I shouldn’t write this. Because what I’m about to tell you comes from eavesdropping. Which is admittedly wrong, and something my mother discouraged.
I found myself in the department store dressing room trying on jeans. In the cubicle next to mine was an 11-year-old boy having a rough day. I’ll call him Tyler.
Something you should know—the last thing 11-year-old boys want is to go shopping with their mothers. Because mothers tug on your belt and say things like, “Come give momma a kiss, you special little handsome man.” Or worse, they’ll insult your fashion sensibilities.
Like Tyler’s mother.
“Tyler,” his mother henpecked. “Why on earth did you pick that god-awful shirt?”
To which Tyler responded in earnest, “I dunno.”
“Do you even like this shirt?”
Tyler decided to restate his faithful adage.
“Well, I won’t have you wearing that to school, or else we’ll be the laughing stock of town.”
And then, Tyler unwittingly dug his own grave. “But Mother, the popular boys wear these.”
“Tyler,” she answered. “Popularity is like whiskey. People tell you if you wear the right clothes, or say the right things, they’ll let you have a sip. Well, after a few swigs you’re sloppy drunk.”
Tyler and I both hung our heads.
“One day,” she said. “You’ll realize, the only people doing valuable things in life, are those who never sipped the Kool-Aid. I want you to be that kind of man. Helpful, kind and humble.”
Tyler mumbled a “Yes, ma’am.” And that was that.
Because he probably wasn’t listening anyway. That’s how boys are. But I do hope Tyler understands how lucky he is to be his mother’s “special little handsome man.” Because the truth is, there is no Tyler.
Tyler is me.
I once knew a woman who used to give away quilts each Christmas. Many of which should hang displayed on a wall, instead of in a closet.
She quilted every damn day. And in case you don’t know, quilting isn’t sewing, it’s geometric painting with fabric.
I have four of her blankets. One is a bear claw pattern, which has topped my bed since I was five. It took her one year to finish. I’d sell my house before I parted with that faded thing.
The year we lost Daddy, only a few months before Christmas, she quit quilting. And she gave up more than just her loom. That poor woman misplaced her confidence, self-esteem, and surety. And you don’t get things like that back.
That Christmas, she laid in bed the whole day. I made cupcakes, which was all I knew how to make. I brought one to her. She thanked me, but wasn’t hungry. Other Christmases she did her best pretending to be festive, but Mother wasn’t fooling anyone. Her face wasn’t in it, neither were her eyes.
I’m pleased to tell you that things are different now. This year, she has a fine Alabamian gentleman who baked her a cake, just yesterday. Chocolate. After eating, I sang to her. She waited for me to finish, her hands resting in her lap. It was then that I noticed something in the basket next to her sofa. Mismatched fabric swatches and a wood hoop frame.
She’s quilting again.
As she damned well should be.
Happy birthday, Mother.
MY MOTHER’S MOTHER
She was a stunning young woman who smoked Chesterfields. She smoked them so much she paralyzed one of her vocal cords. It dropped her voice a full octave. Whenever she answered the phone, people responded by saying, “Hello, sir.”
She grew up rural, and believed in God. Her mother was prickly as a bag of roofing tacks, her father full-blooded Sioux. And by some stroke of fate, her daddy was born with English blue eyes. No one suspected he was Indian until a few days after he died, when his squaw mother attended his funeral—in full tribal dress.
In those days, girls went to USO dances. Young women dawned their church dresses, and drew ink lines up the backs of their thighs; the farm-girl version of nylon stockings. She snagged a husband at one of those dances, a captain with a toothy smile.
The petite frame that God gave her weighed in at a-buck-five, sopping wet. Her bones so small she could’ve passed for a Cornish hen. She was quiet, people described her as wistful—and she loved that word. If you were fortunate enough to know her, you’d learn she loved books, and plowed through them like pecans. She was also a professional portrait painter, a published poet, a fry-pan cook, an oyster fanatic, a college graduate, a Red Cross worker and one hell of a Lutheran.
Her five children grew up to bless her as a saint. And the day my grandmother died, she tapped two fingers against her lips and mouthed, “Chesterfield.” She said it only twice.
And then she met God.
More from the author at seandietrich.com. His books are available at Amazon, and you should buy them all.
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