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!
I was just a little girl when I walked with my daddy to the far back of the yard where the rose bushes were then. They were his rose bushes. He wanted them only for one reason. Because of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. If your mother was living, you wore a red rose pinned to your collar to Sunday School on Mother’s Day. Same with fathers.
The grass was wet, the air had a May chill to it, and the warmth of sun melted in on top of it. I remember Dad’s crisp, polished suit and wingtips. I remember my flowered dress and scratchy petticoat and the dew on my white patent shoes. I wore white silky socks then with my dressy shoes. The skin of my legs showing between the socks and the cotton flowers of my dress was scarred, bruised, and scabbed because I was a tomboy. Dad clipped a rose for my dress, and that silky fresh bud seemed foreign to those skinned up legs.
But I knew what red was back then. I never thought there’d be a day when I wouldn’t wear red. Red meant love and life and taught me what family was. Red was safety and security and somebody who would always be there to love me. Red was a father who thought red was important. Red was a mother who was dearly loved and who gave in sacrifice to her loved ones. Red was the best color ever.
Now there is no red.
I twist the lid off the jar of Noxzema. Jars back in the Sixties were of deep indigo glass. Now they’re a shade lighter in plastic. Nothing’s like it used to be.
The level of cream is so low I can see a spot of blue at the bottom, the size of a fingertip. I gasp air, and a flash of heat runs up my face. It’s close to being gone. What will I do then?
Noxzema cream is caked on the inside of the lid and stuck to the sides of the jar, but it’s still soft and wet-feeling. I lift it to my nose and breathe in the comforting smell of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. It takes me home, and I’m thirteen again, with the familiarity of things I used daily—thick Cover Girl makeup that was too dark and left a line at my jaw because I didn’t put it on right, nubby red Maybelline eye pencil, OJ’s Beauty Lotion with Witch Hazel in it, blue eye shadow, a clear plastic container of brush hair rollers the size of frozen orange juice cans that I used every single night in the years before blow dryers.
I don’t use Noxzema anymore.
This was Mama’s jar. I picked it up off her dresser the day we cleaned out her house. Mama used Noxzema all her life—all my growing up years and beyond. She bought it for me when I was a teenager. She bought it for my sister. Noxzema became a part of my day. Morning, spread on face, rub in a circular motion, rinse. Night to take off makeup—rub it in, wipe with tissues.
Noxzema took me from being thirteen to newlywed. When I moved away, I thought I had to have more expensive lotions.
This jar has been around a long time. Its contents look old, the color’s a little off, aged yellow, maybe out of date, if cleansing creams have expiration dates. But I’m using it anyway. I don’t care if it’s old, if its ingredients are starting to separate into different textures, if it’s not stark white. It was hers. I couldn’t throw it away.
When it’s gone, does that mean she is more gone than she was?
She has been gone nineteen months. This month brings what would have been her ninetieth birthday, but she won’t be here to give Gerbera daisies to, or a wind chime, or new garden gloves.
I took others personal items of hers, too, when we were selling and disposing of her belongings. I took a tiny crystal vase holding her collection of old red eyebrow pencils, sticking up like a bouquet. I took her jar of Vicks salve, the answer to all ills. I have her hair brush. With hair still in it. In the brush her hair is white. All her life except for the last three years she kept her hair brown. White marked change—her allowance that age was taking her and she was becoming less.
I can’t look at the brushful of hair without crying. There’s something about having a dead person’s hair—it was a living part of them, and now all the other parts are gone, but here’s this fistful of hair twined around bristles, clinging fast, denying its removal. I won’t let myself touch it. I won’t let myself throw it away.
Maybe I need to protect it because I couldn’t protect her.
How I wish I could dial the area code and then 843-5069.
I called her every day. Sometimes two or three times a day. We’d talk, laugh, argue over politics, grumble about all the kids and what they were doing wrong, and we never ran out of things to say.
Mama died seven months ago. This is my first Mother’s Day without a mama. It almost doesn’t matter that I am a mother and now a grandmother. It only seems to matter that I don’t have one. I miss her so much it hurts.
A few weeks ago I accepted a story for Muscadine Lines from Joy Davis of Bessemer, Alabama, who writes a bi-weekly column for her local newspaper titled “Mother, Can You Hear Me?” The column chronicles her experiences on retiring as a college English professor to become a full-time caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. On April 29, I got a brief e-mail from Joy letting me know her mother had just passed away unexpectedly and then a few days ago, she sent me her column about her mother’s actions at Palm Sunday service and said to pass it along to anyone facing this weekend without their mom, that it might bring a smile. I asked to use her story as a guest blog on Mother’s Day, in honor of our mothers and for all of us — my sister and my friends and Joy and me — who join hands and hearts this Sunday and remember those strong, beautiful, remarkable women who will always be with us in spirit, but no longer live where we can reach out and touch them or laugh with them or call them just to shoot the breeze.
