THE VOICE OF MY MOTHER

“Life isn’t like those books you read”

my mother is saying,

she is standing in the doorway to my bedroom;

Her arms are folded together, Indian-style,

“You are going to find out,

Life isn’t like Nancy Drew’s” she repeats angrily.

I keep my eyes on the page of my book;

I refuse to make eye contact with my mother.

Nancy Drew is solving a mystery.

I want my life to be like Nancy Drew’s;

I want to live with my father and a housekeeper

who makes cinnamon toast and hot cocoa,

who doesn’t have a mother interfering in everything.

I don’t respond.

The words in my book are blurry from my tears that

fall onto the page.

My mother and I have had yet another argument and I escaped

to my room, to sit on my bed and read, hoping to forget.

I am thirteen years old.  My mother is right.

Life isn’t like the one Nancy Drew leads; I learn that for myself,

but I never forget the words of my mother, spoken bitingly,

grimly, ruthlessly.

Many years later, I found myself wondering – did my mother ever

wish to be like Nancy Drew?  Was she sharing her harsh reality with me?

Life hasn’t been like Nancy Drew’s but I still have some of her books and

occasionally enjoy reading them.

I never told my sons that life wasn’t like that of the Hardy Boys.

I don’t tell my granddaughter that life isn’t like Nancy Drew’s–or, for today’s

generation, that of Harry Potter’s.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted July 10, 2009

Updated October 9, 2018

PROGRESS

My grandparents’ lives

were relatively simple

compared to that of

my parents,

and in the adult lives

of myself and

my siblings;

My grandparents had

no social security numbers,

no telephone numbers–at least

not in the beginning–

and when telephones became

available, the numbers were easy

to remember–GRanville 2334 or

Kirby 8846 (the first was Grandma’s

number and the Kirby exchange was

ours)

Their address was 1957 Baltimore Street

and a zip code was only two numbers;

their was 25.

It cost a penny to mail a letter. (When

I was a child, a first class stamp to

mail a letter was 3 cents.

There were streetcars (often called

trolley car) to take you where ever

you wanted to go. the fare was

five cents and you could ask for

a free transfer slip if you needed]

to change to another car.  There

was no need for my grandfather

to drive a car; a streetcar could

take him where he needed to go.

I think my father was the first

in the family to buy and drive a car.

My memory is that of a 1953 Chevrolet

that my father bought–he was loyal

to Chevrolet for many years.

My grandfather enjoyed a successful

career as a tailor; he created men’s

suits.

My grandmother was a cook in

the home of a well-to-do family

before she married and settled down

to be a housewife and mother.

She could be bossy and opinionated

but never with her grandchildren

who all adored her.  I think it’s

safe to say, she adored us, too.

My parents were both born

in Cincinnati, Ohio, and all

of their children were born here

as well. It was a fairly simple life

in Cincinnati when my grandparents

were young adults , where you paid

cash for everything. There were no

credit cards. They had a house payment

and once a month

grandma went downtown to pay

the utility bills and house payment

in person, with cash.

My parents met when they were both

teenagers, and my father had a metal

social security card with his number

stamped on it.

My parents’ marriage began

at the tail end of the Great Depression,

an event that greatly influenced my

mother’s entire life;  she would

always be frugal and reuse everything

that could be recycled and used again,

and sometimes more than twice,

items such as newspaper, wax paper,

aluminum foil and definitely all leftovers

from a meal.

It took them 9 years to save up enough

money to buy their first home,

at 1618 Sutter Street; this is the home

where my memory begins; I was going

on 5 years old when we moved into

the Sutter Street house;

My mother was one of a few working

mothers in the 1940s when most mothers

stayed at home.

My mother also took in laundry and I was

often corralled to iron hankies and other

simple items; mom also sold greeting cards

from Cardinal Craftsman and would send

me to pick up her order at 8th and State

since my car fare was only a nickel whereas

hers would have been a dime.  I also sold her

greeting cards to the neighbors generally

for five cents each.    My mother was as

frugal as it is for a person to be; she

bought our Christmas tree on Christmas

eve when very little was left on the lot

and she could get a tree for a quarter.

