A week or so ago I accidentally posted the Mother’s Day column on my blogsite earlier than I had planned. It turns out that the accidental posting was serendipitous in many ways. I received quite a few comments about the column; many of which resurrected more memories of Mother that I thought were worth writing about.
When looking back across half a century, some memories stand out more than others. Others are tucked away only to be taken out and enjoyed from time to time and still others are hidden until a chance word or a similar story from someone else uncovers them.
I’m reminded of one simple memory that is from late 1962 or perhaps Easter 1963. Bonita was still just a tiny baby. Mother had gotten enough fabric to make shirts. All the shirts are identical…for Tony, Michael and Dwayne. Dad always insisted that I should wear a white shirt. That year we went to Noccalulla Falls. I don’t know if it was on Easter day or sometime in that spring, but I’ve always liked this picture of us standing near the falls.
In my day my siblings and I, and probably most of the rest of the world, loved the fables of Aesop and the Grimm brothers. Since Mother has always been a little woman, I’m not sure how she pulled it off but she would get the three of us on her lap and read those stories to us. Of course there were always the pleas for “just one more”… I’m sure that would have been the case even if she read the entire book! After she read the three of us chattered like a lap-full of magpies about this and that, but there was a recurring theme; “When I get big I’m gonna…” It always varied; from buying you a big house to getting you a big new car. Each of us tried to outdo the other in what we were going to do “when we got big”.
When I was just a little tyke I always called Mother by her first name, Norma. It’s the only thing I’d ever heard her being called, so naturally I thought that’s what I should call her. I called out to her, as I stood in the kitchen door, “Norma!” I reckon that day she’d decided that her kid had called her by her christian just exactly enough times to get on her last nerve. So, she sat down and pulled me up onto her lap and told me how parents, brothers and sisters, friends, etc called each other by their first name. But, kids didn’t call their parents by name. “You can call me Mama, or you can call me Mother, you make up your mind, but you can’t call me Norma anymore.” So, I chose “Mother” because she called her own Mother “Mama”. I still call her Norma Grace to this day…sometimes.
I’ve always had something of an independent streak; not to mention stubborn. When I’m sick I usually just want to be left bloody well alone. Mother could never understand that. On the thankfully few occasions I didn’t feel well Mother hovered. She meant well, bless her heart, but I swear she would worry the horns off a billy goat with the constant checking, touching, feeding and the endless rain of questions; “Are you…..”, “Do you…..” and, and and.
When I was in my very earliest teen years I went through a period of extremely bad nightmares. Even today, more than forty years later I can remember them as vividly as the nights they came to me. The depth of the horror and the consequences of the decisions I made in those dreams were so unspeakable that to call them evil and twisted is to make them seem better than they really were. Until today I have never told another living soul what was in those dreams. Naturally, Mother was insistent that I tell her what I had dreamt. I reckon she thought that knowing what I was dreaming about, she could explain them away. It’s the first time I can really remember consciously lying to her. I knew she could never possibly understand, or even accept what was going on in my bizarre dream world. So I made up a story and, by God stuck with it all these years. I’ve no idea how long those dreams lasted, but I do remember that when I woke up screaming like the very Banshee, Mother was there in seconds trying to calm me; talking to me to help me not be afraid to sleep again. My biggest fears were two. I was scared to death that if I slept again the dream would continue where it left off, and I was most afraid that someday I might let the secret of those dreams slip. I think those were the only times that it simply wasn’t possible for her, or anyone for that matter, to comfort me.
I think I mentioned Mother’s biscuits in my last column. Where I went wrong there was to omit her teacakes. Now, let me just tell you this; I’ve eaten a teacake or two in my day. Except for Mamaw Wright’s, no one could even approach the quality of Mother’s! Dozens upon dozens of times I’ve sat at the kitchen table and watched her make them. Until today, when I attempt to make them they taste (to put it somewhat delicately) like vanilla perfumed horse apples. During the war in Lebanon in the early 80’s I had the stunningly good fortune to be stationed in USS Austin (LPD-4) off the coast of Beirut. It was during this time that we lost so many Marine and Navy lives in the infamous bombing. Before that event though, Mother decided to send me a “care package”. Among other things, she filled the box with banana nut loaves and God only knows how many teacakes. I’ll tell you why God only knows in just a few seconds, but first a bit of background. During those days, one of the favorite targets for attack was the airport. As a result we sometimes didn’t receive mail for days, or even weeks. During the fighting there would be lots of activity over there as you might well imagine.
Well, one fine day UN control over the airport was regained and the mail began to flow again. In addition to a dozen or so letters I got a largish box with Mother’s return address on it. To say the box was beat up would be a gross understatement. There was even a tire mark across one corner of the box!! Now, remember this box had been in transit for a week or so before languishing in the humid heat of Beirut for another week or so. When I opened the box and discovered the contents my happiness was almost uncontainable! I like to save the best for last, so my first package to unwrap was a loaf of banana bread. My elation fell to earth like a stone. It was shot through and through with mold. I damn near ate it anyway, but eventually thought better of it. After all, I still had teacakes! NOT ONE teacake had survived intact! But, of course the nature of teacakes is that they are somewhat dry, right? So, no mold had infested them. I trotted down to the mess deck, grabbed a couple of spoons and my friends and I hoovered those teacakes with spoons! They couldn’t have been more delicious if I had been standing in Mother’s kitchen, eating them right out of the oven! The joy brought by a taste of home, when you are the other side of the world, absolutely cannot be described. I’m sure that any serviceman will tell you exactly the same thing.
Being a Mother must be the most difficult and, to a great extent, thankless job on the face of the earth. It’s a nine-day wonder to me that most women haven’t given it up as a bad idea. But, happily for those of us who are here, most have counted the costs and benefits and continued to go forth and multiply. Those of us fortunate enough to count our Mothers amongst the living are fortunate indeed. No matter how smooth or rocky the parent child relationship, no matter the distance between Mother and child, no matter the past mistakes, spats, fights, and what-have-you, Mother is always there. I’m grateful that my Mother is still here to read my words and return my love and I feel a deep sympathy for those who have suffered a loss I can’t begin to fathom.
Happy Mother’s Day…. Norma Grace!