It was 1958 or Nine

I grew up in a beautiful America.  Dad was Dad, and Mom was Mom and every home had those two individuals.  Kids were either boys or girls, and very generic after that.  When our mom and dad made friends with other moms and dads, we always demanded to know about their children, eager for playmates of our own age and gender.  When two families got together, it was an instant party, a house full of laughing people, with food the mother of the house had grown in her garden, baked in her oven, or “fixed for us” in her brand new kitchen.

It was an era when each American felt freshly vindicated by having conquered the Nazis who tried to murder millions of innocent civilians simply for being Jewish, or having Jewish “sympathies.”  We were born several years after the end of World War II, and knew no suffering, no lack, no fear.  Our parents were children of the Depression who had known hunger, lack, and bone-chilling cold in winters that seemed endless.  By contrast, our homes were heated in winter, and Union Gas showed up monthly to refill the fuel supply in our basement.  As a child I would watch out the window and call out to my mom, “The Onion Man is here!”  When she asked why I called him the onion man, I said, “That’s what it says on the truck.”  (I was a Phonics kid. For me, the word “Union” did not start with a “Y” but with a “U” so UNION man it was.

Our parents would never discuss the war, but the Depression was frequently mentioned.  The tone was unanimously informative and cautionary from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  It was as if they had barely survived total immolation, but for God’s hand, and if we were not careful, we would suffer the same.  This awareness of God’s grace, and their relief at His providential solutions to poverty,  genocide, and starvation was real, and no small thing, nothing to take for granted.  We were occasionally warned that our days of careless play and full bellies could well be numbered.  We laughed behind their backs, certain the stories were only fables meant to teach us manners and godly behavior.

Freshly laundered clothing flapped in the sunshine outside, and long white diapers and sheets caught breezes as my grandmother bent to the heavy basket and pinned up even more.  She would raise a cranky voice and tell us something in Norwegian as we chased each other through the wet billows in an effort to run without being caught in them.  We knew what she was saying, even though we spoke nothing but English.  In those days, children listened for tone, more than the words themselves.  Adults spoke “grown up” and we spoke “child” and it seemed two separate things.  We listened for “angry” or “inviting” or “pay attention” or “stop it.”  Other than these simple tones, we ran freely past them, paying no attention.

50s

We were so confident of their love and provision we took them completely for granted, and when they told us of their impoverished childhoods, they spoke in hushed and embarrassed tones.  They spoke of their memories in shame, and it humiliated us that our own parents had known that kind of lack. We would edge away from their sad narrative, scared and suspicious it might be congenital in nature.  It was not in keeping with the sunshine of our own experience, and we knew they were speaking truth, but we had no place in our hearts and minds to file these stories.  It was important to them.  It marked them.  It was our heritage and they wanted us to have it, but we were not willing to receive it.

to be continued…

End Of Days…Why Grandmothers Are Like This

I decided to select a photo from my collection from October a few years back, more than a couple of years, really! I chose October 2008, which held a series of pictures of my grandson Cavin on an all day adventure at “Dodie’s House”.   I wish I could insert the entire album! He was maybe twenty months old.   Running in only a diaper, I snapped photos of him in his brother’s cap, my wide-brimmed sun hat, and a bent up cowboy hat. He tried each on in turn, trying out characters, as if to learn who he might become.
He spent an entire day in various get ups, and while I played paparazzi, my photos show him climbing, squatting, licking spoons of brownie mix, wiping his hands on his lil belly. He is inside, outside, devouring slices of watermelon, and patting dogs from the neighborhood. In the series he is never still, and I feel joy in the memory, with a keen awareness of the gift he was to me, and his cavalier disregard for me snapping photos of his antics.
I remember thinking how different boys are from girls in the way they play and do the work of childhood. I had been a mom of girls, never actually knowing how completely my experience differed from my friends who had sons.
Then I got a slew of grandsons, and realized my joy was only beginning!
I admit it was challenging to me to allow the climbing, jumping, and mechanical experimentation that never stopped. Their serious faces, intent on bugs, guns, and machines would change suddenly, brilliantly, into bursts of unbridled movement…and I felt each was on the verge of death if I failed to keep up! It was tiring, aggravating, and scary.
But then there would come this moment in early evening, when the boy would become quiet, truck still in his hand, and the tipping would begin, softly at first, gently, like soft snow falling…the squat became a sit, and the sit, a belly roll, and the army crawl lightly became a rolling over, with one last look at the ceiling before the stillness, a toy truck falling from open fingers, and suddenly silencestillness.
It would come like some kind of spell, right in the midst of chaotic and jerky movement, as if this boy who moments before had been inexhaustible, had accidentally hit the kill switch, the safety switch, the off button, and just fell asleep in his tracks.
This moment, that special and amazing moment happened over and over again, and my mother’s heart would return to me. All of the annoyances of my day seemed sinful on my part, and the shrieks of “No!” and “Watch out!” and “What is wrong with you?” confronted me there, in the waning daylight, and I would silently ask forgiveness for my harshness over his day of development.
It is different when you become a grandmother. We take time. We feel no obligation to get it right.  Yet we are still mothers.  MOTHERS, with all the accompanying guilt, frustrations, hopes, and dreams, while at the same time knowing we will not be there to watch over them when they are growing families of their own unless we are very, very lucky, and do a very, very good job preventing their deaths as we boldly face our OWN.   Whether our time left is short or long, we spend it lavishly, as if we will always be here.

I leaned over him, smelling his breath, turning my face to feel it on my cheek, and counting his eyelashes when I turned back to look at him, marveling at the length of them.  I set my camera on the bedside table, and leaned closer  to study his face for several minutes. The sheer miraculous beauty of the boy with his lashes sweeping over a perfect (but dirty) cheek lying there, with his heavy head crushing his cowboy hat astonished me! I gently tried to take the hat from him, but he stirred, firmly lifting his strong little hand to the top of his head, preventing me from removing the thing. He was a cowboy, at least for that day, and early signs show more of the same. I allowed it then, and allow it today.
I lifted the camera for one last shot. Somehow I needed proof for myself that hard men all over the world had once been like this child. ALL men, all over the world. Yes. ALL.
Were it not for mothers of boys, the world would have destroyed itself long ago. I will never fully understand it, but I am grateful for every girl who is one of those mothers chosen by God to be one of them.

Red cowboy hat

Red cowboy hat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)