Of the many things my mother did right -and there are many many right things in spite of some wrongs, was the way she never let a birthday, holiday, or life event pass without giving me another beautiful book in which to write it all down. Perhaps she knew I’d be less concerned with the poignancy of un-realized greatness lost in anonymous pages. Perhaps she knew that something good might come of blank pages, pencils and sketch books in my life; that if she played enough Bach and Bluegrass, Beatles, and Beethoven and simply got a great soundtrack going in the threadbare background of our lives those early years, we’d be vessels to carry the beauty of life she always felt the world could never have enough of. She let me run wild and was more than less around for the retelling of neighborhood tales at the end of the day. She insisted on a two hour afternoon nap most afternoons until I went off to school at 5. I was given a lot of space to be creative although I realize now, that space was essential for her as well.
Such a girl herself, I see my mother in bare feet, smoking, flicking ashes on the front stoop, the teenagers of the neighborhood coming to sit with her as she watched my siblings and me at 6, 7, 8 climb the downspout to the flat roof over the screened-in porch. The girl who was my mother passed along the great gift of her life- long girlishness, too.
Firefly jars, cut off shorts, footballs and hula-hoops, boxes of cast off dress-ups from all those 1950’s shotgun weddings, satin high heels, and cheerleader skirts. I can barely tell the story of my own girlhood without telling the story of hers. I wore her tap dance costumes, her spangled headdresses, I camped in her moldy childhood sleeping bag, wore her gray moth-eaten sweater when I was ten. The girl of me watched her hands run up and down piano keys, ran screaming from her cheerleader aspirations straight into the marching band, ran foot races, expanded on her fort designs, and learned to throw a perfect spiral football across a field. Under her benign neglect, I slammed screen doors, and stubbed toes. I tried her experiments: sandals out of musk melon rinds and string, brown sugar sandwiches, and submitted to the occasional recital or poetry contest thrown in there for more refinement and character-building.
My mother, Anne, shared a really good girlhood with me and taught me how to give my own girls their tomboy girlhoods and diaries too. She gave me privacy and a place for words, books and music and a safe backyard, where my best ideas grew in the mossy roots of trees…, my aimless humming in harmony with the cicada buzz, my sweetgrass skin alight, pliant, alive in its own fluid possibility.
Giving thanks for the gifts of my Motherline today.
Beth Lodge-Rigal for The Poplar Grove Muse