But mom had a charge-a-plate for Shillitoes

and sometimes sent me downtown to shop

for her.  she sent me downtown every

Saturday for several months to pay a

dollar a week for a new coat she had in

layaway at Lerner’s. (When I was older

and getting married, I bought my wedding

dress at Lerner’s too).

In 1955 my parents bought a brand-new

house; it was their dream house at

7099 Mulberry Steet; It was unfinished  inside

and unpainted–we children sanded woodwork

and they waited a long time before painting

the walls. (I believe someone told them it

was better to wait a year before painting

indoor walls).

All that being said, my father loved new

gadgets and we had the first television set

on our street. He bought a new Chevrolet

every few years.

My father retired from Formica –the only

place he ever worked at and my parents

retired in Florida in a mobile home park.

I obtained my social security card when I was 16,

to have it when I started searching for part time

jobs and found my first full-time job at Western

Southern Insurance a few months after my high

school graduation.

My married life began in 1958

and in 1961 my husband and I

and our one year old son

drove across country  to California.

I find in my life

we have a great deal more

to remember besides

a social security card–

along with

addresses

telephone numbers,

cell phone numbers,

account numbers for credit cards

We are a generation of numbers

and computers

digital cameras,

cell phones

but in 008

I bought a house

that is all numbers *yikes!)

this is, I think, Progress

where a woman

(and not a young one)

can buy a house–

My grandmother would

applaud me if she were

still alive.

Maybe she did..

and maybe she had a hand

in helping me buy my house.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted Day 3, October 3, 2009

Updated September 14, 2018

 

 

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HIDING FROM…

Hiding from.. my mother

was often my goal–

To find a secret place

in a tree

or behind the cellar door,

Where I could read

and eat saltine crackers

with peanut butter,

and read my book

in solitude.

Hiding from my mother

was sometimes a challenge,

Where to hide my diary

(that I am certain she read

from time to time)

and would not have appreciated

my assessments of her–but to confront me

would have been an admission of guilt. (and

my mother never admitted or apologized

for anything–as long as she lived, I don’t remember

her ever saying she was “sorry”).

Nothing was ever safe

from her searches;

I once wrote a poem

about an unwed mother

and did not mean to leave it

on my dressing table.

I remembered it

when I was at the bus stop,

but to go back would have meant

missing my bus and being late

for school,

so I crossed my fingers,

and hoped she would not find it.

That afternoon I went to my grandmother’s

to spend the night but

my father came to get me.

In a rage, when we got

to the house,

he backhanded me across

the dining room and said

“How DARE you write

such things about your mother?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about;

The poem hadn’t been about her.

It was, as far as I can remember,

the only time my father struck me.

I never saw my poem again.

I imagine she burned it.

I became more cautious

about things I wrote

and kept them with me

at all times,

in my school notebooks,

buried amongst essays

and homework.

Hiding from my mother

was never easy.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

written in 2009

Updated September 3, 2018

Sandy’s footnote–some might ask couldn’t I have re-written the poem–but curiously enough, I have never been able to rewrite anything. One time my mother burned a story I was writing about a teenage girl.  I think she said “can’t you just rewrite it?”  No, I could never rewrite anything, especially a lengthy story all single-spaced.   And my mother was fond of burning things in the back yard at our Mulberry home. She burned all of my brothers’ baseball cards and comic books–one time my son Steve asked her if he could take a comic book and some baseball cards in the basement back to California with us; she said no – and then ended up burning a huge collection of cards and comics, dating back to my brother Jim’s collection and handed down to his younger siblings. brothers.  If it was something stored in her basement, she considered it her properly and could do with it whatever she wanted.  true story!

 

WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND

First, I discard childish things,

Paperdolls and games I’ve played,

Monopoly and Sorry, Chutes and Ladders,

Candyland, jump ropes and jacks,

Pickup sticks and a deck of Old Maid Cards,

My mother packs them in a box to donate to Goodwill,

but somehow never makes the call and the box

gathers dust in my parents basement.

