Because I finally found this photo of my mother that I’ve been looking for for years, I had to put it on my blog. I just love how young she looks, wonder what prompted her lifting up my stroller, love the depiction of the new neighborhood we’d just moved into that lacked even graveled streets, let alone paved ones. I’m wondering if she lifted me up to show off her spectator pumps? Pretty fancy for a mother in a housedress holding her chunky baby aloft complete with heavy metal stroller. This is my all-time favorite photo of my mother and me so I just had to share it. That’s the Masonic Temple in the background, by the way. My mother was 37 years old. I must have been between 10 months and a year old.
In case you are curious, here are a number of poems, essays and stories I’ve written about my mother over the years. Bet you can’t read the whole bunch!! But if you want to read just one, let it be the first one, which gives the most complete view of her.
The Emperor of Chocolate
I am the emperor of chocolate. I conquer every bar.
I can detect its presence in wrappings or in jar.
When there’s no chocolate to be found, I simply can’t abide it.
I can find it anywhere—wherever you might hide it.
My tendency toward chocolate is a tale I hate to tell;
but I cannot help it, for it’s congenital.
My mother abused substances—namely, Russell Stover.
She could not close the box lid until eating them was over.
She couldn’t resist chocolates, though she was not a glutton
when it came to other foods like hamburgers or mutton.
She received a box of chocolates on every holiday—
on her birthday and for Christmas, and for sure on Mother’s Day.
When it came to appreciation, my mother never failed them,
for when it came to chocolates, she always just inhaled them.
One time my dad decided that he would have some fun.
He bought my mom some chocolates to dole out one-by-one.
He hid them underneath the cushion of a chair
to give her one piece daily, but she knew that they were there.
She ate the whole box in two days. It really was disgraceful.
Every time I saw her, it seemed she had a face full.
Only with my father did she manage to save face,
For she bought chocolate-covered cherries and put one in the place
of every chocolate she stole. My father never knew.
She was not tempted by the cherries—a taste she could eschew.
My father always thought he’d pulled one over on my mother,
although I’ve always known that the true jokester was another.
When the box was only cherries, and he offered them to her,
she’d say, “I’ll save it for later,” or sometimes she’d demur.
To resist chocolate cherries, she was fully able,
and I was fully loyal to preserving mother’s fable.
That’s how my addiction was learned at Mother’s knee,
because the chocolate-covered cherries? She gave them all to me.
Here is a link to my favorite photo of my mother, plus other stories and poems about here: https://judydykstrabrown.com/2018/08/01/parental-support/
The prompt today is conquer.
I imagine one more holiday.
My mother sits at a large picture window
looking out over a broad beach,
watching dogs fetching sticks.
Then, because she cannot help it,
she takes her shoes off to walk through packed sand.
I imagine her sighting the offshore rock
where puffins nest.
I imagine footprints—hers and mine
and the paw prints of the dog—
who joins us for the price of a stick thrown
over and over into the waves.
My mother could count her trips to the beach
on one hand,
and most of those times have been with me.
Once, in Wales, we sat on the long sea wall
under Dylan Thomas’s boathouse.
A cat walked the wall out to us,
precise and careful
to get as few grains of sand as possible
between its paw pads.
As it preened and arched under my mother’s smooth hand,
its black hairs caught in her diamond rings.
The other time we went to the beach
was in Australia.
We stayed out all afternoon,
throwing and throwing a stick,
a big black dog running first after,
then in front of it,
my dad sleeping in the car parked at the roadside,
my mother and I playing together
as we had never played before.
My mother and the ocean
have always been so far divided,
with me as the guide rope in between.
I imagine reeling them both in toward each other
and one more trip.
My mother, me, a dog or cat.
Wind to bundle up for and to walk against.
Wind to turn our ears away from.
Sand to pour out of our pockets
to form a small volcano
with a crab’s claw at the top.
So that years from now,
when I empty one pocket,
I will find sails from by-the-wind sailors
and shark egg casings,
fragile black kelp berries
and polished stones.
The bones of my mother. The dreams of me.
