74: What We Are Because of Each Other

74: What We Are Because of Each Other

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

What We Are Because of Each Other

Of all the gifts that life has to offer, a loving mother is the greatest of them all.

~Author Unknown

A short, chunky woman with dyed strawberry blond hair pushed open my apartment door with the words, “Getting moved in?” My first-ever landlady had dropped in for a visit.

“Yes,” I answered, “and I’m about settled.” I had left the horrors of my childhood home that morning, tucking my possessions into the back seat and trunk of my friend’s car. My few clothes now hung in a white wooden closet that wrapped around the chimney that passed through my room. I had rented one of the furnished “apartments” that had been fashioned from the second floor of this huge farmhouse. My “apartment” was really a bedroom with an old range and a refrigerator added to it.

“Bathroom is down the hall. Wash your dishes in the sink. Remember you share with two other tenants, so don’t clutter it up with your stuff. They’re both older ladies who go to bed early, so time your bath later in the evening; you’ll get along fine. And, whenever he’s here,” she pointed to my friend, “your door is open.”

She reiterated all the other house rules she’d explained when I took the apartment. Her right eye looked directly at me while her left seemed to look all around the room. I later learned she had a lazy eye as a child so the left only saw light. But, that day I felt she was looking inside me as well as evaluating my possessions.

“Did you make the bed?” she asked. My puzzled expression led her to lift the spread and reveal the bare mattress beneath. “You don’t have bedding,” she stated, then disappeared down the staircase.

“I’ve never had a bed before,” I told my friend. He already knew.

She returned with a set of sheets and a pillowcase. “You can use these.” I wondered to myself if I could figure out how to make a bed properly, then decided to wait until she left. I just thanked her.

But she didn’t leave. Instead she continued asking questions. Each of my answers resulted in her disappearing and reappearing with household items I didn’t know I needed.

Ever since I saw the apartment, I had been mesmerized by the vision of my own little space: the single bed in the corner next to the tall window; the low windowsill big enough to sit in with a view of the sky; the mirrored dressing table with cabinets on each side; the painted white table that overlooked Union Park. I was a little frightened by the gas stove on the inside wall because it had to be lit with a match. Beside it were a dry sink and a cupboard next to a short refrigerator.

By the time my landlady was satisfied that I was truly settled she had “lent” me two saucepans, a small iron skillet, a toaster, and an alarm clock. “You don’t want to be late for school,” she said as she put it in my hand.

The following Wednesday evening she yelled up the stairs: “Patty, what are you doing? I’m going to the grocery store. You wanna come?”

Since my only transportation consisted of my two legs and a bicycle, I answered, “Sure; when are you going?”

“In about five minutes; come on down when you’re ready.”

At the bottom of my stairs was a hallway with three doors, all leading into her home. I tried two. They were locked. I opened the third and walked through, then stood quietly just inside.

“We’re not going to get anywhere with you standing there — come on; let’s get going,” was her invitation. The rooms in her home were expansive. I peeked in to the dining room. I saw a long dark dining table and a ceiling-to-floor bay window covered in white lace. Next to it was the huge, wood-paneled kitchen with a door that led outside.

She drove us to three different grocery stores that evening, explaining that prices for various items were better at one and vegetables were fresher at another. I carefully picked out the least expensive of whatever I needed.

When we returned home, her husband had a fresh pot of coffee for us. “Won’t you stay for a cup of coffee?” she asked while he poked through the sacks of groceries in search of his fig cookies. And so began our Wednesday night outings.

After a few weeks I knew where she kept everything and would put her groceries away for her when we got home. Our Wednesday night outings expanded from groceries to clothing shopping and eventually to fabric stores for things we needed for projects we were doing together. “Dad,” as she called her husband, began teasing us about our shopping. “You two go and spend my gas money even when you don’t buy anything,” he’d quip.

The door to her part of the house was permanently open after the second week I lived there. And by the third, she had me call her “Mom.” Her invitation to come down always started with “Patty what are you doing?” It was almost always accompanied by the scent of something fresh — coffee, homemade bread, soup, chili, or fried chicken. Late night TV watching, Sunday brunches, and “Patty just come down anytime,” were added to the Wednesday shopping trips. She was always doing something interesting and seemed to enjoy having me along.

“Take this pan of rolls and set it on the furnace grate to rise.” “Take this thing and pull those jars out of the boiling water so I can put peaches in them.” If I said, “I can’t do that,” she responded with, “Who told you you couldn’t?” which set me to wondering why I thought I couldn’t and eventually broke that cycle. When I asked, “What are you making?” as her sewing machine whirred, she responded with sewing lessons, which eventually revealed a natural talent I didn’t know I had.

Dad’s early comments about our Wednesday nights were prophetic. They became so important to us that when my husband asked me to marry him, my answer was, “Only if I can keep my Wednesday nights with Mom.” He said yes and I did too!

When I told Mom, she said, “Patty you didn’t really say that, did you?” I answered, “Yes, and he agreed. Will you make my wedding dress?”

She became the mother I needed; I was the daughter she never had. When I got jittery before my wedding and wondered if I would turn out like my parents, she reassured me: “Patty, you’re not your parents. You’re you. You love him. He loves you. Don’t let fear cheat you out of what you two deserve. You have something special. Have you told him your fears? When you have fears or problems, don’t come to me. Go to him. Always talk to one another. You two will be fine.”

At twenty-three I became a married woman. As the years passed, Mom’s hairstyle changed from a dyed strawberry blond bun to a snow-white Afro. I became the designated driver for our Wednesday outings. It was funny how Mom lost her ability to estimate distances once she turned over the car keys to me. “Just a ways up north out of town” would turn out to be a two-hour drive that she explained away with “You didn’t go the way I told you.”

We moved from her kitchen to mine for baking bread or canning peaches. I became the parent at times, explaining to her cataract surgeon her fears and that his work must result in her being able to continue her sewing and reading. It was my hand steadying hers in the recovery room. She awoke from her open-heart surgery with her hand in mine.

During the last years of her life, her youngest son and I shared in her care. Like true brother and sister we had good-natured “Mom always liked you best” battles. I wished I’d been born to her; he wished for the closeness that can only be shared by a mother and daughter.

His greatest compliment: “Patty, I’m thankful for what you both are because of each other.”

Me too. Thanks, Mom!

~Patricia Voyce

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