Then I outgrow socks and shoes,

skirts and dresses that can’t be lengthened anymore;

These are given to a  younger neighbor child

who loves the plaid rayon dress as much as I.

Jackets and coats and cardigans fill a hall closet

Until there is a clothing drive at our church;

We fill the wagon with discarded clothing

that will keep some poor family warm this winter.

I often wonder what happened to my high school uniforms–

Who did my mother give those to?

When I am fifteen, we move to a new home

and leave behind the old life on Sutter Street;

I am bereft without my friends and go to see them often,

by bus or when I am staying with my grandmother;

I never adapt completely to the new home on Mulberry Street,

leaving home to get married at eighteen, I don’t feel I am

leaving anything behind, except my three younger brothers,

one of whom is a baby I have spent a great deal of time with

since his birth.

When my husband and I move to California in 1961, we left

behind furniture and most of our belongings; all we took

was clothing and what would fit into a car, and the baby bed

tied to the roof of Jim’s old Pontiac.

When we decided to return to Ohio in 1963, I gave away

all the things we had accumulated in a short period of time.

When we decided to return to California, still in 1963, this

time we sold the furniture and virtually all of our things,

except my books, which my mother kept for me and shipped

one box at a time over a period of several years.

By this time I have become adept at leaving things behind;

We will move nine more times over the course of 26 years,

including a move  to Florida in 1979 and back to California in 1982,

each time leaving much behind, paring down, discarding.

However, I have always taken the memories along with me. Upon returning

to California in 1982, I swore I wouldn’t leave California again.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

October 16, 2009

Updated July 12, 2018

STRANGERS

A nurse came in to greet me,

At least  she said she was;

She called me by a name I didn’t know,

She stuck a thing Inside my mouth

and held me by my wrist;

She asked me did I feel the need to go?

Go? I wondered. Where should I go,

and who would take me there?

She saw confusion on my face,

and said “to the bathroom over there”

I wondered what a bathroom was,

And what would I do once I was inside,

The nurse then asked, did I need help?

Of course not, I straightforwardly replied.

Then a man walked into the room;

He was my doctor, that is what he said.

He asked me how I felt today;

I asked what happened, did I hit my head?

The man and woman then both laughed

As though I had said something very funny,

The nurse said you have been here quite a while,

And will stay as long as there’s still any money.

While I wondered what that was,

a young girl came in carrying a tray

and said “Well, here’s your breakfast, mam–

I hope you’re feeling more yourself today”

More myself? and who was I?

These strangers seem to know much more than I.

I felt the tears begin to fall and

had myself very good long cry.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

 

This poem is in memory of my mother, Viola Beckman Schmidt

Who had Alzheimer’s and then Parkinson’s disease as well–

but the general good health of her body lasted far longer

than her mind.

HOME MADE BREAD DAY

My mother had two large speckled turkey roasting pans

and twice a week, her morning would be devoted to

Making two large loaves of bread–

Loaves large enough to fill those big roasting pans.

It was a most special treat

if she cut off an end of the crust

and handed it to you to eat.

We would put jam or margarine on it, or just eat it plain,

Hot bread from the oven,

Crusty and yeasty tasting.

We took that bread for granted;

it was served at every meal,

Large slices of homemade bread;

I realize now that

it also served to fill up

the insides of five hungry children.

I was sometimes envious of classmates

who brought sandwiches to school

for their lunch, made with Wonder bread.

Our sandwiches were made with my mom’s

Homemade bread

which you couldn’t begin to slice thin,

Our sandwiches were mostly bread;

Sometimes I took a scrambled egg sandwich to

school for my lunch, wrapped in wax paper.

The egg was still warm when you made your

sandwich to have by lunchtime; the wax paper

had sort of glommed onto the bread and had

to be carefully peeled away.

I wondered why my mother couldn’t just be like other

mothers and buy her bread at the corner grocery store.

But what wouldn’t I give for just a slice of mom’s homemade bread today.

 

Sandra Lee Smith,

originally typed November 17, 2009/updated June 18, 2018