She ran screaming from the back room, my mother. He was dead, the old man laying on the bed. That was my first memory as a child. I can’t recall who he was. Maybe an uncle or my grandmothers male friend? I just recall death and curtains, white and blowing in from the window. I was two and the house was small, but clean. We had just returned from church I believe, because of the dress that I was wearing. My mom was so proud of that little house. She had not much to hold onto, but that house meant life. Normalcy… for her little girl. For me. She loved the baby me with every ounce of her. There were notebooks stacked in the corner, upon the shelf. I remember seeing her write in them every evening, sitting in the queen Anne chair by the lamp. I would also see her read by that little lamp. She would read to me passages, didn't matter the book. Didn't matter the words. I learned many years later that within those stacks of notebooks was a book written by my mother. Completed. They were stolen not long after… when we no longer lived in the little house. I have dreamed of this book many times since. To know her. Not the woman who raised me. Who long later drank and became occasionally violent. Who cried and whom I saw never really live… but the woman that she was supposed to be. I have a feeling that she was locked in those pages. The real mom was locked inside of herself. Inside of that little normal house.
My Aunts, my sisters... they tell me now that my memories aren't exactly correct. They tell me she was the kindest, most gentle person they ever met. I believe them. I saw that side of her too. I counter that they rarely saw my mother after I turned seven or so. Please don't misunderstand me so early in the story. She was not mean. She had moments of meanness. She had demons from her past... her present... that could hold her sometimes. Meanness is not my most prominent memory, even then it was mostly directed at my daddy... and as you'll learn later, he probably deserved it. It was sadness. It was a waiting. Like a clock just ticking quietly in the room. When my mother broke through the shadow of herself, she WAS the kindest, most gentle mother to me. I can understand the feeling because I am a mom myself now. If I'm not careful, I can find myself in that same place. It's easy for me... because I have Joe. He is not my father. I think that mom spent my childhood praying for Joe. :-) My boys will read this one day and see me in her. I've come to terms with that. They will also remember my determination to keep the shadows at bay. To participate. To commemorate. To BE their mom.
I recall the alarm sounding in the kitchen. I was three… maybe four, by this time. I wanted to be helpful so I opened the stove and reached in with the mitt, just as I had seen my mother do many times before. The tv dinner tilted and spilled on my arm. I screamed. My mother ran in and cried. She cleaned me up as the skin peeled away from my arm. She made a paste with bitter cocoa powder and smoothed it gently over the burn. Just as her mother before her. She did this for days…weeks. I don’t recall exactly, but I recall the ritual. I had the scar for many years, but as I grew it left me. I miss the scar and the gentleness of her touch as she healed me. I miss the smell of the bitter cocoa. I felt so safe then. It was life as it should have been. Church on Sundays in pretty dresses, fried chicken on the table. I even recall teenage boys with white shirts and black ties on bicycles knocking on the door and mom inviting them in... to listen about Jesus. I always assumed that was my first Pentecostal encounter. Now I think... Mormons in Tomball? Did they exist?
We were singing “Jesus loves Me” during mother’s day out one night when we heard a crash. Some teenagers threw a rock through the beautiful stained glass in the rectory. Shattered. Some teen boys were running by having fun destroying something so beautiful to me. We were so frightened . The teachers huddled us up in the room while one of the elders ran outside after the boys. We waited to be picked up. It was the church that I was baptized in. I walked up the wet steps and slipped. But I made it to the pool behind the altar. The safest place in all of my world, suddenly became scary. It’s the last memory that I have of the church by the little house. In fact... my next memory is loading up the car with whatever we could carry....