By Joy Davis
Palm Sunday was a landmark day for my mother. After a year’s absence, she attended church. Now, going to church is not usually something that will fill a person with dread. But remember, I’ve been going to church with my mother for years, and I can tell you that what happens once she steps in the door is always unpredictable.
Since she can’t hear well, her voice is unusually loud, and she gets distracted easily. Peggy, our friend and helper, agreed to bring Mother in her car so that my son Clint and I could go a little early.
Palm Sunday services begin outside at Trinity Episcopal with the reading of the Passion, but on this Sunday, a heavy downpour forced us inside. I wondered if the worsening weather would make Mother change her mind about coming.
The small congregation gathered in the entry way of the narthex to begin. As is our tradition, each of us received a small hand-fashioned cross and palm branch. Our new priest, Father Bush, began with a prayer. Then, the rest of us joined in with a gospel reading.
We had said only a few phrases when the large wooden door flew open. Rain spattered inside. My mother appeared and announced in a loud voice, “Hey there, y’all. I’m Elsa Frawley, Joy’s mother. I’m not gonna stand here, though. I’m gonna go sit down while y’all do your thing.”
I glanced at Clint, then at our dear friend, Jay Howton. Both were stifling laughs. But Father Bush seemed unaffected. He gently tried to pin a cross on my mother’s blouse. She brushed his hand away.
“Move so I can go sit down!” she said.
He complied and waited for Peggy and Mother to take their seats before he began again. About halfway through the gospel reading, my mother’s voice rose above that of Father Bush’s and drifted all the way to the narthex.
“Isn’t this a pretty church, Peggy? It’s been here for a hunderd years.”
The priest continued. I’m sure I saw him smile as he read.
He finished the gospel. Then, he led the processional down the centre aisle of the sanctuary. Behind him, Jay carried the ornate gospel book. Clint carried the large golden cross on a staff behind Jay.
As Clint walked by, my mother shouted, “Hey honey! You look like a doll!”
I’m absolutely certain that he cringed as he made his way to his seat near the altar.
During the homily, my mother got restless. Just as we began the Lord’s Prayer, she said loud enough for all to hear.
“Hey, Peggy, you got any gum?”
Peggy whispered something to Mother. Clint’s shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh out loud.
About midway through the service, I was certain that Mother would want to leave, just as she’d done years ago in a rather infamous event. After listening to a sermon for a little over twenty minutes, my mother got up, glared at the priest, and stuck out her arm. With her index finger, she tapped several times on her watch, turned around, and walked out.
But this Sunday, she sat through the whole service, and I thought we were home free until it came time for Holy Eucharist. When Mother saw the altar being prepared, she nudged Peggy.
“Come on,” she said in a voice that rang throughout the sanctuary. “It’s just Communion. I’m hungry. Let’s go get a hamburger.”
So, as Father Bush was reciting the Holy Eucharist prayer, my mother and Peggy walked down the aisle and out the door. It banged behind them.
At the service’s end, I shook hands with Father Bush.
“Joy, how’s your mother getting along these days?” he asked.
Before I could answer, he laughed out loud and added, “She’s quite a character!”
(In honor of Elsa Frawley and Lucille Hardy …
and Janie’s mama and Currie’s mama …)
Son #2 came from North Carolina for a Mother’s Day visit. That and to connect with a friend from high school who was home from Missouri to see his mom. “I probably won’t ever get to come again,” he said, “with gas prices being so high.” “We’d better do it up right then,” I said. Friday, we ate dinner at Brick’s; Saturday, we grilled flank steak; Sunday morning, we made waffles served with real maple syrup.
We did a few odd jobs in the yard together. Or he did a few tasks, and I supervised. He cleared some of the weeds that were blanketing my flowerbeds and choking out my perennials. In doing so, he pulled one of the invasive culprits and threw it at me. It stuck to my clothes. “It’s like velcro,” he said. His girlfriend told him that. We spent a few minutes throwing weeds at each other. Then he planted a camellia japonica, which was my Mother’s Day gift, in place of the holly that died in last summer’s drought. He owns climbing gear and used it to cut a few dead limbs from one of the old pasture trees — cows grazed on this land before I did.
This is the baby who climbed out of his crib way before he was one; climbed bookshelves in the den at ten months, fell and hit his head on a sharp corner of the coffee table and had to go to the emergency room; scaled the kitchen cabinets at two, sat on the countertop, and sneaked a cookie; started climbing an old TV antennae when he was three and got to the height of the house before I could get a scream out of my mouth … and then in eighth grade refused to go to the top of the Washington Monument because it was too high.
“Two hundred pounds is a lot to haul up this tree,” he said. I laughed and thought of the two pieces of pecan-encrusted tilapia and red mashed potatoes he’d eaten the evening before.
I was glad when he had both feet back on the ground.
Sunday morning, he took off for home in the mountains. Son #1 called; I’d gotten a pretty card from him. My husband left to go visit his mother. And now, peace.