That’s My Mom

Enjoy tales from M Dawn Thacker and Adrienne S Moody, two talented contributors to Now.ReadThisPlease each with special insight on mothering—they are moms. And thank you to another mom, Sarah Scott, writer and photographer, for her spring image.

 

From Saxis to Parksley and Back
by M Dawn Thacker

 

It was one of those days where everything you don’t plan falls into place. The whole week had been windy and cold, stay in the car and see the sights from there kind of weather. We had missed lunch at Martha Jane’s Restaurant yesterday by half an hour. A local had told us it was the best place around to eat. We pulled into the gravel parking lot at the end of an ugly cinder block building on the edge of Saxis Island. Docks jutted out into the choppy Pocomoke Sound. Seagulls called out overhead. We assumed we were lost. A woman in a mini van opened her window and smiled at us.

“We’re looking for Martha Jane’s,” I said.

“This is it,” the woman said, sweeping her hand out toward the nondescript building. “We close at one o’clock though. I’m only here because I left my phone and had to come back for it.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We’ll try again tomorrow.

“We open at five a.m.,” she said. “The fisherman leave out of here early. Hope you come back. We’d love to have you.”

We’d come back to the cottage last night and Mama had turned on the television before bed. She stumbled upon the Waltons, a family drama from my childhood. She was so excited to find a piece of her past. “Why can’t things be like they used to be?” She asked no one in particular. “Everything has to change. Television shows these days don’t make sense to me and everything is so fast paced and computerized. I miss the old days.”

She’s seventy-seven, and walks slowly now. She spends more time talking about her past than she looks to the future. She repeats my favorite stories for me no matter how many times I’ve heard them and we laugh like it’s the first telling. We planned this trip together because we thought it would be fun for just the two of us to get away. I made time because I never know when it might be our last trip together.

Our start was earlier today and we headed straight for Martha Jane’s. We arrived at nine-thirty, and found the place empty of diners, but half filled with old men, drinking coffee and discussing boats, nets, crabbing, oysters, and the week’s weather. “Front’s coming through tonight. Wind’s gonna pick up, temperature’s gonna drop. Rain’s on the way,” one of them said.

“Hey, you made it back,” Martha greeted us. “I always worry that folks won’t come back when they find out we close so early, or they make the trip and find the door locked.”

“You came recommended as the best place to get home cooking,” Mama said. “We’re on vacation and needed a little taste of home.”

“Come on in. Here’s the menu. Let me know when you’re ready to order, and I’ll whip it up for you,” Martha said. She went back to busying herself in the open kitchen. She had an array of skillets, electric frying pans, and griddles arranged behind the counter, just waiting for a fresh batch of breakfast.

I ordered sausage gravy over biscuits and two fried eggs. Mama wanted a western omelet and toast. We prepared our own coffee from the pots on the warmer. We sat down in the knotty pine booths, and read a story in the local town magazine about Martha Jane and her husband Kefford. She owns the restaurant. He is a waterman who carves and paints decoys and miniature boats.

Mama was in heaven. She kept offering tastes of her omelet to me, and sneaking tastes of my sausage gravy. “Your Grandma was a good cook,” she said, “but I think this beats even her cooking. Don’t you tell anyone I said that,” she whispered through the hand over her mouth. I laughed and assured her I’d keep her secret. I could picture Grandma frowning down on us from her own perch in heaven.

Martha Jane walked us over to Kefford’s studio to introduce us. “He’s a shy man,” she warned. “Doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but he’ll enjoy showing you his crafts.”

His work was beautiful, finely crafted, carved, wood-burned, and painted in such life-like hues, you’d expect the duck to take flight before your eyes. Kefford’s smile let us know he appreciated our compliments on his work. “How long you here for?” He asked.

“We leave tomorrow,” Mama said.

“Be sure to take the opportunity to walk the shoreline here in Saxis before you leave,” he said. “It’s a nice day, not too windy, and the view is a good one.”

We parked just outside of town and walked the short distance to the water’s edge. Mama stood there, eyes fixed on the horizon. “This reminds me of when your sister was a baby,” she said. “She’d cry and the motion of the car calmed her. We’d ride to the shore and she’d finally be sleeping in the back seat. I’d sit in the car and watch the ships come in. Look out there, it’s a fishing troller.”

We watched as the boat chugged past, then turned, and walked across the sand holding hands like we did when I was five years old. She told me stories I hadn’t remembered, and we picked up pieces of colored sea glass to put in our pockets.

We were still full from breakfast when we got back in the car. I had planned to head to the cottage, but Mama said, “You know I have a friend, Lou, who lives in Parksley. We’re not far from there I think. Do you mind if we try to find it?”

