I had just walked in the door when the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer it, the exhaustion of my long day overwhelming the smallest activity. But thinking it might be important, I picked up the receiver.
“Is this Kyle Branning who grew up in College Park,’ a woman asked. Intrigued, because I hadn’t answered to that name since I was 21, I said yes. “I’m Jeanette Arnold,’ she said. ‘Your mother and daddy lived next to our family when you were little and I used to babysit for you.’
The memories began to wash over me. The small shingled house with two big trees on
either side of the front walk. One pecan. The other, persimmon. (I know. Who has a persimmon tree anymore?) The small cul de sac that was my world. The chocolate brown walls in our living room, very avant-garde for their day. Sewing with my mom. She on her Elna and I on my miniature ‘just like Mommy’s’. Ladies coming for Bridge Club. Oh, those pale, creamy butter mints, all soft yellow and green and pink, with salty nuts to accompany. What Southern woman doesn’t resonate with the words ‘nuts and mints’, right along with chicken salad – all white meat, of course.
Jeanette and I began to talk. Of course, I remembered her! Her mother and daddy – a police officer! And all her brothers, from all those years ago. I could hardly believe it. Here was someone who had known my parents when they were young. When they were first married, all shiny and new. Long before they lost their way to each other and became so sharply separated. What tales she might tell. What treasures she could offer me.
“Your mother was always so nice to me,’ she said. ‘I’ve never forgotten her. I remember the time she had this beautiful new dress I so admired. I had a big date with a new boy I really liked and she let me wear it! I couldn’t believe it.’ And I smiled, knowing that even then, my mother’s generous nature was out and doing good in the world, gaining the loyalty, admiration and friendship of that young girl, who was now in her 60’s with grown children and grandchildren of her own.
‘She was always so stylish, and so talented. She could do anything. Sew anything. I just loved her,’ my angel of the past continued. ‘But she wasn’t much of a housekeeper! When someone would call and say they were coming by, if the sink was filled with dishes, she’d just put them all in a big pan and slide them into the oven. It still makes me laugh. And she hated to wear shoes. She went barefoot every chance she got. One time she even came looking at our house to see if she’d left her shoes there.’
That’s so funny. I remember as a child the momentous day each summer when she finally declared that it was, indeed, ‘warm enough’ for us to go barefoot. It was just another ordinary thing that she made so special. Like going for hand spun milkshakes every year after picking up our report cards at school. Or the marvelous Easter baskets that appeared each spring.
My husband never had the chance to know her. And sometimes I know he thinks that our life as kids was a series of one big party after another. It wasn’t that at all, I realize now. It was just a ‘normal’ life made special by a mother who saw the pleasures in creating memories for her children, and for herself. Creative moments. Small pleasures. Little ‘rituals’.
I wonder sometimes if I’ve been a good mother in the same way she was? I know I love my son beyond anything, but have I created the moments of joy, the happy times, the simple anticipations that will hold a place in his memory someday? I hope so. Because, while we may not have had every thing money could buy when we were kids, I realize now that the gifts she gave us were truly priceless.