Walking up the three familiar steps to the small two bedroom frame house, I balanced my baby on one hip and juggled a sack of groceries with the opposite arm. Although I had a slender frame, I was tall, and used to coping with my burdens. Tossing my dark hair, I looked back and called, “Come on in, Mother, I’ll get the rest of the groceries as soon as I put the baby down.” My voice was light, and showed no trace of the day’s tiring activities beginning with the five a.m. wakeup feeding call. While pushing the screen door open with one foot, manuvering the wiggling bundle in one arm, and the heavy package in the other; I just managed to insert the house key in the lock.
Suddenly, a burst of livewire energy in a three-year old body bounded up the steps with a “I’ll help, Mommy,” and tripped somewhere near the vicinity of my knees. As all three of us half stumbled, half fell into the darkened living room, I dropped the least valuable of the objects I was carrying. Oranges went rolling in every direction across the highly polished hardwood floors as the grocery sack ripped open and spilled its contents.
A thin wail pierced the air, and I quickly laid the baby in the playpen as I turned to my oldest daughter to soothe her tears. “It’s o.k., honey, you were just trying to help, nobody’s hurt (thank goodness, I thought to myself). Now help Mommy pick up the oranges.” As my little girl with her long brown hair, blue eyes, and three feet of willingness ran to do as she was told, her sister of four months with her brown eyes and black hair raised her voice to let the world know she was not happy with the turn of events. Turning to my baby, I deftly changed her diaper, and stuck a bottle in her mouth. “That’s all that’s wrong with you,” I pacified her further with my voice.
“Any broken bones?” I looked up as my mother, Helen’s, cheerful voice rang out just in time to see her come into the doorway from outside.
“No, luckily not, Lisa was just trying to help, but it backfired.” My laughter was laced with affection for my daughter. “I hope she’s as eager to lend a hand when she’s old enough to.”
“Well, if she’s anything like most teen-agers…reluctantly,” my mother warned.
“Here, Mother, sit on the couch, and give April her bottle while I get the rest of the groceries, will you?” I said. (When I had my babies, I was only asked if I was going back to work—when I replied in the affirmative, the pediatrician put them on formula without further discussion). I looked at the brown sofa flecked with gold thread where I had invited my mother to sit, the style definitely early marriage, and saw how worn it looked. I absentmindedly straightened the throw pillows with the bright orange flowers. I loved this room with its chocolate brown and orange tones and had fought hard to stay in the house after my husband and the children’s father left. It was small, but certainly large enough for its current three occupants.
Pete had never been interested in anything to do with housekeeping and that included house hunting as well as the responsibilities that went along with having a house, I thought ruefully. So myself and my mother were the ones who were driving along the residential street one day when we saw the “For Rent” sign. Looking at the twenty or so houses on either side of the street and their manicured postage stamp lawns, we agreed it was a nice neighborhood. The little white house in front of us with it’s black roof and black trim showed that loving hands had taken care of it throughout the years. I had been very grateful to have it for my family.
“Oh, the groceries,” I remembered with a start. Leaving my mother to oversee the orange chasing and bottle taking, I dashed out to the car and returned with my food supply for the week. (It had scared me when the total was $13.00 for the week. It was 1965, and that cut a chunk out of my budget). Lugging in the last load, half out of breath, I said, “Mother, your car is still running. Want me to turn it off?”
“No, I need to get home. I left your Dad there with your brothers and sister, and they will all be hungry as usual. Can’t seem to fill those boys up.” My brothers, Raymond, and Jack were nine and seven, and my sister, Susan, was five. As my mother chattered on, my mind began to race furiously; feelings of panic were setting in.
“But, I bought tea; I’ll make some; I bought it just for you,” I interrupted my mother, my mind casting about for any reason to keep her there a little longer.
