I felt my mother’s touch as I opened a donation request letter from the food bank. Unknown to her, there were nights I, on the top bunk, eavesdropping … peeking into her late at night…the children are asleep (so she thought) conversations. When the lights were just right, I listened in to those adult-only conversations by watching the mirrored images…the refrigerator’s reflections of her hands dancing in the air.

“No! No you cannot use my children’s money!  It is for them!”  Children’s money, Social Security survivor benefits for her three oldest children … entrusted to her to protect in order to stretch around a family’s budget.   

Children’s hands crumbling soda crackers into bowls of soup, evenly divided.  Crackers stretching a can of soup to feed lunch for six. Oatmeal, in place of bread crumbs, added to the meatloaf mix; later to be served with canned corn, a filler, on the side.   

Oh how I resisted those government food programs. Pitchers of milk that had been expanded with clumps of powered milk mixed with water. Dinners of sliced and fried Spam with scrambled eggs or French toast made with powered eggs whisked into the egg batter. Syrup made with brown sugar and water. Peanut butter with a thick layer of peanut oil … shiny oil to cut through with a knife before spreading on a slice of homemade bread.

“But why not?”  I once pleaded to fingers that snapped, “No!  Kellogg Corn Flakes and Shredded Wheat are enough!  We cannot afford sugared cereals!”  Cold non-sugared cereals, lumpy watered down milk, and a vague memory of a summer I waited for that shetland pony I had won. Still waiting…

A determined stance. Eyes that said, “No I will not bend.” Firm hands saying, “One capful of dish soap is enough to wash the dinner dishes.” 

Homemade quilts … heavy quilts … made of haphazard geometric shapes of cloth.  Materials saved from scraps of cloth from previous sewing projects, various kinds of fabrics only found in a Saturday rummage sale, shame-filled church donations, and mended hand-me-down children’s clothes, worn and tattered…transformed into … never seen before in all of history…unique quilts.  

Asking for money for a candy bar or a soda pop to buy during a school outing would result in being sent to the kitchen to make no-bake chocolate oak cookies? Once again, “good enough.”

Yet, behind all those times is that one singular moment … she and I standing on the sidewalk in front of a second hand store.  With a quarter in her hand and eyes of regret intermixed with sadness, “I could not find a swimming suit for you. I have only this quarter.”  

No memory of that sense-felt longing for a swimsuit. Her eyes…emerald green eyes … validating and embracing … those eyes…those parent eyes that only a child can hear.

upon the salsify

morning dew

both … at rest

I felt my mother settle beside me as I picked up a photograph … four generations of women, “you seem fragile sitting there with a half smile. I didn’t see your aging … the tellings of you as a grandmother … a great grandmother.  It is as if I remained within a 6 year-old time frame while you rode a time train into your future.”  

Eyes glistening and an acknowledging smile and nod, “Within an album is another image, a faded photograph … unique to the 60s and 70s.  Together, on a couch…your grandmother, you, E, and I.  Four generations.” 

My left arm wrapped around your waist…my right hand reaching towards E.  B, sitting on her mom’s lap, her dress pulled up … hiding her face, as toddlers are known to do, playing pick-a-boo.  It is as if I was a conduit … arms reaching through the barriers of time…connecting each of you to the other.

Two moments of togetherness…four separate lives within one time frame … a telling of our ancestral heritage. 

Tomorrow a birthday celebration, your great great granddaughter.  Within her unabashed joy, glimpses of you. 

Adopted 70 – 74 years ago. A teddy bear, 12 inches tall and 9 inches wide.   A child’s toy stuffed with long, fine wood shavings. A faded pink ribbon … placed around the neck … frayed … a limp bow.  A mishmash nose …the tip reconstructed with thick black thread. Missing mouth and eyes.  Matted and worn wool body  … the muted yellowish brown colors of early spring.

Well traveled … bits of time along the east and west coastlines of the United States as well as the mid-west and Rocky Mountains. Deployed with the family for 2 years in Australia. 

The numerous times the childhood family and then my family moved … household items, furniture, toys, clothes left behind … moving sales, yard sales, donations, and tossed in the trash things … a shedding of things…leaving a trail of chosen and then discarded things.  

Never though … photograph albums … ones she created for each of her children, her marriages, and her childhood family.  Each one a chapter within a visual memoir … validating her life.  

But why this one teddy bear … adopted during the first chapter of her life as a wife… a young mother of two girls?

