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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Memories of My Mother

By Jonnie Irwin

As a young child, I lived with my grandmother and my Uncle George, who was divorced. He worked the farm that had belonged to my grandfather.

Cotton grew on our 160 acres and on the pasture land we raised cattle and pigs. There were chickens too – Rhode Island Reds and white Leghorns. One of my first memories is going every morning with my grandmother – I called her Nanie all my life – to gather the freshly-laid eggs from the hen house.

I remember once being a naughty little girl. As we returned from gathering eggs, my little basket filled with the harvest, I decided to test the way an egg would look sailing into the kitchen and smashing on the floor. Three eggs were all I managed to demolish. It was one of the few times I recall being spanked.

Memories of my mother are mostly dim; only snatches have I been able to recall. Aunt Jewel, my mother’s sister, lived nearby and was somewhat of a surrogate mother. She sewed dresses for me and made me laugh when I got too serious.

One vibrant memory of my mother, however, is the weekend that my grandmother, uncle and I went to visit her. I was in first grade at a one-room, brick schoolhouse in the country. My mother had promised that when I came to live with her I would have roller skates and a bicycle.

I was excited, yet apprehensive, when I heard this. Going to live in a different place, without Nanie and Georgie, worried me a bit.

I was barely five years old and studying first-grade books. The teacher had me working toward a third-grade level because the school near my mother’s apartment started at third grade. I was a nervous child to start with and frightened of strangers, especially anyone who seemed different. Being a shy little girl from the farm made me different from most children.

I knew my mother was very special. I was thrilled to see her on those rare weekends when she could visit. The day we drove up to her apartment, there were new roller skates waiting for me. I wanted to try them out first thing. Then I wanted to put up the tent she had bought. We all tried diligently to make the tent stand up in the small room by using books to hold down the corners. I remember wondering at the time how the tent would stand up unless it was staked into the ground. But everyone kept trying.

My mother was a registered nurse in Hereford, Texas. During our visit I went to the hospital with her and watched while she washed and sorted rubber gloves that were used by the doctors and nurses. It’s hard to imagine that there were no disposable gloves as we know them back in the 1940s.

I don’t remember the weeks after our visit to my mother. Instead, there is a vivid memory of a sudden interruption during class at my school. I can still hear Aunt Jewel knocking on the door of the classroom and asking to speak to the teacher.

Soon they are having a short conversation and I am hustled out the door and told not to worry, that we are going home early. To this day I have a mental block about how I was told about my mother’s sudden death – I only remember the words, “It’s okay” and “Don’t cry yet; we’re nearly home.”

The ensuing days are a blur of endless hours of whispered conversation and faces I didn’t recognize. My grandmother never left me alone unless it was to be with my aunt or uncle. I remember the afternoon that she and Uncle Georgie spent a long afternoon walking slowly about the front yard – just the two of them – talking in hushed voices.

Because I sensed this was a turbulent time for everyone, I didn’t ask for any favors and moved quietly among the rest of the kinfolk. Even when our neighbors, whose son was my good friend, came to pay their respects, I tried to blend into the surroundings.

I have only one memory of the funeral. Someone lifted me up so I could touch my mother’s breast in the casket. All I remember is that the satin dress was soft, but underneath she felt hard. This worried me for a long time.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How can such a sad story be a beautiful memory? Somehow you've managed to make it so. Thank you, Jonnie

The love children have for their mothers is so strong. Here you are, remembering this visit that happened more than 60 years ago, with so much love.

Poignant memory clouding a life. Days pass, life goes on, but some events leave vapor trails that do not fade.
Well told sad time.
Nice to know there were strong family ties.
Wonder if you were ever able to wear satin.

Touching story, and good writing..my best friend of nearly 55 years lived a young life like yours, but I notice she never shares one memory of her Mother..for a short time she had a framed picture of her Mother but when friends saw it and asked about her, that picture was gone.. Thanks for your piece..the egg toss was perfect..Mary Follett

Thank you, Jonnie, for your magnificently simple style in honoring your mother.

I'll remember this story for a long time. Good Job!

You write a vivid portrait of your experience at such a significant time of your young life. Thank you for sharing.

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