“Well, I really have to go,” my mother replied. “I think April is asleep,” standing and turning toward the girls’ bedroom to lay her in her crib. “It might be for the night. Come here, Lisa, kiss Granny good-bye.” (My mother was forty-one years old; her hair was still jet black and, despite having six children, she was in good, shapely form. She didn’t look like a “Granny).”
“Thank you for taking me shopping,” I kept my voice low on purpose to hide its shakiness so my mother wouldn’t know I was upset.
“You’re welcome. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Then she was gone; the front door closing behind her with a finality that locked in the silence and twilight. The grayness of the room began to feel as if it were creeping into my bones even though it was late August and the midst of a hot Texas summer. The pit of my stomach was a cold knot, and goose bumps broke out on my arms. I rubbed each arm with either hand, rocking back and forth as I did when I rocked my baby. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t asked me to come with her.
“What is wrong with me?” I wondered aloud. I didn’t feel this way when Pete left six weeks before. Even then I didn’t feel as alone as I felt now. Even though I had asked him not to go, had told him the girls needed their father, that I needed him to help me raise them; he just shook his head, and walked out the door….out of our lives. Yes, we were too young when we got married. But we were. And we had responsibilities. I had not heard one word from him since the day he left. Living with him had been like living alone. The change had been imperceptible. Now, though, I felt bereft. That was it; bereft and lonesome after my mother left tonight. Maybe it’s just the end of a long day, I mused, attempting to work it out in my mind.
Thinking of my parent’s home on Saturday nights, the light and warmth and laughter of the children, I realized that this would be the first Saturday night I hadn’t spent with them in months. Even when Pete and I were together, I had often gone over there while he “went out with friends.” I knew that right now my parents were eating hamburgers because Saturday night was always hamburger night, had been since I was a little girl myself, and watching, “All in the Family.”
That was it! The lightbulb in my head, the insight, was like a cold shower as my wandering mind faced reality. My life had always intertwined with my family’s, especially my mother’s, and now I had a family of my own. But, more than that, for one brief moment, I could see my mother as a person, instead of my mother and the person who had been there for me for twenty-two years. My mother was her own person, separate and apart from her family, and could not fulfill my needs anymore. She had probably been tired and didn’t want to go home, cook dinner, have five small children in the house, and then still have to bring me back to my house. Even if she didn’t work outside the home, she might not want to spend her Saturday evening like that again, as she had been for six weeks or more, since I had been without transportation.
Anymore than I would, I thought in wonder, how could I have missed seeing this? Funny that I didn’t realize when I got married, or when my first child was born. My mind wound down, and I sat staring into space. “Mommy, I’m hungry.” My daughter’s plaintive voice roused me from my reverie, and I squinted to see the hands of my watch in the dark.
“Of course, you are, sweetheart. Mommy’s sorry. I’ll fix us something to eat.” I stood slowly; it seemed to me that I had been sitting there for an eternity, but my watch showed that my mother had only been gone ten minutes. I shivered, as I looked about the room which usually seemed so cozy and warm, but now had gloomy shadows. “We need some light,” I said in a falsely cheerful voice, flicking the light switch. The twin table lamps on either side of the sofa radiated an instant glow; the shadows in the living room as well as the corners of my mind faded away.
“Your mommy’s so silly,” I said to my little girl. Lisa nodded her head solemnly in complete agreement. “Do you know that until tonight she still thought she was her Mommy’s little girl?” I went on into the kitchen, talking more to myself than the toddler following behind me. “And here I am with two little girls of my own,” turning and lifting Lisa high in the air, the sound of my daughter’s laughter making my heart lighter by the moment. “Go and turn on the T.V.”, I stooped to my daughter’s eye level as I gently set her down. “We’ll watch “All in the Family” while I cook supper. How about hamburgers?”
I smiled at Lisa’s excited, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then I stood and smoothed my cotton knit shirt down over the waist of my jeans. Passing the mirror in the dining room, I straightened my shoulders and went on into the kitchen to make dinner.
(Yes, this is a VERY true story; rather than write it in first person narrative, just for a change, I wrote it as a first person story).