I had seen the sign for Parksley on our way to the island. It was about fifteen miles to the south on Rt. 13. We passed the town limit sign and found ourselves in a quaint Victorian village. The streets were narrow and the main drag, Bennett Street sported ‘Jaxon’s’ Five and Dime. A Railroad Museum, complete with dining, pullman, caboose, and passenger cars welcomed visitors just across the street. All around us were lovely old Victorian homes with gingerbread trim, wrap-around porches, and turret spires. Mama gasped. “It’s like stepping back in time,” she breathed out.

Jaxon’s called, and we answered. Walking through its doors was like going into the old Woolworth’s Dime Store downtown when I was a little girl, only bigger and better. Each aisle displayed treasure after treasure, from sewing notions and embroidery thread to penny candy, from Johnson’s Foot Soap to shaving brushes and homemade lye soap. The rear of the store housed the toys. Old fashioned cap guns, Slinkies, Hula Hoops, board games like Monopoly and Clue, metal trucks and china tea sets all vied for attention from the little girl in me. Jaxon’s didn’t stop with small items, they also carried canning kettles, baking pans, hammers, nails, Red Wing boots, hard sole walking shoes for babies and suede Hush Puppie high tops. To the far right of the store, ladies and men’s apparel graced the shelves and racks. Everything one could need for setting up housekeeping in the 1940’s and 50’s was right there. And, on the green and white linoleum tile floor stood a two cent weight/fortune scale and two twenty-five cent mechanical riding toys, a pink carousel horse, and a red train with billowing white smoke.

Mama walked the aisles and picked up item after item, remembering and telling stories about this and that. She mentioned to the sales ladies over and over again how much she loved the store and how she could spend her whole vacation right there among her memories. When we checked out, she loaded the counter with a vegetable peeler, two plastic combs, three quarter-yard pieces of gingham material, a spool of gold thread, two pairs of cotton underpants, a package of handkerchiefs and a white dress shirt wrapped in plastic to take home to my step-father, a box of stationery, some toenail clippers and a tube of red lipstick like she wore a long time ago. She grinned as she wrote out the last check in her checkbook. “I’m glad I saved this one,” she said. “something told me to.”

The ladies in Jaxon’s gave us directions to Lou’s house, a lovely white Victorian house on the corner just after crossing the railroad tracks. Mama walked up to the door and knocked. He wasn’t home. She took out a piece of her new stationery and jotted him a note with my cell phone number.

The phone rang tonight and Lou was on the other end. Mama took the call in the other room so she could hear him. I couldn’t help but listen, as her voice carries, and is louder due to the hearing loss. She told him all about our trip and how perfect our day had been today, how she felt like she had stepped back in time. The two of them reminisced, and I heard Mama laugh out loud more than once telling her stories.

She came back into the kitchen where I was after the call. “That was Lou,” she said. “I haven’t talked to him in years. He was so glad to hear from me.” She beamed as she handed me my cell phone. “Good thing we’re heading home tomorrow,” she said. “There’s no way we could top this day, absolutely no way.”

I smiled up at her from my chair at the table. “I’m glad you had a good time. I did too,” I said.

“ I think I’ll head off to bed now, I’m kinda tired,” she said.

As she turned, she started singing a tune I remembered from my childhood, “Good night Irene, good night Irene, good night Irene, good night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.”

From Saxis to Parksley and Back © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com

Nineteen Again
by Adrienne S Moody

 

I looked deeply into your eyes during your visit and I could see our son. His are the same—that deep sea blue rimmed with such black lashes. I thought of being wheeled into the delivery room and seeing someone (you!) standing all robed head to toe in white and that mask covering your face except those eyes.

“Why is that man looking at me like that?” is what I thought through the drug and pain haze. Such love. Who was he? But, of course it was you.

Images like this skittered across my mind as you helped me do fix-it chores around my place. Such a calmness between us.

Remember me climbing behind you onto your motorcycle? You recklessly turned off the paved road onto the tumbleweed hill and we climbed to the bank. I was so scared but knew you could handle the machine so held on tight. Probably why you did it.

All those years together and when we are like this, feels just right.

“I have a woman rooming with me now,” I told you as I watched you fix the bathroom fan.

“Oh yeah. How’s that going?”

“Better than a guy I think.”

“Don’t have to worry about anyone trying to grope you!” you stepped down and made grabbing gestures towards me.

“Yeah, no kidding. No more guys crying like little babies climbing into bed with me. Get outta my bed! Go on! I’m not yo mama!”

“Jeeez, you’d think they’d be weaned by then.”

And this was our joke of the afternoon.

“It’s the Missus,” you whispered to me and took the call out in the hallway.

