Posted on May 9, 2015May 7, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair5.9.2015 Journal Prompt Image from Frozen River May 9, 2015: She was always there. Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Looking back I can see that she never had it easy. As a kid you know how it is—it just seems like if it’s a bad thing it happens to me not to anyone else in the family. Like the time I got sent home from school for an argument on the playground. Tommy was the one who started it but of course the teachers never saw that, just me yelling at him. I might have taken a swing at him but nobody got hurt. So anyway, when I got home Mom had already heard all about it and just gave me “the look.” She pointed outside and sent me to where my dad was waiting by the barn. He had just awakened, and wasn’t’ in the best mood anyway. But he gave me a lecture and a slap on the butt and sent me into the barn for extra chores. To me it seemed I was the one who suffered the most. Only years later would I find out from sis that mom cried her eyes out that night.
I can still picture her that day that this picture was taken. She was taking a cigarette break from running errands and picking us up from a friend’s house. She had been talking with her girl friend Misty about how she wanted to raise her kids. I was in the back seat wanting to get home but she wanted to stop and talk about how she wanted us kids to turn out. She and Misty kind of got into it but talked quietly so as I couldn’t hear every word. But I could still hear mom say real clear “I want them to get out of this place. I want them to live a better life than what got handed to me.” She got the words out. Stubbed her smoke out in the ashtray, slammed the door and off we went. Back home no more words were spoke.
We all tried to keep that old farm going. It wasn’t that big, just a few chickens and hogs, and the hired hand tended the crops. Dad worked third at the factory in town and by all of us pitching in we got by. He would come home early morning and get the chores started with the animals, and it was up to us kids to finish the other chores, get to school and then home to finish up. By then dad was waking up eating dinner, getting ready to leave again for work. Only time we saw him much was on Saturday after he awoke and got all cleaned up, and then to church on Sunday.
With all the things going on it was easy to see now that mom was the main one around. Sure dad had the big voice and could laugh and tell jokes with us on Sunday afternoon. But it was mom who was always there, making sure that we six kids got breakfast before school, a lunch to pack, clean clothes and food on the table. She was the one who made sure that our homework was done, our hands washed before meals, sit up straight at the table, and please and thank you.
We kids never saw our folks argue much. I think dad knew better than to try to take on mom on anything except who was driving us to church. The only time we heard their voices raised was when Allen moved in with us. I was in the 7th grade, and Allen had been one of my playground buddies. He would get himself in trouble some times like me, but he always treated me good. His ma had a lot of problems it seemed but he never talked about it. We heard about it at church one Sunday, that Allen’s dad had left and his ma was very ill. The preacher gave a prayer that Allen’s family would be healed of the evil that had struck them down.
So as we finished Sunday dinner with all of us at the table mom looks at all of us and says straight out what do you think of Allen staying with us till his ma gets better? I gotta admit that this stopped our usual arguments about who would be served first and please pass the butter. It got real quiet. Dad looked at mom with his eyes bugged out and said something like “where are we going to put him?”
But mom pushed on kinda ignoring him, which I had never seen before either. She turned from him and looked at us kids and said All right I want to know. What do you think about having Allen in our home? Then she went around the table one by one. Susie and Mike were the first to say “sure. We can move over and make room right here at the table.” Jeremy realized that this was the moment that no one was watching the potatoes and glopped some more on his place—“it’s ok with me” came through his mouth full of food. Mom ignored this and went on to the twins who nodded their heads in unison seeing what the other kids had said.
It was now my turn. “Allen’s my buddy. He can have my bed and I’ll sleep on the floor.” By now dad was looking down at the floor, covering his eyes with one huge hand, moving off to one side in his chair. Finally he struggled with the words “It’s the right thing to do.”
“So it’s final then” mom announced to seal the plan. No turning back now. “I’ll call Allen’s ma this afternoon and offer her our support.”
It turned out that Allen’s ma was very ill, like the preacher said, but a different kind of sickness than we thought. She had a lot of trouble with alcohol and drugs, and wound up in and out of jail and treatment centers for as long as we knew her. Allen would stay with us through high school. His ma tried to straighten out her life for sure, but every time she got close she would wind up crashing again. She would call Allen on the phone from time to time and I could tell it would tear him up. She was always promising him that it would get better some day, and that they would be together again. That day never came and Allen slowly gave up caring.
