From the time I graduated from college, and as far back as is possible to recall, I always wanted to do things with my mother.
Other girls did. They’d be seen in restaurants having lunch, or shopping in malls. What other girls did with their mothers seemed easy, natural for them.
But, I could never figure out what made us different. Which one of us was it – her, or me? Other girls often talked about the families they wanted to have someday, the kids they hoped to raise. And, other mothers talked about their “babies”, their daughters. I can honestly say that, while vivid, my fantasies about the future never extended beyond the usual romantic scenarios to include infants and children or motherhood, in any order.
Yes; especially, the older I got, the more the longing to have a relationship with my mother like those I had witnessed grew. I wanted to actually be one of those daughters. Instead, it seemed, I was just the female child who lived in my mother’s house.
Onlookers may have seen a daughter who was self-absorbed, a mother who was absent from the social milieu. But, Mom wasn’t quiet. She didn’t shy away from conversation. On the contrary, she dominated it. Her need to be heard was born of a future checked at the door and the belief that women should train to become homemakers. This need was ever-present, genetic, and encouraged from all sides by her family, an Anglo Saxon coven of sisters who competed for every morsel their limited life had to offer.
By all appearances, we lived in a regular neighborhood, but we always felt like we owned it. After all, mom’s eldest sister’s family lived across the street and around the corner; her parents, two doors further; and, the tiny, separatist Christian assembly hall populated primarily by the extended family one block around the next.
And, there were plenty of girls in this picture; my aunt had three daughters of her own. But, I never did any of the things they did, either for or with their mother. They ironed handkerchiefs, and washed dishes, and made home-made baked beans and stuffed creme puffs. They planned the frequent family get togethers and summer picnics at Waterworks beach.
Over at our house, Mom did the sewing. She cleaned the whole house, and then kept it clean. And, then she sewed again. She made every piece of clothing in my closet and bureau except the underwear – dresses, blouses, sunsuits, shorts, pants, shirts, skirts, coats. Hats. Purses. Her output was staggering, and her efforts solitary.
I never “helped” my mother. She was fond of saying so. My aunt’s daughters had little pieces of note paper on their kitchen table every Saturday that they would consult, upon which each of their chores were itemized. I longed for my own little list, but none ever appeared. Mom had two positions she assumed; standing at the kitchen sink, or sitting at the sewing machine.
As I grew to adulthood, my mother’s dynamic became apparent to me. She was the second born daughter. The helper. The obedient one. She saw the outcome of her elder sister’s behavior, and her father’s treatment of it, and compensated ten-fold – doing the two younger sisters’ chores plus her own, all before heading off for school. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer in New York, only to see her award-winning dressmaking stalled by the onset of the Depression. She dreamed of meeting her French soldier pen pal but, though I’d traveled to Paris in 1984, I could not find him in any of the phone registries. She’d married the soldier she met on the train, instead, and he would remain devoted to her, come what may. But, while she heralded my birth as one of the “happiest days” of her life, the person I became was just too much to bear; her only daughter was the embodiment of every trait that had either surpassed or stumbled her, and wasn’t even sweet about it.
To say that I loved my mother, or she me, would be the understatement of the age. We loved each other frantically, with the agony of helpless observation. We were usually worlds apart, yet bonded by the strongest emotion known to survival: fear.
At the age of 36, I did something for my mother. It wasn’t something any of the other girls did for their mothers. It was much, much bigger.
In fact, it was so big that it swallowed up every household chore ever imagined by Heloise, every lunch, breakfast, brunch or dinner out, and every sale at every mall in the tri-state area. It only took one full day, and I picked the day myself.
On August 14, 1993, I got married.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 4/2/10
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