|| CJ Barrows
I stepped reluctantly into the bedroom. My mother was dead. It had been a year now, almost to the day. I’d come ‘down home’ to spend Christmas with my dad, knowing it would be a hard time for him. My mother had passed on Christmas morning last year.
That morning was so clear in my mind. I remembered looking out the window resentfully, at the layer of new fallen snow. Sparkling crystals danced erratically across the yard, as though flung from fairy hands. How could it be so beautiful on the morning I lost my mother, I’d wondered.
I had so many regrets. I wish I’d spent more time with her. I could’ve come more often to visit. Although it was an eight hour drive to the home place in Kentucky from where I lived in Ohio, I’d spent many week-ends doing nothing. I’d spend time with friends that I’d have for years, neglecting a mother that I’d only have for such a short time. Of course, I didn’t know that, I told myself over and over.
I shook my head to loosen the sad memories and shut the door to Mother’s bedroom. My dad had asked me to go through her dresser and see if there was anything I wanted to keep. It was an old piece of furniture with a time streaked mirror and peeling veneer. It had two small drawers at each side on top and two deep drawers on the bottom. This shouldn’t take long I thought.
I squatted down and tugged the top drawer from the dresser, pulling out odds and ends, combs she’d worn in her long nearly black hair, an old rouge pot, a box of new handkerchiefs with a delicate red ribbon around it still tied in a bow. I smiled at that. She just wouldn’t use new things unless there was a special occasion.
I saw the edge of a picture sticking out from under some of our old school papers she’d kept. I pulled it out and held it in the stream of sunlight weaving through the dusty window. It was of her and a friend that I only remembered as Hazel. They were dressed in Sunday best and standing in front of a backdrop screen of Washington D.C.
Mother’s Indian heritage showed in her deep set brown eyes and sharp high cheek bones. She was petite and looked fragile. Her fingers were long and slender. I could still remember her soft voice and how it lacked the usual southern slang, her vocabulary always carefully cultivated. She had a love of words and their true meaning. She always had something good to say about everyone. I ran my finger down the picture trying to feel a oneness. Nothing.
Tears rose and fell down my face as a harsh reality hit me. I hadn’t got to know my mother after I was an adult. I was twenty-three when she died. You don’t think you’ll lose a parent when you’re still young. The emphysema and heart complications had drained away her life before I’d known how serious her condition was. She never talked about it to us kids.
She had just turned fifty. I was sixteen when I left home to go live with my brother and his wife in another state. I was glad for the opportunity to leave. It had gotten so all my mother and I did was disagree and argue. I was a normal teenage know-it-all and didn’t want the limitations that went with living under your parents’ rules and I resented them not letting me run with my friends and do as I pleased.
Now I was overwhelmed by a desire to sit over a cup of coffee and talk with her woman to woman. Why hadn’t I come to see her more often after the rebellious teen years had passed? We could’ve talked as adults.
My fault, I thought and gave a hard tug to the deep drawer on the right. It didn’t give. I grasped the handle with both hands and pulled as hard as I could.
“Why is it so heavy?” I muttered, leaning back on my heels. The drawer gave and came out slowly. Magazines? I didn’t know Mother saved magazines, I thought. I removed a loose page from the top. “Just old advertisements’,” I told myself and dropped it beside me reaching for the first magazine. Writer’s Digest was the heading, January, 1947. “Oh my gosh.” I exclaimed aloud.
I quickly began taking the magazines out of the drawer. Every single one was an issue of Writer’s Digest from 1947 to 1949. I was born in February, 1946. I was just a baby when she’d started getting these.
I opened one and started turning the tender pages. The articles had underlined sentences and handwritten notes along the sides. A few pages were turned down at the corner. I turned to one. It was the writer’s market section. Again underlined or circled.
A picture came to my mind of my own stack of Writer’s Digests’. Worn, full of marked, underlined sentences. The market section with little stars beside possible publisher’s for my stories. Some highlighted a bright fluorescent yellow that meant, send right away.
My tears dropped on the pages, so familiar yet two decades apart. It was as if a ray of pure sunlight seeped into me. I did know my mother, I knew the yearnings, the passion to write. The desire for her so strong that she would spend her few squirreled away dollars from daddy’s paycheck as a coal miner to have them.
For me, it was squeezing a couple of dollars a week from our grocery money to pay for a subscription to the magazine that could teach me, not just to write, but to write like a professional. And also to be able to find markets that might be suited to my stories.
Her years and my beginning years were before computers and online writing sites. How valuable these books were to us. To us, I thought running my fingers over the fading pencil lines. Her and I, one mind, one accord. I smiled through the tears, hugging the magazine to me the way I still do when the new one arrives.