A teddy bear … a child’s gift tucked away for safe keeping.  Later an adult’s re-given gift of a mom’s unspoken memories kept close to her heart.  

spring’s rain

memories of lost years

left by a cloud

I searched for her … my mother …. I waited through lunch, but she did not visit today.   I sat, meditated, read a page or two.  Yet, the scattered crumbs of memory blew away in a whirlwind of restlessness. 

My grandmother did visit for a bit and left me wondering…am I like you?  Sensitive, irritable, exhausted.  As a child I was often overwhelmed by my own sensitivity to her presence…once I carried a long forgotten incident between us to my mother seeking resolution … comfort. I instead found,  “That is her way.” 

That is her way…

It seemed as though in her absence L was invited to visit as I remembered his poetry.  With a manual typewriter, his carefully composed words on white paper.  Where are those papers?

Where are the poems hand written on scraps of paper…recycled holiday cards…mailed over the years?  Poems written before the tremors silenced my mother’s hands…where are they?  One spoke to me of acceptance…how her walker was her friend. 

Slipped into books…as if they were flower blossoms?  Tucked away into little wooden boxes … as they are treasures?

Where are those books…the wooden boxes?  

Were they given away?  Did I cast them aside unknowing ….

billowing

incense smoke –

drifting,

remembering…

100 days 48

Peets’ coffee beans releasing its rich earthy scent throughout the house as the grinder cracks the beans with its annoying pulsating grating sounds. The scent of coffee easing away this irradiation as well as my morning mental fog…the rich, complex scent of dark roasted coffee.

Waiting to lick the spoon – to be shared with all who was home – I watched her stir the cake ingredients into a silky smooth batter. Then the ritual of pouring the batter into two greased and lightly floured round cake pans, the lifting a pan about 3 inches above the kitchen counter top and dropping it with a bang, “Air bubbles…we want then to escape from the batter.”

Closing the oven door, “if we open the door too early and if we are too rowdy, the cake will fall.”

A slightly tilted two-layered coffee flavored birthday cake with caramel flavored frosting. Burning candles randomly inserted waiting to receive a secret wish that will be carried away in the billowing smoke. A long forgotten birthday guest sitting across from me…skewed eye brows that said, “huh?”

A birthday cake recipe that included the morning coffee. Coffee that had filled the house with the faint scent of pungent earth and metal and the sounds of the gas stove’s circular flames. Flames that brought the water to boil and then lowered to insured the continual flow of water through Folger’s grounds beans.

She loved coffee. Coffee with milk and sugar. Yet, for us coffee was one of the three absolute Nos. Coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol. No discussion. End of sentence…full stop.

With a hidden agenda of nudging her to relent, I once described how my best friend’s 4 year-old brother would sit at their morning table and drink coffee with his mom, she replied, “That is their home.” End of discussion..full stop.

Huh? A coffee flavored birthday cake? For my 12th birthday?

An unknown added ingredient…a mother’s gift. A mother’s love bending the rules…just this one time.

Coffee flavored birthday cake

  • 2 1/2 cups shifted flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) of butter
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of strong coffee
  • 1 tablespoon of mother’s love
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

Trailed with clouds

The layered memories

Of time forever gone

Stands between us now

This spring dawn

100days...doubleexposure

“Sometimes it’s best to not talk…to keep away from people…my words, twisted and turned…misunderstood.”

My mother came to visit this morning as I read the news often filled with subjective narrative built upon passing responses to thrown at you questions.

She shared with me the anxiety hidden behind exchanges with others…within her words. Words often misunderstood…mis-translated. Words I, as a resistant teenager, often dismissed as ill-informed or un-founded.

It was mid-morning when told me that in a few days she would begin work at the hospital as a dietitian. A week ago an unknown woman came to her home – unannounced – to interview her for the position. During the interview, a written question, “Can you cook?”

“I invited her into the kitchen and showed her my stove…’of course I can cook! I raised a family!’ Did she think because I am deaf I cannot cook!”

Her history of negation, marginalization, inequality, and misunderstood awakened by the question. My anger was triggered by the fact that a job interview took place within her home … an unannounced visit. The invasion of her home…the broken boundary between work and family.

Today within this journey of remembrance is a new seed of understanding..it was my perspective of human rights, of equality, of what is right and what is wrong which blocked me from the golden moment of opening myself to her truth…to the her of who she was behind her deafness.

blossoms scatter

never knowing

our regrets

          ~Ouchi Masahiro*

100days...33days

 

Fragments of memories sewed together with multiple threads of colored thoughts and feelings. As if to create a quilt…a quilt of memories…a life confirmed. Memories forgotten, hidden away, rejected…invisible quilt pieces…segments of emptiness.