From the other pocket, empty,
I will pull all the reunions I never fought hard enough for—
regrets over trips to the sea we never made.
And I’ll imagine taking me to oceans.
Walks. Treasures hidden in and hiding sand.
Someone walking with me—
someone else’s child, perhaps,
and a dog chasing sticks.
Note: I never took that last trip to the ocean with my mother, but I think of her every year when I come to stay at the beach on my own, and this year in particular, every time I throw the stick for Morrie and every time children come to play with us. Here is a link to my favorite photo of my mother, plus other stories and poems about her.
Written for the dVerse Poets prompt, Prose Poetry.To play along, go HERE.
Mum’s the Word
If you’ve read my posts on Africa, you already know more about me than my mom ever did. Once, years later, when I asked my mom if she would like to know the full story about why I stayed in Africa instead of traveling with my sister when she came to visit me and then coming back to the U.S. with her, my mother said, “I never told my mother anything that would make her feel bad.” Case closed.
There was a whole part of my life my mother never knew about by choice. She never knew that I was nearly killed twice while I was there, or that I initially stayed because I was in love with an Ethiopian man. My sister knew all because she was there when the shooting took place, and I had told her about the kidnapping, but she never told my mother. In many other ways, I am very like my mother, but there are some other genes surging through me, because I always want to know everything and I will almost always ask for the “rest” of the story.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Dear Mom.”: Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.
I dreamed last night that we were clearing out my mother’s house. The front doors of all the kitchen cabinets had been removed and I was puzzled about this. On the mantelpiece, I found China bulldog after China bulldog that was a replica of one I one my mother had told me to take home with me when I cleared out the house after my father’s death. “Judy asked for this. You can fight over the rest.” said a note taped to the bottom. A mayonnaise jar, it was of white glazed ceramic that had a rainbow sheen. Its head came off as a lid and its bright orange tongue was the handle of a spoon. The body fit into a depression in its saucer that had the outline of the bulldog’s feet and bottom so it nested a bit.
One of my first memories was seeing it sitting on the small triangular shelf in our kitchen. My mother never used it and later, in newer houses where it didn’t suit the decor, it always sat within a cupboard. My mother was too modern for China cabinets or knickknacks that didn’t match the color scheme. When I was small, her taste went to magenta and chartreuse. Beige and pink and turquoise marked the seventies, the turquoise and pink traded in for avocado and burnt orange in the eighties and back to a more understated green and beige in the nineties.
Whatever the color scheme, the bulldog never quite fit in, but it was the one object asked about by both of my sisters after the Loma Prieta earthquake. I I was living in a house near its epicenter, and the bulldog had worked its way from the back of my kitchen cupboard to sit teetering on the edge, but it had not fallen. It was one of the few things in a house packed full of art and artful objects that I chose to bring with me to Mexico.
I’d like to say that it has assumed a position of importance in my house in Mexico, but sadly, the China bulldog just never quite seems to fit in to the mainstream. It has sat on a shelf in my studio for the past twelve years, somewhere near the back where it is safe but unseen. But for some reason, if I were to be able to take one more object from my house, the China bulldog is what my mind falls upon. Perhaps it is time to think about why.
I often dream about a subject that ends up being my blog topic for the next day. For some reason that topic fits into the prompt and so it is never very difficult for me to begin the day’s writing. In this case, once I’d settled on the bulldog as my topic, I immediately remembered that in my dream I had found five or six bulldogs on my mother’s mantel. Some were without bodies, all without their dishes. Some were smaller than others and lacked the brilliant sheen or bright colors. One seemed to be almost crumbling, as though it had been under water for a long period. All were missing their tongues.
In the dream, I imagined my mother combing second hand stores and never being able to resist whenever she found a bulldog in the same shape as the one her older sister had given her when she was a child. It’s been at least 100 years since she received that strange gift that was the only remaining thing that seemed to have been brought with her when she moved first from Missouri, then to Kansas and then to South Dakota, to marry my father.
