Spirits Call on Mother’s Day

“…I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson

The spirits of the past call to me often. It seems as I age they call more loudly and often. They have become a choir but one or two voices sing more loudly than the rest…especially on Mother’s Day.

Usually, they sing late in the darkness of night. Mostly their songs are the sweet songs of a mother’s or grandmother’s love, long gone but not forgotten.

Light fingers touching my cheek waking me from a deep sleep in the early, still, and dark morning. It is not the witching hour but the sweetness hour. A memory, a sweet dream. A dream but I am thankful just the same.

Disjointed dreams with no rhyme or reason. Just the brain ridding itself of useless information…maybe.

Stroking a fevered brow, mayonnaise and onion sandwiches, the sound of a hoe contacting a rock followed by the thud the rock makes when it is thrown out. Sitting on “our” church pew, my brother and I sandwiched between my mother and father.

A broad smile on a freckled face because of something I did right for a change, birthday cakes, Christmas ambrosia, and Missouri cookies. A smiling good night or good morning. Breaking beans on a front porch in the August heat….or cutting corn to cream off the cob under a shade tree.

I only had my mother for a short time. She left me eight months past my eighteenth birthday. Left me, my brother, and my father. For much of the previous five years, she battled ALS until the war was lost just after midnight the second day of the New Year 1969. I awoke and glanced at the clock just before the phone rang with a message I didn’t want to hear. I never allowed myself to actually believe she would die…until the phone rang.

I try to forget those years…the years she couldn’t work, the years she sat in a wheelchair, her legs becoming more useless as the disease moved up her body. The wheelchair changing to a hospital bed. The weekend trips to visit her in the hospital in Columbia. That last Christmas together. The nights my father sat up and played solitaire because he couldn’t sleep from the worry.

I strain to remember her…I rack my brain for a wisp of a memory. I can’t hear her voice any longer and it pains me.  All my memories are fuzzy, and I am pained further. I stand in front of her paintings, the acrylics she labored on during those last years. They are silent. They don’t help me remember.

A cheap bit of costume jewelry tucked away in a small jewelry box. The first gift I bought her with my own money. A broach she wore often at Christmastime. Just a bit of paste and red and green glass. I didn’t have a chance to buy more expensive gifts…gifts she deserved.

I have photographs to remind me of her. Her curly, red hair and freckles. The alabaster skin under her freckles turning lobster red after five minutes in the summer sun. A big smile and a bigger laugh. A bit of shyness. A series of photographs from a vacation we took…when she was alive…really alive. Putt-Putt golf and lounging on the beach.

My parent’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary…but in the picture was the wheelchair.

Readying herself for work at a textile mill, a thick round of draw-in treads draped around her neck and tied like a lei necklace. I wonder what happened to her reed hooks and the tiny scissors she carried. They were always in her apron…I wonder where they are? 

I wonder why my memories of her are in her “work” clothes. A plain cotton blouse and A-line skirt…sensible shoes. For some reason, I remember the color blue and how, late into one shift, she took the time to teach me to tie a weaver’s knot and how to find a breakout on a loom. Strange memories indeed.

Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration for me, not a day of joy. It should be.  My daughter is now a mother, a good mother…the best mother. I should focus on her…I try…I fail. 

My memory moves to the small country church of my youth and the graveyard across the road. Granite memorials are all that remain. Memories of sickness, funerals, and pain.

It is a day of questions and longings. A day of introspection, searching for the memories…the dreams. A day of “what ifs?” She never met my Linda Gail; she never met her grandchild; she never met her great grandchildren. I think they would have liked her…loved her.

Today will come and go…and with its leaving, the return of sweet songs from the past played out in dreams…and a brightening, I hope.

Momma and Nannie…I miss you both every day but more so on this day…Mother’s Day. Rarely is there a day that goes by that something does not remind me of you. Mostly I smile…except when I do not…but mostly I smile.

Mary Eldora Miller before the wheelchair. Early 1960s.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or pick up a copy or download one of his books, maybe Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

A Teacher’s Anger

 

Rant and Ramble Alert.