My mother knew marginalization from the moment scarlet fever left her in a sound-void world reliant upon sight, touch, and feeling: dancing hands in the air, a light touch upon the shoulder, and pulsating vibrations.

She silently connected with her children through changes of vibrations…walking from one room to another, closing and opening of drawers, cupboards, and doors. Children free from “indoor voice” restraints; yet, moderated through visual and vibrating variations.

The house will filled with the sounds of snapping and clapping of hands dancing in the air – accompanied with spontaneous voice sounds.  Feet stomping on floors, hands hitting flat surfaces or waving in the air, replacing a voice calling for another.  The sounds of family games played simply for the fun of playing inserted with the sound of joy’s winning. And then followed with her graceful hands that sang, ”Should we play again?” 

My mother and I blush…we most likely were the loudest family in the neighborhood.

As the sound of a single birdsong came into the window, my mother’s eyes watched as my hands clumsily hesitated in the air. The faded muscle memory of our home language tried to question if I learned to “read and formulate internal speech” through a greater reliance on sight, touch, and feeling than hearing.

I see her words…I piecemeal each movement together…I formulate sentences…I hear her words.

There is sadness in the shared remembrance of the moment our confidence in understanding one another suddenly vanished. She, a patient, recovering from carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists. She, lying in the hospital bed, unable to sign, speaking…saying words I could not understand … no vague sense of knowing, just variations of a high pitched voice. 

I left the hospital room… a segment of our relationship had been severed. Saddened and overwhelmed by the experience of my loss and her vulnerable and alone helplessness.

*cited:

Haiku before Haiku

Trans: S Carter

Morning haze

jewels of rain, falling

in a dream

100days...raindrop

My mother came to visit … she sat quietly as my stream of consciousness meandered through childhood valleys of fairness…equity…justice.

Exhaustion seemed to fill the home whenever as she strived to moderate peace and calm, especially calm, during sibling battles that suddenly erupted at the kitchen table – cause … long forgotten, exploded during board games – cause … clear evidence of cheating, erupted during Saturday’s chores – cause … unequal distribution of work assignments, shattered during floor rough and tumble play – cause … physical injury.

“I told you to quit before someone got hurt!”

Within a photo album, a polaroid image of a smiling young me in a light blue coat. With long strawberry blond hair, I stand with a Coke in hand. A princess with a trophy in hand.

A Coke or any soda pop was a rare treat…Koolaid was, “a good enough” drink. What one cannot discern from the photograph is, “You need to finish that before we leave. I don’t want to hear, It’s not fair.”

A photo tucked away in her purse. Hidden evidence of unfairness…a momentary gift of peace.

The existence of a speck of dust makes everything possible. If dust does not exist, neither does the universe, nor you, nor I. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

solitude

Upon a trunk is a framed photograph of my mother, a hand painted photograph, of her when she was young.  When my eyes linger I’m introduced to unabashed joy.  Before it are three small framed images … her first born – my sister D, and her two sons – C and L.  

It is an image of my mother I do not hold in memory…invisible like my father’s. It is of a young woman before she was a widow with three children, a twice divorced, and finally a woman married to T, her first love.

She named her sons after their fathers.  Her last two born are daughters, M and S.  Within M’s name is Faith. Within S’s name, Joy. A mother’s blessing.  

Then there is I…her second born who as a teen exhausted her.   “Do I have to?” she responded to a police officer’s question, “Is this your child?”  

A mother-daughter relationship defined as “complex.”  

My secret childhood fantasy was to come home from school — the afternoon sun warming the kitchen…she standing in the kitchen — and I would hear, “Be more gentle when closing the door.”

Not the vibrations of more gentle but the sounds of more gentle. She could hear…she could hear me…my voice. My faith, my faith despite being the size of a mustard seed was felt by God.

She has come to visit many times as I dust these photographs … often remembering the visit after L’s funeral. She shared that the only time in her life she regretted being deaf was after I told her that within the sound of his girlfriend’s voice was D’s.

This I believe open the door to the realization that if my childhood self had succeeded in finding and pulling out the thread of deafness in the tapestry of my mother’s life, she would no longer be. If she no longer was, then the universe of my life would not exist. It was she, her total being that made everything possible.