She told me no stories about it and as I think about that, I realize she told me few stories at all. Not about her wedding or my birth. The stories in my family all centered around my father while her stories seemed safely tucked away on a shelf like the China Bulldog. Perhaps that is why that one piece of all the pieces of my mother has assumed a center place in our memories. I know that my middle sister, who lived in the same town as my mother for the last six years of her life, has mourned her loss the most over the years. My oldest sister, who was estranged from Mom for the last twenty years of her life, is in the throes of Alzheimer’s and so never mentions her at all.
It has been fourteen years since her death and I don’t think of her daily or even weekly, but every so often, something happens and the thought comes in a flash that I have to be sure to tell Mother about it; and for the past year, most of my poetry has been written in her joking, rhythmic cadence and rhyme. Perhaps some essence of her that has been steeping in me for over sixty years has suddenly reached its saturation point and must come out.
And the China bulldog? The dream? It is as though for all these years she has been trying to get it back, never quite replacing it but nonetheless not giving up the search. And I can’t overlook the irony that it is these less perfect incomplete bulldogs that she chose to put on her mantel. Is she trying to tell me something about beauty or the adherence to a dream or about giving up perfection to enter back into the quest?
My mind ricochets without finding an answer, but I continue to feel the prompt. Perhaps there is reason in the name “wordpress.” I feel that press to find meaning through words as I feel my mother’s gentle prod and communication through genes or memory or dreams, to leave perfect things behind and to get on with my life.
The Prompt: Burnt—Remember the prompt where your home was on fire and you got to save five items? That means you left a lot of stuff behind. What are the things you wish you could have taken, but had to leave behind?
Okay, I am writing this down by heart, as I remember it. Then I’ll find a copy and check how well I remember it, putting corrections in parentheses. Why do I remember this poem that was unfashionable even when I memorized it? One of her favorites, it was chosen by my mother for me to recite in a contest. I won with it at school, county and district level and then went to state level where I did not win. Probably my wrong choice to pronounce “lower” in a manner so as to rhyme with “hour!”
Okay, by heart, mind you, here is the poem:
The Children’s Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Between the dark and the daylight,
when the night is beginning to lower,
comes a pause in the day’s occupations
that is known as the children’s hour.
I hear in the chamber above me,
the patter of little feet,
the sound of a door that is opened
and voices, soft and sweet.
By my lamplight, I see in the darkness (from my study I see in the lamplight)
descending the broad hall stair
grave Alice and laughing Allegra,
and Edith with golden hair.
A whisper and then a silence,
yet I know by their laughing (merry) eyes
they are plotting and planning together
to take me by surprise.
A sudden rush from the stairway,
a sudden raid from the hall,
by three doors left unguarded,
they enter my chamber wall.
They climb up into my turret,
o’er the arms and back of my chair.
When I try to escape, they surround me.
They seem to be everywhere.
They almost devour me with kisses,
their arms about me entwine,
till I feel like the Bishop of Bingen
in his round tower (mouse-tower) by the Rhine.
Do you think, oh blue-eyed banditos, (banditti)
because you have scaled the wall,
such an old mustache as I am
is not a match for you all?
I have you fast in my fortress
and will not let you depart
but keep you captive forever (But put you down into the dungeon)
in the round-tower of my heart.
And there will I keep you forever,
yes forever and a day
till the walls have crumbled to ruin
and mouldered, in dust, away.
My mother told me her mother used to read this poem to her and her five sisters. (Her two brothers were probably off pulling pranks somewhere.) Whenever her mother would recite the line, “And Edith with golden hair” my mom would cry, because she had a sister named Edith, and my mom wanted golden hair as well.
Although I only met her once, when I was three, I believe my Grandmother was a kind soul and I can’t remember whether my mother told me or I imagined that my Grandmother then altered the line to read, “and Eunice with golden hair” as well.
Now, as to the lines or words I got wrong (after fifty-two years, as I believe I recited this when I was eleven) I am fairly sure that my mother changed that entire line I got wrong, thinking it wasn’t appropriate for a girl of 11 to say the words, “But put you down into the dungeon.” Mother knew best, even over such an illustrious poet as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a fact that probably stunned the judges and led to my eventual upset as South Dakota poetry champion of outmoded rhyme.
Now, please recite your biggest feat of memory for me in comments!!!