I read that the teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went back to school Friday.  I can’t fathom their emotion.  I’ve tried to empathize, I want to feel what they felt.  I’ve never feared for my life in a school or at an athletic event.  I probably should have been fearful but wasn’t.  I’ve tried to reach inside of myself and find a situation where I was as scared as they must have been…and are.  I’ve waded into fights, made small talk with angry parents and been called into the principal’s office.  In my memory, I can’t find one instance of terror.  Is it bad for me to feel a certain elation for never having been that afraid?

For those of you who don’t know, I spent forty-three years teaching and coaching in the public-school system of South Carolina.  I’m in my third year of retirement although I took long-term substitute assignments the first two years…I guess this is my first full year of retirement.  The most fearful I’ve been in a school was a two-hour tornado warning my first year teaching.  I spent two hours in an underground, mildewed book depository at Gallman Junior High School with ninety or so seventh graders as a tornado wreaked havoc between Newberry and Greenwood.  I didn’t fear for my life.  Yes, I did fear for my sanity…but not for my or my student’s lives.

I can’t imagine what those teachers felt…walking into the school again.  I wonder about those teachers who taught on the second and third floors.  Surely, they will be moved to other areas.

The children will return soon…some of them.  I have seen several expressing their doubts.  If my child came to me and told me, “I can’t go back,” what would I do?  I couldn’t force her to go back and live with myself.

I see people have jumped on the “arm our teachers” bandwagon.  I don’t know.  More guns?  So many questions.  Teachers haven’t had the resources and the respect to do their jobs for a while now.  Now we are going to add to their already, heavy burdens?

I question the safety of a classroom with a gun in it.  I question if a marginally trained teacher with a handgun can stand up to an assassin with a military-style weapon bent on murder.  I wonder what that teacher will do with their students while pegging away at a moving target that is pegging back at them.  I worry about the children who might be caught in the crossfire.

Three teachers died in this attack attempting to save young people.  I wonder I would have been up to it.  I’m glad I never had to find out.

The police and our military personnel make the choice to take their lives into their own hands and carry a weapon as a way of life.  While I commend the police and our military personnel, teachers make the choice to teach.  We are called to nurture, foster, and mold…not shoot.  We are supposed to train, raise, educate and uplift…not take the life of another.  Now we must decide, are we willing to fight fire with fire, six guns blazing.  I just don’t know.

Here in South Carolina, we already have a teacher’s shortage…an estimated six thousand this coming year.  One of the reasons is the state can’t afford to pay the oldsters willing to come back and teach after retirement.  Older folk forced out and young people who don’t seem to see teaching as a very uplifting profession these days.  It might be the GoFundMe pages I see from teachers trying to raise money for their classes.  Exotic stuff like pencils, notebooks, and calculators.  Now it has been suggested to pay bonuses for gun-toting teachers.  I see the teaching shortage increasing along with the class sizes we are instructed to “teach and protect.”  What sane person wants to train to take a bullet while being disparaged, disrespected and undervalued?  I just don’t know.

I am angry, I’m sure you can tell.  I’m angry at the society which has created this culture and I don’t know how we’ve gotten on this path.  I am angry at the gun culture I have been a part of.  I’m angry at law enforcement who could have nipped this shooter before he became a shooter.  I’m angry at the NRA and the gun industry that has enough money to make a difference but instead chose to buy the Congress I am angry with.  I am angry at adults who undervalue the opinions of young people and post hurtful memes or attempt to discredit survivors who were there.  I am angry because people in positions to make law are unwilling to have a conversation about smart and consistent gun control.  I am angry because people in positions to make law are unwilling to have a conversation about the problem being more than just smart and consistent gun control.  Finally, I’m angry that white males are the mentally ill ones and no one seems to want to do anything about it…or even recognize it is a problem.  I’m angry many people.  I don’t believe any of them are the teachers and the students.

I’m going out to walk now.  Maybe I can walk off my anger or at least quiet my mind.  Maybe an answer will come to me.  I will pray for an answer but so far there is only silence and my own anger.

Don Miller’s writer’s page can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM