A mother is torn between religion and love for her son.
She waited for revival to begin. Sitting on the right-hand side of the Damascus Southern Baptist Church, near the middle of the fourth pew. A gold plaque stuck on each end sanctified TO THE LOVING MEMORY OF ARTHUR FRANCIS HAYES MAY 10, 1919–MARCH 5, 1986. Chin up. Shoulders square. Back straight. Knees together. Feet crossed at ankles. Hands cupped in lap. Momma always said a lady never reveals her true age and carries good posture to the grave.
Stared forward. Past the linen covered Lord’s Table. The store-bought yellow chrysanthemums wrapped in green foil. The new white flickering candles and the cross shining gold. Scrutinized the blood-colored dossal hanging behind the altar. Decided the fabric was soiled. Dagnabbit! Humph! Pish and pshaw! Should’ve been professional cleaning. Another detail I would’ve done. Looked away. Wagged her head. Shrugged. Silently snorted.
A linen handkerchief, edged with frail lace knotted by her great-great Granny Fannie in Ireland over a century ago, laid folded between her hands. Hands smoothed over a dozen times each day with Jergens Lotion. Three bottles never below half-empty. One is on my dressing table, another in my bathroom medicine cabinet, and the third on the kitchen sink windowsill. Sometimes in winter before retiring to bed, Mildred rubbed the lotion into her hands then slipped on white cotton gloves. Another one of Momma’s beauty secrets like coating your teeth with Vaseline. Of course, I only did that before marrying. Looks silly on a woman my age. Wish somebody would tell Clara dentures ain’t supposed to shine. Screwed her wedding band back and forth like wringing out clothes. The gold circle washer had been on her third left finger since Arthur slipped it there. And will go with me to the grave.
Mildred stood five-foot-four in her stocking feet. Weighed ninety-five pounds in her birthday suit. Her crown of glory a tarnished halo circling her head. All the Good Lord has to do is plop on the gold one and give me wings.
Every Friday afternoon at four, she sat in Shirley’s beauty chair with pink butterflies covering her for a silver rinse. Her gray, which started as strays at nineteen, outgrew Clairol’s Golden Brown Number Fifty-three after Arthur died. Humph! Pish and pshaw! Thank God, I hated that smell! Like mixing ammonia with rotten eggs. One more thing a wife must endure for her husband’s vanity. Like wearing enough powder and paint for a Jezebel. Snorted. Wagged her head back and forth.
Her tresses were confirmed into a sensible coiffure not long after saying, “I do.” Arthur only nodded when he first saw my transformation and went back to reading his newspaper. Like most things throughout our married life he knew this was meant to be.
Every six weeks, less than one-fourth an inch of curl was snipped from her ends. A person could count on five fingers the number of beauty parlor appointments missed before her fall. I was even there the day after Frankie was buried though it nearly killed me to leave the house. Momma always said, “No matter the heartache, life goes on. Just put on a smile and go forth. Stanford women are made that way.”
God know Momma carried her crosses, bless her soul, like I lug mine. Life ain’t nothing but a see-what-happens-next struggle. Because of Eve, life for us women is cursed. At least I’ve outgrown the monthly flow. Ain’t nothing more disgusting or humiliating than having your innards drop.
Round gold-rimmed spectacles with rising half moons looped around Mildred’s ears. Large like Daddy’s with hanging lobes. Sat squarely upon her nose. Small and pinched like Momma’s, slightly curved up. Blue veins shone under her skin, pale and tissue paper thin. I jokingly warn, “On the outside, not in.” Of course some see the truth as a threat.
Through the years, brown spots more vulgar than freckles from pinhead to penny size had marred every inch of her body. Dagnabbit! Humph! Pish and pshaw!
“Time’s beauty marks,” I laugh about in public, but curse in private while rubbing on fading cream. Another grow old gracefully joke that is no more funnier than the alternative. Mildred always wore long sleeves in public because of the flab like a roster’s wattle hanging under each arm. At least it ain’t under my neck. Again like some people I know.
Her old rose suit, sewed on her momma’s pedal Singer, took about three months to complete. Thanks to frailty and cataracts in each eye. Young Doc Hamilton warned against strenuous strain after my fall, but I just couldn’t do nothing. Lying in bed all that time idle would drive a body crazy. Snorted inside. My whole life has been strenuous strain. My heart is like that Timex commercial on TV, ‘Takes a licking and keeps on ticking’.
Blindness would just be another tribulation to struggle through. Might even make life easier, not seeing when your house is a mess or whom you’re talking to. Of course, I’ll know Clara’s shrill shriek even if I was tone-deaf.
Tapped her right forefinger against the corner of her jaw. Her nails, just a shiver like a new moon, were always filed and clear coated, never enameled with a color. Makes a woman look cheap and whorish.
Learned how to sew the summer I was eight. Momma was sick, bursitis I believe, she always suffered a frail disposition, and her legs were too weary to pump the pedal. I sat beside her while she guided the needle. After awhile I got so good at stopping and starting just by seeing I begged her to let me try. Started out on flour bag scraps. Pretty soon, I was ripping out seams and hemming them up faster than Momma. That was the summer Daddy said I grew faster than a cultivated weed. Momma even said my stitches were straighter than Aunt Bessie Bea’s. The poor dear had to do professional sewing down at the pants’ factory after Uncle Jessie left. Everybody whispered it was for another woman, but I heard Aunt Flossie tell Aunt Myrtle it was for a man. “Didn’t I tell you he walked funny?” (more)
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