Posted on April 10, 2015April 8, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair4.10.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Dorothea Lange April 10, 2014: We always knew. Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Mam was just wore out. That’s what I reckon. She warn’t made for the kinda life she had. She was pretty and gentle and small. Thinking ‘bout it, I don’t know how she came to be with our pa. She said he was handsome once, like a movie star and he had a smile as would melt the wickedest winter frost. That’s what mam said, but I think she was just inventing for our sakes.
She was always the first up and the house smelling of bacon frying and coffee brewing and water boiling for to wash clothes or sheets or floors. She got up with the birds, pa said, but I heard her some early mornings and she was moving ‘round in the quiet dark – setting table and raking last night’s ashes into new flame and putting the house to some sort of order.
Pa said he had it hard with all he had to do in the fields and tending the animals and keeping the accounts for the government inspectors. He said one day I’d know and it would be my turn then to hold a family together. But I don’t think he knew the half of what mam did.
She did her fair share of labour ‘bout the farm. She milked the few cows we had and she sorted the hens and the geese. And she was out planting corn when it was time and she was a help when it came to harvesting. And the books that pa kept, well it was our mam as checked ‘em over and set them straight where pa had over-calculated or where he had lost a dollar or two in his assessing.
And it was mam as saw to us kids, making sure we was scrubbed clean and turned out neat for school. And fed right, and our homework done to a standard, and all us chores done – pa said we all of us had to do chores or we’d never learn what it was to work. Mam helped us with our chores.
And it was mam who saw to us when we was sick – like when Emmy ate unripe pears and she was bent in two over a basin and all her insides turned outside and mam sat with her till sleep overcame Emmy; and still mam held her and sang in soft whispers so Emmy’s dreams would be sunshine yellow and not green.
And when we was in our beds, it was mam we heard still cleaning up, and pa was sleeping already in his chair by the fire. Mam washed the last of the dishes and she dried ‘em and put ‘em away in the cupboards, creeping like a thief ‘bout the kitchen so as not to wake pa. And she prepared the house for the morning, sweeping floors and such, as much as she could, before waking pa and saying he should take himself to bed.
But she warn’t done then, cos pa was awake now and he was antsy, and he kissed mam and touched her under her clothes and he said as how she was lovely now, his words was softer as cotton when it is new burst and sticky like treacle, too. And I heard ‘em some nights and mam was breathing hard and quick like she was ill and pa was blowing air like a old horse, and their bed was creaking and groaning like trees in a beating storm. And I put my fingers in my ears so as I wouldn’t hear pa calling on Jesus and cussing in the same quickening breath.
The house was still after that, but I knew mam was awake. I could hear her washing herself with a wet cloth and her thoughts still rattling in her head and her prayers given small breath.
And maybe her prayers was answered when God took her to his side; that’s how the minister explained it to us when mam died. He said God had chosen her specially. Pa just spat on the church floor and he ran his fingers through his hair and hitched up his britches and bit his tongue.
Pa don’t really believe in God and I don’t neither. I reckon as mam was just plum wore out and pa had a part to play in that and maybe us kids did too. And though I don’t believe in no God, I catch myself praying sometimes and I ask forgiveness in my prayers, forgiveness for not standing up to pa and for not making mam’s life just a bit easier.