Later in the day after you had gone back to your other life I received a text:

I can’t stop laughing. I’m not your mama.

I reply:

You won’t get that out of your head. ever.

I think: it’s the part of the afternoon that will linger. Our laughter like we were 19 again. Back to your life it won’t leave you alone and like when you are in church and a joke comes to you ~ hard as you try, you can’t suppress it.

She doesn’t know we meet like this. He helps me. I take him to lunch. We laugh. We remember.

And when he hugs me goodbye, I suffer.

Nineteen Again © 2011 Adrienne S Moody. Read Adrienne’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com

Ingenuity and Elbow Grease
by M Dawn Thacker

 

“I’m in trouble,” my mother said as soon as I picked up the phone a few weeks ago.

My heart rate kicked up. I didn’t remember ever hearing those words from her. She’s strong; the one who figures out the answers and helps me through my troubles. She solves problems and takes care of everyone. She never needs help.

I’d been holding my breath. “What’s wrong?” I exhaled.

“I’ve over-booked my festivals,” she said, so seriously, I had to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” she asked. “That’s our beach money on the line. If I lose this show, we’ll be short.”

OK, I didn’t want to risk our summer trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Do you or the boys have plans for October 16th? Can one of you go to Palmyra and handle the St. Peter and Paul Church Bazaar?”

My mother cans and preserves over one thousand pint jars of deliciousness each year. Her fare includes: grape, crabapple and green pepper jellies; strawberry, damson and blackberry jams; dill, sweet, bread and butter, cucumber, and end of the garden pickle; peach, plum, and tomato, preserves; apple butter, mango salsa, and dilly beans. On a shelf, the colorful glass jars sparkle like a culinary work of art. If their contents didn’t taste so good, you’d want to keep them just to look at.

“Of course we’ll help, don’t worry, one of us will be there to take care of it,” I said.

I could feel her blood pressure lower over the phone. She sighed deeply. “Thank you, I know how hard you work and you have so little time to yourself. I hate to impose on you.”

Her statement stopped me. I wondered how many times she’s needed me and not asked. She’s older now. I forget that.

The church allowed her to set up her display on Friday afternoon, so all I had to do was show up at eight o’clock Saturday morning, sit behind the table, sell her preserved fare, bag the jars, and collect a five dollar bill for each one, easy work.

Person after person came through the door, stopped by Mama’s table and asked where she was. “Oh please tell her I missed seeing her. She’s such a sweet lady. She works so hard on all this stuff she sells.”

“I don’t see how she possibly makes a dime when you consider the cost of sugar and jars these days, not to mention her time.”

“What does she put in her Chow-Chow?”

“Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen End of the Garden Pickle since my Grandma made it.”

“Can you double bag. I want six jars. I’ll probably send my husband back for more. I have to go home and see exactly what I need for the family reunion.”

“How’s your step-father? I know your Mother’s been so worried about his health. She carries a big load on her shoulders.”

For six hours I not only sold items, but gained a new perspective on the impact my mother has on the lives of other people, people I don’t even know.

“How did you do?” she asked me late last night on the phone.

“Pretty good I think,” I said. “I sold one hundred and one jars.”

“You did well for St. Peter and Paul’s,” she said. “Let’s see, that’s five hundred and five dollars added to the nine hundred and sixty I made at Flippin Seaman’s Orchard for a grand total of, hold on let me get my calculator. Wow, we made fourteen hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“You did the work, Mama. All I did was wrap, sell and smile like you taught me,” I said laughing.

“We’d have five hundred and five dollars less if you hadn’t come through for me though,” she said.

“Outer Banks, here we come.” I said.

“Amazing what a few vegetables, strawberries, peaches, plums, sugar and elbow grease will get you,” she said.

“Ingenuity and elbow grease,” I said. “That should be your motto.”

“It’s helped us get to the beach every year,” she said.

It’s also taught me how to make my way in the world, I thought, as I told her I loved her, and hung up the phone.

Ingenuity and Elbow Grease © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com

Reading Little Women
by Adrienne S Moody

 

I grew up in a large family of six children. We had a brother who squeezed himself in between the 2nd and 3rd boy, but only lived a few days. We stopped on the highway in my tenth year and my parents wandered through this desolate crumbling tombstone graveyard. They told us to wait in the car, but one- by- one we escaped. My parents wandered off over to the farthest part of the cemetery and that’s when my brother motioned for me to follow him. He crouched down by a bush and lifted a branch off a stone cherub with a chipped wing and there the words ‘Baby Boy’ was carved.

“He was our brother…” he whispered to me.

