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.