I wonder if a little rock on a beach can last seventy years.
My friend Judy just got back from a trip to Paris and a visit to the Normandy beach. She posted on Facebook: “The most important place I wanted to see was the Normandy Beach Memorial . . . There are signs stating what a special place it is and to keep quiet as you walk through the cemetery where 10,000 soldiers are buried, and you could feel that you were in a special place . . . I got even more touched when we walked down to the beach at Omaha and looked up where the soldiers had to get on the beach out of boats and scale the bluffs in spite of all the bunkers that were built on the top, and the Germans could shoot down at the soldiers, and you wonder how they were able to overcome . . . All you can do is stand there and know you are on a special piece of land, and you realize that tears are streaming down your face . . . and you just say a prayer for all those soldiers that were killed and the ones that were saved . . . .”
I commented: “My daddy landed there during the war . . . and my best friend’s father was actually in the battle there, injured, fingers shot off, and had to hide in the wreckage and tread water for two days before being rescued.”
Judy invited me over for dinner and muscadine wine and told me she picked up five rocks on the beach, and she wanted to give me one because my father was there. We sit at the table, the rocks between us. She describes her emotions while at that beach. I tell her it’s because of all the souls lost there, still there. She tells me I can pick out the rock I want.
I put my fingers around the pale blue-gray pebble, pick it up, and look at it sitting in the palm of my hand. It is cold sitting against my skin. It has pock marks like craters and lines and holes that have been washed deep and smooth by the waves of time washing over. It is two inches long and the shape of a footprint.
My father’s footprints are there.
Seventy years ago during full moon on June six, three hundred twenty thousand feet landed along a fifty-mile stretch of the coastline at Normandy. Eighteen thousand feet did not make it past that day. By July four, two million feet had tromped across the pebbles on the beach. All those feet began a march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
Three months later on September twenty-third, my dad landed on that beach near Cherbourg. The foot shape of the rock I selected from Judy’s treasures reminds me of his movement from the ship to the landing craft to the water at the beach’s edge. I want to think that his boots stepped on this very rock on his way to war.
Dad was in the Tenth Armored Division, Third Army, under General Patton. He once told me: “It wasn’t safe to enter at Cherbourg in a large vessel because of all the wreckage, so we boarded small landing craft out in the ocean. Many ships had been sunk there, and some of their tops stuck up out of the water. There were huge balloons up in the air over us to protect us from being strafed by German planes. The balloons looked to be as big as our house and were attached to the ground with long ropes or metal wire. I walked on shore through bodies and still bloody water.”
Dad was twenty-two then, a boy from a small farm in Mississippi. A boy who quickly became a man.
“War is hell,” Dad said.
“War is a bloody, killing business,” General Patton told the soldiers. “You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt, it’s the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you’ll know what to do!”
From Cherbourg Dad marched on across France, Belgium, and Germany and was in the big battles—he got a Bronze Star with Valor at Trier and was pinned down at Bastogne. Dad was a front line medic and saw things no boy should ever have to see, but boys do see these things when they serve their country in war.
My rock. A footprint. Boots on the ground. Dad’s boots.
The memory lasts.
And let’s ride the Jones Builders River down the hill! A river of mud — so wear your old clothes.
Here it comes…
And there it goes…
Weeeeee. And here we are at the bottom of the hill. It sounds like the Ocoee River with all that rainwater and silt flowing into the stormwater drain.
You know, whoever set the fencing up needs to take Erosion Control 101, because what they did failed with the first rain. So, out of the muddy lot and into the city stormwater system at the bottom of the hill. Good job, people. [Clapping]
I’ve been itching to get my kayak out and go for a ride!
Let’s do this!
I won’t be wearing a red rose today. A red rose on Mother’s Day means one’s mother is still among the living. I am now “unmothered.”
But I don’t think that word will ever apply, for I am wrapped in her memories and steeped in her love.
You cannot enter my house without walking by my mama’s monkey grass. I dug it up from her yard after she died and even brought some Delta dirt home in a crystal candy dish. The iris to the left came from William Faulkner’s yard in Oxford, Mississippi.
The first thing you see upon entering my house is the vase of Mississippi magnolias on the dining room table. Mama made that vase using an oatmeal box when she took ceramics one summer. Mama never stopped learning. She taught school all her life and took classes at Delta State University on the side. She had a BS with a double major in history and a major in elementary education. She had an MS in special education. She had a specialists degree in education and was a Phi Beta Kappa.
In my breakfast room is a lamp that Mama bought at Levingston’s in Cleveland about 1960. She liked the style of it. Next to the lamp is another vase that Mama made, and she made this one out of the red Kemper County clay she dug up next to the stream in the woods on our family land in Mississippi. It didn’t process exactly right in the kiln and came out red and white, but that just adds to the beauty of it, she said. Not everything is perfect. The picture on the wall shows a lighthouse my sister and I visited in Oregon a few years ago.
Mama took up macrame when it was popular back in the 1970s and 80s. She made all sorts of fancy things. All I’ve got left is a small wrapped bottle on a shelf in my living room. It stands in front of the Boone family books. My mama’s mother was a Boone; we’re kin to Daniel. The little nesting doll next to the vase, Colleen brought me back from Russia when she went to her son’s wedding over there. And the puffin above it came from the Maritimes where my sister and I traveled last summer.
On my bedroom wall hangs a picture that used to hang on Mama’s bedroom wall when I was a little girl. I’d stare at that picture. I loved it because it has horses in it and a dog, but also because it only has five colors: light brown, dark brown, white, red, and black. This picture had belonged to my grandfather. Mama had it re-framed by Mr. Winters in Cleveland, and he told her she had something special there.
Another special thing I have on my bedroom wall is a framed piece with a poem my mother once wrote stitched on fabric by my sister:
Old things are what I like best,
A spinning wheel and a teakwood chest,
A lamp, a teapot, and a cherry stand,
All cared for by a gnarled old hand.
Yes, my life is wrapped up in her, and I have many possessions that were cared for by her hand that grew gnarled. That keeps her with me. I will never wear a white rose on Mother’s Day, signifying that my mother is gone. She will never be gone. I may change the tradition, though. I may wear a pink flower. My mama is not here physically, but my mama is here.
As our mothers get older, they do and say what they think and feel. They get braver. They don’t care who sees and hears. They have no inhibitions. I remember my mother asking me once upon a time when I dropped off my twelve-year-old son to spend the week with her: “Do you want me to tell him about the birds and the bees?” “Mama,” I said. “You haven’t told me yet. You need to tell me first, and then we’ll worry about him.”
The memory I’ll share now is not about my mother. It’s about the mother of Joy Ross Davis, a writer from Bessemer, Alabama.
Joy’s story was published back in 2010 in Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. For eight years, I was publisher/editor of this online journal. I published the works of 361 writers from 38 states and 10 different countries. I published emerging writers and established writers — Pushcart nominees and winners, journalists, college professors — and I was even asked by the publisher of the award winning Doug Marlette to include an excerpt from his second novel. (I still have the original, unedited copy of his submitted manuscript.)
This is a true story, a precious memory, an everlasting image, and I know you’ll get a smile and a laugh. So — read the old post with Joy’s story. And enjoy!
And happy Mother’s Day to you and yours!