It messed with Allen’s head that he never knew what to expect from his ma. He started calling mom his ma, and that seemed to help him a lot. He would help out with the chores. He no longer got into fights at school; his grades came up. Soon he was competing with me to see which of us would do better in class.
High school commencement was such a big day for us all. There was me, and there was Allen up there on the platform getting our diplomas. Together. I could see my family out there in chairs set up in the schoolyard. While the principal was going on about the future is ours, and what we oughtta do with it, I had a chance to really look at mom. There she was in her best Sunday dress, hair all done up. Sitting next to dad with his tie he hated to wear. She was smiling proud that day. She had kept her promise. She wanted us to have a chance at a better life. She was always there.
(Ok I’m back)
Dave! Welcome back. So glad that this gave you so much fodder. Another novel in the making? And I owe you an email. Gonna be at Interlochen in a couple of weeks at all? Would love to see you.
Yes would love to see you as well. This writing gig is hard stuff but so real. I’ve been hanging on to this since 5/9 and finally got it out. Yes perhaps another novel. I seem to be finding my footing and more comfortable with my own voice.
Northern Michigan has had a couple late freezes and summer will fly by. Plz email me when you are up there and we will make every effort to connect.
Great to see you busy here again, David. Nice emotional tug to this piece. I love dad saying it is the right thing to do.
Lindsay! So good to hear your voice again. Yes dad was outvoted in a democratic family meeting. The alternative would not have been very real at least to me. At church the following Sunday no doubt dad would announce it as his own but families do grind along. A layering of many stories around me and within. Thanks for your comment–they really help.
No, I don’t know her. Not past the nodding to and saying something ‘bout the day, how cold it is or how warm and trying to make what I say shorter than a complaint. She’s there most days, at the park. She just pulls up in her car and she winds the window down or throws the door wide. Then she just sits there, looking at nothing, and she smokes a cigarette or two and the day just passes.
She drives an old blue-grey ’53 Cadillac coupe. It’s the car that first caught my eye. They aint so common these days and I can recall my dad drove one for years, almost till the wheels fell off. I said that to her once, the lady sitting looking at nothing. I told her that I liked her car and that it reminded me of my dad and me being six again and everything on the tv all in black and white. I was trying to be cheery and light, just making conversation. She just nodded and went on smoking her cigarette. I don’t think she even looked at me.
There’s stories ‘bout who she is and what happened to her. So many stories and none of ‘em the same from one day to the next. She’s waiting for someone and she’s been waiting so long that she don’t even remember who it is she’s waiting for – a lover, or a sister who’s gone astray in her world, or a friend who has changed her address and so has slipped out of reach. Or she’s lost a child, a dear child, and maybe it is her own child, lost years back, and the child just disappeared into thin air, there in the daylight park, and she returns to the place just to wait for that lost child, just in case ever they come back. Or someone died, lots of stories ’bout people dying, and it could be anyone, and dying every which way, and she can’t get past it, and is a little unhinged by that.
I don’t buy any of those stories they tell and I don’t want to even know what it really is. People’s business is their own, I reckon, and that’s just how it should be. Still, I make a point of coming down to the park most days, looking for her ’53 Caddy coupe that’s just like my dad’s. And I see her and tell her hi and make some small remark on the day or the weather and sometimes I just open up. I talk is all, ’bout this and that and everything, and I know before I get to the park what I will talk ‘bout, cos mostly I have rehearsed it beforehand. It don’t matter none that she sits still and silent, just looking straight ahead and smoking her cigarettes. Maybe she’s listening and maybe she aint. It’s all one.
See, we all got our own sadness, somewhere at the heart of us, and that’s just how it is. And we deal with it in our own way. Some tell stories to make the lives of people they meet worse than their own and there’s maybe a comfort in that. Some just talk for the sake of talking, so it’s like there’s a point to it all, and that’s what I do. And some just listen to the silence caught between the words and between the stories, listening for what aint said and yet is there if you listen hard enough. Like I said, it’s all one.
Thiss is a great blog