Remembering my mother
May 3, 2010
When we lived in an old house on my grandfather’s 80-acre farm my mother used a bedroom at the top of the stairs for storage. It was a perfect place for a small child to spend a solitary afternoon exploring. The room was a virtual museum of the family’s past. There were books, cast-off toys, and a Jew’s harp that I couldn’t figure out how to play. Seasonal, seldom worn, and out-of-date clothing hung on a rod spanning the end of the room.
I was intrigued by a dress that hung there. It was khaki colored with dark brown fringe. Lots of fringe. Silhouettes of trees, a bird and other mysterious symbols decorated the front of the long, straight dress. Wooden beads swooped across the bodice.
When I asked my mother about it she replied, “That’s the ceremonial gown I made for Camp Fire.” Was that when she opened the old, black album to show me the photograph? Time distorts memories like the position of the sun distorts shadows. I no longer remember when I saw that snapshot, but today I keep it in a box of old prints I inherited from my mother.
There were other interesting things in that room at the top of the stairs. Two odd-shaped wooden clubs lay on the floor under the dress. I might have mistaken them for bowling pins if I had known what a bowling pin looked like.
They were varnished a smooth honey-color. Gazing out of the window as if into the past my mother told me they were her Indian clubs. “I used them in exercise class.” My mother told me her ‘instructor said she was the strongest girl in her class.
I wondered about my mother’s life before I became a part of it. Who was that young girl who went to Camp Fire meetings and had such strong arms? Over the years I caught other glimpses of my mother’s previous life. After graduating from high school she considered a career in nursing. But she chose instead my father and eventually my sisters and me.
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Life in the country suited Mother. She dreamed of the day when the farm we lived on would become ours. But her dream ended with my father’s diagnosis of a crippling form of arthritis. We moved from the farm into a small nearby village and our lives changed forever. I never saw the khaki ceremonial gown or the Indian clubs again. They and the image of the young girl they had belonged to simply disappeared into the past.
Years later my sister and I divided Mother’s few possessions into three boxes, one for each of her daughters. Upon finding the picture of my mother in her Campfire dress in an old album I again wondered about the young girl my mother had been. I suppose we would all like to know more about our mother’s history. It is, after all, our history too.