Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Letter to Mama

Letters are intimate things. They are also often more informal. It takes the pressure off to allow myself to write letters here to those I love, and then I can more easily embrace the ideas and memories that are sitting on my brain at the moment. No need to make them perfect. Just let them go.

Dear Mama,

A couple weeks ago I was dreading the approach of Christmas - the shopping, the shipping, the "is this fair, is it all even?", and the constant decision-making. I love the idea of Santa Claus, but I laughed a few days ago wondering if I like the jolly old guy so much, because if he would truly just come around, it would take a load off, you know?

But then I perked up. Matthew came home with flowers one day at lunch. I spoke to my good friend Camille on the phone and now have the hope of seeing her family. And, with the magic that happens every year, I began to think about our lives in Tennessee, our Christmases there. Then I began to sing Christmas carols with Ana and to look at holiday decor catalogs, and my world was righted.

Do you know what I was remembering the other day? I was remembering that one cold night when I was eight, nine or ten. We were returning home as a family from shopping, and the car broke down or the bridge was out...or both...and we had to leave the car and walk home in the dark on the country roads, crunching leaves. It felt like an adventure to trek home in the dark. I was skipping in the cold breeze, because I had on a new pair of black booties you and Papa had bought me for school. I loved them. They had the little tabs on the sides, old-fashioned and charming. I still love those kinds of boots.

Later that night I got very sick, remember? And the space heater in my bedroom didn't work. So you pulled me into your room to sleep between you and Papa. All night you were up and down checking my temperature, very high, and making me drink glass after glass of water, bathing me with cool washcloths, then putting me in warm sweaters. It was like torture! But my fever broke. You took good care of me then and so many other times.

And today I suddenly remembered the time we went over to the Andersen's for a simple holiday gathering. (Perhaps it was the usual cup of cocoa I was preparing to drink this morning that brought back the memory.) We didn't have to go over the river and through the woods to get to them - though in those Tennessee boonies neighbors sometimes seemed like the next frontier - but down the lane and across the creek. I still can recall their little farmhouse quite well, perched precariously on that steep hill above the county road, their tractors and cows roaming in the field behind. I still see the narrow steps climbing from the road to their front door, and from there you could turn to look at our home across the creek between barren deciduous trees. As I remember, though, we went around to the back kitchen door to be let in.

Their home was very simply decorated, and the gathering was a quiet one as Mrs. Andersen stirred hot chocolate in a humble saucepan on the stove. I don't remember whether the cookies she served with it were homemade or store bought, only that they weren't as good as yours. I loved getting the hot chocolate, but for me there was no one to talk with as she had two big boys who liked my older sisters far more than they ever noticed me. I probably stayed around that little farm kitchen to listen to your conversation with that gentle woman. She had a very good heart but few and quiet words. Her kitchen was like her, warm and unassuming.

And Mr. Andersen, if possible, was even quieter than his wife. I think he and Dad mostly sat in companionable silence with every now and then a word floating between them.

I wonder now why that is such a persistent Christmas memory? But it is, and a very pleasant one. Perhaps it just breathes simplicity and purity and a time before Pinterest put so much pressure on celebrations. Ha, I say that, and I'm not even on Pinterest!

This letter didn't quite take the turn I thought it would. I thought I would talk about how I'm beginning to see this first year without my children at home as my "lost year", a time of rediscovery like a backpacking trip across Europe after high school. Maybe talk about my writing disappointments and how hard it is to be a woman. Maybe admit that sometimes I kind of want another baby.

But, no. I will say this, though: I miss you, and I do wish we could sit over fancy coffee or simple tea and talk for a long while. The more I grow in this parenting business, the more clearly I see all that you gave and gave up for our family, Mama, and I appreciate it.

And, boy, do I appreciate the memories! Especially now as Thanksgiving approaches, so many scents, sights and sounds remind me of what you did to make our home a home - all while working with Papa in the woods, too - and I am so grateful.

So rest assured that as I bast the turkey, whip together the sweet potato souffle, knead that dough for the Parker House rolls, and roll out the pie pastry, I'll be thinking of you, Mama Darling.




  1. I always think of you, Baby Girl, and I really miss those simpler times, with you, Papa, and all my babies close . I love you; Mama


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