My mother was a Depression baby. She was the youngest of John and Martha’s eleven children. Her older brothers and sisters told and retold the story of how Martha made red flannel diapers for her littlest girl with the black curly hair. I have had that image tucked away in my mind and heart for so long, and I know it needs to be written into a story.
My mother’s earliest vivid memory of her own came from a childhood Christmas when she was old enough to go to the community Christmas celebration at the school, although she was not yet old enough to go to school. She was excited to think of seeing “Santy” and getting an orange and peppermint candy. She was indignant when she recognized her oldest brother under the fake beard as she took her turn sitting on his lap. He was smoking a real pipe. She stuck the end of the beard into the pipe and declared, “You ain’t Santy, you’s Bill!” before jumping down and running off, trying to swallow her disappointment.
Her older brothers and sisters were dating and getting married while she was still just a kid. Apparently, she was sometimes quite a nuisance around the budding romances-the boyfriend of one of her sisters bribed her to leave them alone with a cat that she named Thomas B. (I know a cat named Thomas B must have stories to tell, too.) She was the one who revealed another sister’s secret marriage. The sister and her sweetheart were saying no, they weren’t married, when some of the other siblings were teasing them in front of their parents. My mother said, “Oh, yes you are, because I know where you hid the license.” And she took a picture off the wall and turned it around to reveal the certificate taped to the back!
When she was in high school, her very conservative mother thought it was scandalous that her daughter would wear ankle socks. My mother somehow managed to get one pair she kept hidden in her pocket when she left for school each day until she was out of sight- then she would change before she caught up with her friends at the bus stop. She would change again before returning home every afternoon, and covertly wash the socks each evening. She escaped discovery since her usually worn-out mother seldom came upstairs to the girl’s bedroom and so never saw them hanging there to dry.
Another high school story is about one of her teachers. Along with her dark hair, my mother had dark eyelashes and eyebrows. In those days, make-up was looked down upon for high school girls. This teacher kept accusing my mother of using mascara. One day she got fed up. She challenged the teacher to get her a wash cloth and she would prove she was not wearing make-up. He produced a wet cloth, and she scrubbed at her eyes, then defiantly held out the cloth. “See!” she said.
My mother married soon after she graduated from high school. By 19, she was expecting her first child (me). My father was in the Army, so she was staying with her in-laws. When she went into labor, they thought she was just over-reacting, that she was young and didn’t really know. She had to threaten to call a cab before they finally took her to the hospital.
Her story continued into our stories. She tells stories of our childhood, the ones we remember only from the telling. She also has unique versions of stories we do remember…
My mother is almost eighty. I know she has so many more stories. For some time now I’ve been urging her to write down her memories, but she doesn’t see herself as a writer. Now she’s thinking about recording them. I hope we can create a book she can give to all her children and grandchildren. We need these stories from our shared past to keep passing along into our shared future. We need to see the curly-headed toddler streaking around in red diapers, the spunky girl who would tell it as she saw it, and the young woman who would stand up for herself. We need to remember…