Remembering Mama

I wake up on that warm, beautiful Saturday morning with only one thought in my head – Mama is coming today. Within minutes I am dressed, I am the first in the bathroom and don’t even have to be told to brush my teeth and comb my hair – Mama is coming today! Our small house is bursting with the energy created by four children awaiting the fulfilment of a promise given long ago. It is a long standing promise that has been broken more than once before, but as children we only see the hope of that promise fulfilled, finally, today. Daddy silently watches as we throw caution to the wind as only children can do, suddenly forgetting every single broken promise as hope rises anew and we know without a doubt in our minds that today will make up for every other day. Our minds simply cannot wrap themselves around the thought that we could possibly be let down, that today could be anything but perfect. We didn’t necessarily do anything special when we were with Mama, but we could have sat in her unmoving car all day and not have complained once. We were with Mama, and if you believed the rumors around town (which, in a town as small as ours, you usually could) she was harder to catch than the wind, so we knew our whole Saturday’s with her were a SPECIAL PRIVILEGE. Even Daddy couldn’t get five minutes of her “undivided time,” or so we heard.
So there we stood, four kids behind the old screen door, pressing our noses into the mesh as if we were prisoners, and the only thing between us and the outside world was that screen. Well, that screen was the only thing between us and the one person we loved most, yet the one person who seemed to be around the least. We’d crane our necks, pushing against each other every time we heard a car approach (which, on our county road, wasn’t that often), our bodies tensing with excited apprehension; and every time it wasn’t her we’d relax again and pretend as if we hadn’t expected it to be her in the first place, hiding our all too evident disappointment. Funny thing was, Mama was always late, but we always began our vigil by that screen door at the same time, very early in the morning.
After a while, of course, the doubt would begin to creep into our minds. No matter how hard I tried to stop it, I always knew that my brother’s and sister were thinking the same thing, and that no one wanted to say anything, to be the first to break the blissful confidence that could so easily be shattered. It was always David, the baby at four (little did we know that on that particular day he would be frozen in time, forever the baby, forever not knowing any better) who would break the silence. It wasn’t his fault – he just didn’t understand the rules.
“What if Mama doesn’t come?” David asked fearfully.
“Don’t be silly, of course she will,” said Tommy, in a tone that would better suit a boy well over his ten years. He was used to sticking up for his mother, especially to protect his younger siblings.
“Yeah, Mama wouldn’t let us down,” Lynne added, trying to be strong like Tommy, and failing miserably. Although older than me, it had long been established that I was much stronger than Lynne. It was I who often consoled her as she cried into my arms, when she had never seen me cry – I’m not sure why I was so proud of this, but I was. Daddy said I was as stubborn as my mama. I was proud of this, as well. It was fairly obvious that Daddy was not.
Then David expressed our greatest fear of all. “Tommy, what if Mama’s hurt or something?”
This new revelation silenced us, even Tommy. We were all thinking the same thing, and we all hated ourselves for thinking it. But if Mama was hurt, that would be a real reason for her not coming, for her breaking the promise that meant more to us than anything in the world. If Mama were hurt, we wouldn’t have to try to summon up the courage to be mad at our own mother for not showing up. Again.
At that moment we heard a car. It was as if the four of us shared a brain, simultaneously drawing in deep breathes and holding it, pressing our faces against the screen, allowing just the hint of a smile of hope to form on our faces. We were teetering on a fence, about to fall; on one side was ecstatic joy; on the other, hurt and sadness. The depth of the hurt and sadness did not fit in our small minds.
The car was a police car, no lights or sirens, which even I found strange. It was only at this time that I noticed how late it was, and how silly we had been for thinking she was still coming. But now not only was Mama not coming, something was very wrong – even at 6, I knew this. I watched as in slow motion Daddy, who had been working in the yard pretending not to be paying us any attention, began making his way to the police car, never once looking at any of us. The four of us, crammed into the doorway, holding our breath, pushing against the screen that was holding us in, and he didn’t even look.
The policeman got out of his car, and Daddy met him on the front lawn. They talked for a good ten minutes, and although it didn’t seem like any of us even breathed during that time, we were being so quiet, we couldn’t hear a word they were saying.
Things started happening real fast after that. There was this old store across the street that was run by Old Blind Jesse and his wife Mary. Mary came over and got us, rushing us out with the promise of free candy. Although we wanted to stay at the house we could already tell that was a lost battle, and, well, free candy to four poor farm kids was a pretty big promise. Only Tommy seemed really upset, and he whispered on the way over that he was going to sneak out as soon as he could and find out what was going on. I nodded in agreement, although at that moment I must admit the candy was foremost on my mind.
