August 15, 2019 Oak Ridge, Tennessee
I sit at the dining room table writing a check. “What’s today’s date?” I ask my son.
Joseph whips out his cell phone. looks at the calendar and says, “August 15.”
“Tomorrow’s Mommy Jean’s birthday,” I say.
“How old would she be?” he asks.
“Well, she was born in 1924,” I say, "do the math.”
“Yes,” I reply, suddenly wistful and sad.
I sit for a moment, thinking. How many years has it been since Mother's death? Thirteen? I can’t remember how old she was when she died. The number 84 springs to mind, though I’m not sure why.
I’m not sure of much of anything any more.
Pattie Jean Walker was born August 16, 1924 in Sugar Tree, Tennessee. Delivered by Dr. Ingram, my Mother was born at home.
At ten and half pounds (I wonder how they weighed her, on a kitchen scale perhaps?) Pattie Jean was a buster of a baby. It's a wonder she and her mother both survived her birth.
August 16, 2019
I'm sitting outside with my papers and books. I like to sit outside in the morning before the sun is high enough to heat up our shady little hollow in the woods.
These days, I dawdle many mornings away, reading, writing, drinking coffee or just sitting idle under the trees. These easy mornings are one of the gifts of retirement.
I’m always charmed by the humming songs of the insects. Today, I’m also gifted with the assertive little soliloquy of a cardinal singing his heart out from behind the tangled blackberry and forsythia bushes next to the driveway.
I watch a chipmunk dart back and forth once, twice, then disappear in the tall grass beneath the azalea. A mysterious shadow undulates behind the dense stand of wild horse tails next to the fence, but I’m too lazy to get up and investigate.
Now I notice how the poke salad bush next to the drive way is drooping under the weight of its deceptively luscious looking clusters of deadly purple berries. Mother knew how to cook and detoxify poke salad greens, a long process requiring, as I recall, first boiling them in water followed by a good long simmer in pork fat.
I’ve eaten poke salad, but never cooked it. Honestly, I'm afraid of the stuff. Mother, however, was not afraid to cook anything.
Growing up on a farm during the Depression, my mother had to learn to do all sorts of things I never did. Born and raised in a house without running water or electricity, her mother cooked on a wood stove and her daddy worked the fields with mules. Their lives were hard scrabble, but my mother said she was never happier than in Sugar Tree.
I've been sitting outside, on this my mother's 95th birthday. It's a beautiful morning, but the sun has found my shady spot and it’s time for me to go in. As I close up my books, gather up my papers and coffee cup, I take one last look around.
The world of men has changed much, I think, in the ninety five years since Mother was born, but the natural world is, I believe, a constant.
I doubt the sights and sounds of my Mother’s first morning on August 16, 1924 in Sugar Tree, Tennessee were too different than mine are this morning with chipmunks, barking dogs, a boisterous cardinal’s song, a host of noisy insects buzzing in the trees and perhaps even some species of mysterious shadow playing furtively behind a garden fence.
Several years ago, I was sitting in my bed listening to a cricket sing on the other side of the wall and this song came to me. I wrote it for my mother.
Cricket Behind the Wall
Cricket sings behind the wall
And he chirps his ancient story
It's the one his mother sang
And my mother heard before me
It's a story without end
In a voice that's very small
It's a song that transcends time
There's a thread that binds us all
Cricket sing behind the wall
I'll listen all night long
There's a chill now in the air
And the leaves are almost gone
Tell me, do you ever wonder
Why everything must die?
When you sing your mother's story
Do you feel like you might cry?
Cricket teach your children well
To sing behind the wall
And I'll teach my children well
To listen for their call
copyright 2008 Martha Maria
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Be Well and Good Luck,