I felt sorry for him that he didn’t have a name, just, Baby Boy. I often wondered what difference he would have made in our lives had he survived. Six children was a burden on any family and as it was there wasn’t much time or energy to give us what we needed. Building self-esteem was not a concept understood and parents feared more of spoiling a child with attention. My sister’s straight A’s throughout her lengthy education went virtually ignored and my brother’s financial savvy was overlooked.

Financially we did alright, especially when my mother began a part-time job. But her absence became our responsibility. My sister and I took over the household chores, learned to cook at an early age and cared for our baby sister. I remember my father arriving home after work and at first smiled at the pot of spaghetti rapidly boiling, but quickly turned to a frown when lifted a huge sticky mass of noodles out of the pot.

“You have to stir this, girls.”

In time we learned the domestic skills but I resented having to do ‘women’s work’ and much preferred baseball, football and skating in the winter. My sister’s delicate hands were suited to holding a needle for sewing and she loved dolls and dressing them up in clothes my mother found time to make. I felt like such a failure in that I could never be the kind of girl my mother seemed to want me to be.

It was before I became a teenager and wise to the world and boys that she decided to read to us at night before bed. The book she chose was, ‘Little Women,’ by Louisa May Alcott. I think she figured it was a way of teaching us, her daughters, how to be ladies and what better way through the magic of books, of words. She captured our attention and imagination with the story. Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy visited us every evening and while the cold winter prairie wind rattled our ice- encrusted windows, my mother’s voice made us feel safe and warm.

I loved Jo the most because I understood her tomboy ways, not possessing ladylike manners and was for her time, a free-spirit. I understood her feelings of isolation in being who she was, how her hands were more suited to throw and catch and to hold a pen and write for hours. I felt a kindred spirit in her.

Years later, grown up and a mother myself, I took my Mom to the film Little Women with Susan Sarandon playing Mrs. March. Afterwards I asked her who she thought I was similar to.

“Well, it’s obvious you are so much like Jo.”

That made me smile. We discussed more about the film and I felt hungry for more from her and asked, “which character do you like the best?”

“I like Jo the best,” she smiled coyly at me and before she turned away said, “I thought you knew that.”

There weren’t many instances in growing up that I felt accepted for not being the perfect lady and in that one moment she let me know I was loved for who I was. I resisted wearing those lacy little gloves at church when I was a child but she’d be happy to know that I now willingly don them. They’re not lace, however, they are made of suede, fingerless and I wear them whenever I climb my mountain.

Reading Little Women © 2011 Adrienne S Moody. Read Adrienne’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com

One Tiny Woman
by M Dawn Thacker

 

It’s spring now, but with temperatures dipping into the thirties and forties at night; it’s still cold enough to use the wood burning boiler furnace. The stove sits in the backyard, looking like a small shed. Once a day, Bruce fills it with large pieces of oak and locust. The wood is stacked on a trailer pulled up close to make hefting easier.

A wren perches on the edge of the blue tarp covering the trailer. She stands her ground, even as Bruce walks close on his way to the furnace. She bobs up and down on stick legs, chirping her disdain. He ignores her and uncovers the day’s allotment of fuel.

Now she’s in distress, flitting from the trailer to the clothesline, then to the garden fence post, and all the time rattling off a litany of curses at my husband. He’s oblivious, and hard of hearing it seems.

I open the kitchen window and call out, “Can’t you hear her?”

“Hear who?” he questions, looking around for a neighbor or visitor.

“The wren,” I exclaim, pointing at the little brown bird, now having a conniption in the lilac bush.

“Where?” Bruce asks.

“Right behind you. She’s been trying to get your attention since you left the house and started banging around.”

“I didn’t see her,” he says.

“Well, look. I’ll bet she has her nest somewhere close.”

Bruce turns around to the bird and says, “Alright, alright, stop fussing. Give me a minute. I’ll see what your problem is.”

He closes the stove door without placing one stick in it. He walks over to the far corner of the garden and stands watching until the Wren flits back to the woodpile and ducks under the blue tarp.

I pull the window down and watch Bruce as he leaves the backyard completely, only to return a few minutes later with a wheelbarrow full of wood. He’s gathered it from a back barn. He makes a wide berth around the trailer and parks the wood by the stove. He makes three trips to fill it.

I walk out the door to feed the chickens, and Bruce turns to me shaking his head.

“That whole trailer full of wood,” he says, “and I can’t use a stick of it. Women, they sure do make life difficult.”

“Pay attention and life gets easier.”

One Tiny Woman © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com Thank you to both M Dawn and Adrienne for contributing these glimpses of motherhood.

Share
Comments
2 Responses to “That’s My Mom”
  1. Virginia Phillips-Smith says:

    Wonderful stories, Margaret. Loved them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *