is lovely to watch. Very well done.
Chely Roach05/04/08
I absolutely loved this...
It was vividly subtle; rich with emotion without overt sweetness. So very good...I think I will go read it again.
Joanne Sher 05/04/08
Richly descriptive with wonderful characterization and sense of place. Beautiful.
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/04/08
Your description here is so real that it was like I was seeing a movie. You did a wonderful job of this slice of an earlier time. I love how you showed your title.
Betty Castleberry05/05/08
I'm not exactly sure why, but this made me think of "Little Women." It's charming, and you painted a wonderful, homey scene. Well done.
Sheri Gordon05/05/08
Oh, I love your descriptions. It was so easy to be in the middle of the scene.

I got a little confused with all the girl's names--but I realized by the end that it was supposed to be that way. All the names made the busyness of the household more apparent.

Very nice job with the topic.
Joanney Uthe05/05/08
Excellent job taking us back to another time when motherhood meant so much more work. I enjoyed Leah's respect for her mother coming through as if she realized it for herself for the first time.
LaNaye Perkins05/05/08
This is a beautiful story and I love the way you wrote it. Great writing.
Willena Flewelling 05/06/08
What a sweet and refreshing slice of life. Warmly and convincingly written. I wish I were more like Leah's mother.
Peter Stone05/06/08
This was like looking through a hole in time to watch a family of days gone by, perhaps nineteenth century? using the 'community' bathtub.
Jan Ackerson 05/06/08
What a beautiful little moment! I especially loved they were evasive as eels, sturdy as calves, and the mother laying a hand of benediction on the baby's head. Stunning.
Beckie Stewart05/06/08
Awww, this was sweet. I enjoyed all the details and the relationships.
Pam Carlson-Hetland05/06/08
What wonderful descriptions here. It felt like being right in the middle of that busy household. Oh, your descriptions "slippery fish, now drowsy puppies"...such imagery. A delightful trek back into another era. Great writing!
Debbie Wistrom05/07/08
I sighed too. I felt left out. What a fine attitude this one woman has. Your descriptions are incredible, especially loved this "I dried their wriggling, plump bodies; they were evasive as eels, sturdy as calves."
Joshua Janoski05/07/08
Your mastery of words and descriptions shines in this story. I could see everything, even though there was a lot going on. This was a beautiful read. Thank you for sharing it.
Loren T. Lowery05/07/08
You have a master's touch for freezing a moment in time so beautifully. Your words simply transform themselves into vivid scenes that touch a person's core.