We loved Jesse’s shop, and everything outside it seemed to melt away with that first taste of ice cream – for a short time, at least. It didn’t take us long (or Tommy, at least) to realize that the radio and t.v. were both off and all the blinds we closed. That, and the amount of candy we were being given was far beyond what you would give a kid to keep him busy – not, this was definitely candy being given to try to make up for something. Something bad. Only Tommy had the guts to try and find out what, but oddly every time he tried to sneak out of the room or turn the t.v. on he was caught by blind Jesse. We were in awe – to us, Tommy was invincible. Even though we had seen Jesse catch every kid who tried to steal from his store often enough to make us question whether he was really blind or not, for him to keep catching Tommy was a real feat.
After a while Tommy grew sullen and retreated to the corner. His quietness spread to the rest of us, and before long there was a sort of silent fear hanging in the room. Even Jesse and Mary had stopped trying to entertain us; Lynne became as withdrawn as Tommy, and David was anxious and cranky, so I took to entertaining him to keep my mind off whatever was going on outside those blinds.
Every once in a while of us one of us would pipe up with a, “Don’t forget to tell Mama we’re hear when she comes,” or something, at which Jesse and Mary would smile sadly at each other and offer us more candy. How did Jesse always manage to smile right at Mary like that, I’d always wondered.
We were in the store so long that David fell asleep and the rest of us began wanting supper and turning down the candy, and Mary knew then that, ready or not, it was time for us to go home. She made a whispered phone call, and finally Daddy came to get us. As always, it was Daddy that came to get us. He came right at sunset, I know, because to this day every single one of us remembers walking home, all four of us in a line, holding hands, in full view of the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen.
We went into the house (Daddy still hadn’t said a word) and sat on the couch in order of age – Tommy, Lynne, myself, and David. We instinctively held hands tight. I was the first to speak.
“Daddy, why didn’t Mama come get us today?” I asked, with all my soul wishing I could stop the question, dreading and needing the answer all at the same time.
“Leah…” Daddy let my name hang in the air for what seemed like an eternity before continuing. It was long enough that I remember realizing how scared I was, and to feel the sweat in Lynne and David’s palms. The four of us sat there, unmoving, gripping each other tightly, at that moment forming the bond that at the time none of us had any idea would be the bond that would carry us all through life.
When Daddy finally began to talk I had a hard time following what he was saying, and found myself wishing he would just be quiet again. And David, only a few short years younger than me, began crying and interrupting Daddy.
“What does that mean, Daddy? When will we see Mama?” David’s questions, again and again, went left unanswered, but this only made him cry harder. I was afraid to look at Lynne or Tommy, so I pulled David into my lap and let his curls soak up my own tears that I couldn’t seem to stop. David calmed down in my lap, which made me feel better, and thus my role of care giver, of trying to make things better with a hug and a good cry, was born. I was tough, like Tommy, and would spend the next many years proving just that.
Finally, Tommy had the courage to ask the only think that hadn’t really been said, and Daddy knew nothing else but to answer truthfully.
“What happened to her? How did she die?” It was a voice I’d never heard from Tommy – a new, grown-up voice that would define him as a man from this point on.
Daddy answered, through grief, through bafflement, through abandonment. “She was shot. By the man bringing her to you, she was shot for wanting to come home to us and never leave again.” This was the last thing we heard Daddy say for a long time, until after the funeral that everyone thought best we didn’t attend; the funeral that Daddy left after only five minutes, lumbering out of the church and disappearing for three days – to this day no one knows or will say where he was those three days. All we knew was that upon his return he picked up each one of us at the relatives house to which we’d been assigned, told them he could take care of his own children and that we belonged together as a family. And as far as we know, after telling us of her murder, he would never speak of our mother again, except in vague references, and certainly never, EVER, talk about what had happened on that Saturday that she was supposed to come home to us for good. But all of this was later.
That Saturday evening, the four of us squished together on that old couch that we had for years and years afterward, Tom, my older brother, my rock, began to cry. At that moment it hit me. That is when I realized it really and truly was over. My life, my family, my world as I knew it had ceased to exist. I had lost her. Every daughter probably thinks that she is her mother’s favorite when she is young, or maybe no daughter thinks it, but I believed in my mother and everything she said to me to this day. Everything up until that moment is all I have of my mother. And nothing will take that or this day from me, as I remember it, a it may never have been.
But it is mine, as is she, frozen in time. She always said I was most like her – whether it a blessing or a curse I embrace it for all that it is.
The four of us still sit that way any time we are together – Tommy, Lynne, me, and baby David. It became habit for us, one o f those things that is just the way it is. And lined up like that life did go on; David stopped crying, Lynne started talking again, and Tommy and I carried us all. And eventually, we would talk about her again; after fifty years of silence, on the day of Daddy’s funeral, we would finally talk about her again, and as we lost our Daddy we began to get the memory of our Mama back.

Remembering Mama

spinprincess

Joined March 2008

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