I still think of fall the way it was when I grew up in the South. The weather grew gradually cooler, the leaves turned red and gold and brown, and slow, heavy rains washed them off the trees. By late November the leaves were gone, the branches “bare ruined choirs” as the poem says, and we settled in for the chill of winter. I don’t recall violent storms or tornados once we were past the summer.
Living closer to the ocean has taught me about hurricanes and tropical storms. I always pictured them as a phenomenon of Florida or the Gulf Coast. Picture Bogie and Bacall in “Key Largo” (a really great movie to watch during hurricane season.) Until recent years I never realized those storms could do damage not only at the shore, but several miles inland. They can even carry their violence and damage for hundreds of miles from the ocean. Who knew? I saw it last year outside my window, watching the Hudson River overflow its banks during Superstorm Sandy.
So now the fall brings with it a shiver of unease. I hadn’t really thought about it until some friends were discussing the date of the village Halloween parade for this year and how it’s been cancelled for the last two years, due to a snowstorm (yes!) and then Sandy last year. Another friend remarked about the storm that roared through yesterday, “Trees are not our friends.”
But today is a placid, blue-sky autumn day. No signs of clouds or winds or witches on broomsticks blown past the window. A perfect day to sky-write, “Surrender, Dorothy.”
I still miss Mother a lot. We made each other crazy when I was growing up, and I got as far away from her as I reasonably could. But I never left for good and I always came back. Following are some excerpts from a story I wrote for a writing class. It wasn’t really a story; it was a list of recollections. So here are some random memories of Mother, for Mother’s Day.
1. Her eyes used to be dark brown, very big. Uncle Hoy said she was the prettiest girl in the community where they grew up, which was Blooming Grove, Tennessee. In her old age, they faded to almost tan-colored.
2. She wore print cotton dresses in cheerful flower patterns. She didn’t wear pants until after Daddy died in 1977, I don’t think.
3. She fell and cracked her kneecap chasing my dog Whitey around the yard when I was 8 or 9. She was trying to throw away sticks blown off the trees by a storm. He kept fetching them back, and she yelled, “You stupid dog!” and chased him with a stick. I laughed and laughed, until she slipped on the wet grass and fell.
4. The only time she ever went to Florida, I took her. I drove from Atlanta in September 1981 and picked her up. We drove to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. It was the coolest September on record. But she finally saw the ocean, the red and orange sunrises and sunsets, walked in the edge of the surf, and sat in a beach chair on the boardwalk with some other people, who seemed elderly to me. We went to Marineland, and she was too tired to walk from one show to another. That’s when I knew she was sick, not just getting older. She was sick ever after that. Mother must have been about 62 years old.
5. She stayed with me in the hospital for a week when I fractured a vertebra in my back. I was 10 years old, and had been thrown out of a swing when the chain broke on my side–six kids in a porch-type swing in a frame, trying to see how high we could go. I was so bored, because the hospitals didn’t have TVs then (1965?), and she couldn’t drive, so she couldn’t get to the library. She bought me every children’s book in the hospital gift shop, all the ancient paperbacks—Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Elsie Dinsmore. I read them all. I hated Elsie Dinsmore. What a little priss!
6. When I was in high school, she made a trade with Aunt Eunice Settle (Daddy’s sister). We would can a bushel of Kentucky Wonder beans for her, and Aunt Eunice would slipcover our couch. It took both of us an entire day. Aunt Eunice’s work was done in about three hours. Aunt Eunice always got the best of any bargain going.
7. Mother’s hands were always big and knobby-jointed. She said they were like Papa’s (her father, Herman Bowers), while mine were long-fingered and thin like Mama’s (her mother, Blanche Collier Bowers). Papa and Mama both died before I was born.
8. Mother never learned to drive, ride a bike, or roller-skate. She liked to play Rook, a sort of Southern Baptist card game with no “face cards.” Good Christians didn’t play cards when she was a child.
9. Aunt Elsie was Mother’s best friend from the time they were five years old. One day when they were children Mother had a new dress, a rare occurance, and Aunt Elsie wanted to wear it. They switched dresses on the way to school so Aunt Elsie could wear it. That’s how much Mother loved her, that she would do that. Aunt Elsie was an aunt by marriage. She and Mother married brothers; Mother married George, Aunt Elsie married Jesse. Aunt Elsie’s brother, Uncle Floyd, married Mother’s sister, Aunt Mattie Lou.
The entire “story” is “50 Things About My Mother.” I wrote them in a notebook as I commuted by train to Manhattan. I’m glad I got them written down. Happy Mother’s Day to all my family, friends and readers!