- Family and Parenting
How to Recapture Your Earliest Memories of Your Mom
First: Go as far as your memory will take you.
Then let your heart take over:
I’m no more than four years old. I’m mad at Mommy for I don’t know what reason. As the youngest of the three children Mom had in four and a half years, I was always mad at somebody or something. It’s an early trait of the baby of the family before she grows up to be the ultimate fixer of all things familial. Even when Mom had a fourth child by her second husband when I was a teenager, I still held my station as the baby of the first litter. That’s how it works.
I announced, with all the conviction of my four years, that I was running away from home. Where I got this tactic, I have no idea. But these were cards I had never played before. So I was willing to bet beginner’s luck would win me the pot, so to speak.
Mother paused from whatever she was doing at the sink, considered what I’d said for the briefest of moments, then dried her hands on the rag she was using for an apron. She proceeded to pick me up from the spot of kitchen floor I’d staked out and to carry me out of the kitchen, through the front room, and straight to the front door.
In what seemed like one fluid motion, she opened both the wooden and screen doors, stepped across the wide porch, set me down on the top step, turned, and went back into the house, closing the two doors firmly behind her. I heard the bolt slide into the lock on the door and saw the yellow porch light flick on.
This was not going as planned.
That round, yellow bulb was the only source of illumination afforded me as the shadows of dusk began to gather. The cool moisture of the Kansas evening seeped through my cotton dress and panties into the soft tissues of my stubborn little bottom as that concrete step lost more and more of the summer day’s warmth.
Darkness closed in around me.
Our small yard was no longer the lively midday playground within the safety of my mother’s reach. It was a vast sea of unprotected blackness with only a string of faint yellow dots trailing down the street from the neighbors’ front porch lights, similar to our own. Houses close enough in the daylight to converse between open windows now seemed like isolated manors on thousand-acre estates miles and miles from the nearest living soul.
Instead of the friendly barking of playmate dogs who nipped at my panties as I ran through sprinklers in a tandem chase, my little ears were alert to the slightest twig breaking. That sound doomed me to the certain encroachment of creatures previously suspected of occupying the long, dark closet that stretched from the door in my bedroom to the adjoining door of Mommy and Daddy’s. Even the creatures’ transvergence to the spooky regions below my bed could be defended by shrinking to the middle of that twin bed and pulling the covers up over my head. Night creatures can’t get what they can’t see, as is well known throughout the Christendom of childhood.
But now I found myself simply at the mercy of the who-knows-what in the night that might appear at any moment from the gloom of the shadows. I was no more going to budge from the security of my getting cold, concrete top step than a doomed pirate clinging to the narrow splinter of a ship’s plank.
Four-year-olds can be stubborn as Hell. And I had a hard time acquiescing to the fact that my Mother had trumped the ace I’d thought I had up my sleeve with my announcement I was going to abandon her to the joy of only two of her three offspring. It had seemed so foolproof to my innocent’s reasoning. -Right up to the point where she’d landed me on my chilly touchie on that top porch step. Now the inherent flaws in my plan were becoming more and more obvious to me as I became more and more concerned about that ghoulish shadow dancing along the tree line.
-What was that?
Fortunately, four-year-olds are stubborn as Hell, but have no pride whatsoever to speak of at that age. Certainly none where their Mommies are concerned. One last indefinable sound from the depths of the night, and I was up and scratching at the door just like my kitten when Mother is slow bringing out the dinner scraps.
But, you know what?
How smart are mothers?
Mine didn’t come to the door when I scratched. Not right away. Not for several moments. Not until I got to the point of really wondering if she was going to come to my rescue at all.
E-ven-tu-al-ly, I heard footsteps from inside. There weren't many. She must have been watching from the front room window. I heard the lock slide in the bolt and the door squeak ever so slowing open, a little.
“Yes, may I help you?”
“It’s me, Mommy.”
“Yes, is someone there?”
“It’s me Mommy, down here.”
“Why Kathleen Elizabeth. I thought you’d be at the bus station by now.”
“No, I’m still here.”
“Change your mind?”
“Well, come in. It’s time for bath.”
My earliest recollection of my mother.
That night, forty-seven years ago, my bath was taken in an iron tub on the kitchen floor. Working class people in Rose Hill, Kansas, lived in track housing consisting of four rooms and an out-house. And we were working class. I just didn’t know what that was yet. What I did know was that, being the youngest in a family of five, I got the left over bath water. Mother would reheat it, but after heating water for three other baths, what could you expect? In 1957, a housewife had to pace herself.
In 2011 my mother’s house has four indoor bathrooms, thank you very much, an elevator and a wine closet. Had someone tried to tell her in the fifties she would live to see such riches of her own, she would have laughed out loud.
“I have no need of such things,” she would have said. “I’ve blessings enough right now.”
But she didn’t. She made all her family’s meals from scratch. It's hard to find “scratch” these days, but back then it was all there was. She ironed pillowcases and underwear on a board set up in front of an unimaginable luxury: a black and white television set. I remember the day Daddy brought it home and how worried she was about where the money would come from to pay for it on a schoolteacher's salary.
I had no idea where money came from, but learned that day it comes from a place Mommies worry about a great deal. Actually, I empirically learned where money came from during the next week while we ate pinto beans for supper every night.
Mommy learned to use the television, though. She’d schedule her day so she would be ironing those pillowcases right when her two fifteen-minute long Soap Operas were on. “The Secret Storm” and “The Guiding Light.” Sure seems a long way from “Sex in the City” and “The Bachelor”.
Mother washed clothes on the back porch with a wringer washer. I only remember this because the pinching she got at least once a load from getting her fingers too close to the wringer. This pain inflicted on Mommy made quite the impression on the little girl who seemed to generate most of the dirty laundry for the household.
And she made the best piecrust. To this day, no bakery anywhere in the world has even come close to matching it. She’ll tell you it’s because the best pastry chefs don’t have to make do with so few ingredients. I say, less is more when it comes to a flaky, white piecrust. I say, there will never be better piecrust in the world than Mother’s.
Oh, yeah. Now there really won’t be.
. . . Mom.