IN MOTHER’S FAVORITE CHAIR
I am not sure when this journey began or really, where it will even end up. I keep thinking that I will walk back into the room and see her sitting there, book in hand, coffee at her little side table, a smile on her face. But I am fully awake and I know this is all happening, all around me.
“Your mother went up to heaven,” that’s what they all told me. “Okay.” I ran off to play. I am only four years old. I believe them. They would never lie to me, this I am sure of. They have always taken care of me, giving me cupcakes that my grandmother made, the lady with the long, long gray hair that I saw one time in the early morning when she didn’t know I was awake. I was supposed to be asleep on the sofa, snuggled next to my little brother and my cousin, we were supposed to watch Romper Room in the morning, I was awake, holding my baby doll, watching her in the mirror. She is a tiny little woman, except I don’t know that because she looks bigger than me. She is very pious, always with a cross around her neck, always in a dress, I think she is a queen because whenever we walk down the boulevard, everyone tips their hats and calls her “Ma’am” and step aside for her to cross. They come to carry her packages up the big steps to the big tall house.
Lots of people live in all these rooms, cousin, that’s what they told me, all cousins. It is my world, my existence of playing when I am not struggling for air, my little chest is squeezed all the time like when my big uncle gives us hugs, his huge arms managing to hold all three of us little kids at the same time. I can only see Grandmother, never my mother or my father, but I am only four years old and just think she is in one of the other rooms, “resting,” as they always told my little brother when he was pushing his firetruck too hard on the old wooden floors.
“Shhhhhh! Your mother is resting.”
I always wondered what resting was so I tried it one time, I put on my nightie and climbed up the way, way, way top to the play room and got in the big bed, I laid down with my arms to my side, and waited. Resting wasn’t supposed to be sleeping, I didn’t think, because they didn’t tell me to “shhhhh, you’ll wake up the baby!” There was always a baby, I have a big family, lots of them live in all these rooms, in two big skinny houses. I think it is fun to have all those people to play with. Anyway, resting is not sleeping or even napping like Grandmother makes everyone do after lunch, even if we are not sleepy.
Everyone was quiet. When they did speak, they spoke in whispers. “poor little things” and “it is just a shame” and “what will he do with those babies now” where the things people kept saying around me in hush-hush voices as if I couldn’t hear.
Grown-ups would pat me on the head or stroke one of my curly braids, Grandmother would tie them under my chin when she was finished plaiting my hair, always in fours, two on top and two on the bottom that swung and bounced when I walked or ran. Today, they were in fours with white ribbons tied on the ends, why white ribbons?
No one ever told me what happened. “She’s too young to understand, she is only a child” was all I kept hearing them say when they didn’t think I was in the room. My little brother just played with his fire truck and little race cars that hurt my feet whenever I stepped on one. He was only two, well, almost three if you count next week, but right now he is only two.
I am the big sister, the big girl, I take care of him. I show him how to brush his teeth and to put on clean bloomers after he takes a bath in the silver tub. He is so softy fat with big cheeks. I want his curly hair because all the aunties keep saying how cute he is and want to pick him up but he squiggles and squirms until he is out of their arms, he likes to spend time on the floor zoom-zooming his cars and trucks. He is strong, he tries to pick me up when he gives me a hug and I tell him to “stop! I’m the big sister, I’m supposed to pick you up.” Today, I just know Grandmother is going to scold him because he is getting his little white knickers all dirty scooting around like that. No one seems to be paying attention to him getting all dirty. I sit like a little princess, today I have on a frilly pink and white dress with lots of ruffles, I like ruffles, they make me feel wind when I twirl and twirl like they taught us in ballet class, all of us girl cousins take a Saturday ballet class that is two bus rides and one long walk down the street away.
There are lots of people in the big room, the one with the piano, the room where we are supposed to “sit quietly” and “mind your manners” because it has Grandmother’s Mother’s piano and lots of old people in pictures and lots of books and the Blessed Mother and the giant cross on the wall and all the big chairs and the big sofa. I don’t like to go in there anyway because it is too old, we are not allowed to play in there, but today, I am sitting in “her mother’s favorite chair” by the window, next to the little table where Mother had her morning coffee, right by the big window so she could see outside. Today, Mother is not in her chair, I am and I do not drink coffee, I am only four years old.
The grown-ups are tiptoeing around the room. It is not Mass Day but they are all dressed up. Grandmother always wears a dress but today, her dress is black and she has a little lace hankie pinned on her head and one at her neck with a pretty lady pin. Why is she dressed up like that? It is not Mass Day but she has her beads in her hand and she is not telling me to drink my water so I can breathe. Why are they all wearing black?
“Someone needs to stay here with the little ones, they can not see her like that.” They keep walking around me whispering as if I am not old enough to understand what they are saying. I’m still not sure where “heaven” is and why mommy is there. I am not sure why daddy is here today, it is not Saturday when he is back from his travels with a new ribbon for me or a new truck for my brother. It is all very strange and I hold my little doll in my hand and sit “like a little lady” with my hands in my lap, quietly.
They all start moving very fast now, lots of feet tap-tapping on the old wooden floors, more feet clomp-clomping up and down the steps, there are a lot of them. I counted them one day when I was learning my numbers. Forty-seven. There are nine from the sidewalk to the big iron door that opens to the grand hall. There is Grandmother’s door on the right side. I know that because that is how Mother taught me my left from my right. Aunt and Uncle are on the left side. Mother and Father are nineteen steps up to the second floor, there door is on the right side, but their door is inside Grandmother’s door, just like my second Aunt and Uncle are nineteen steps up to the second floor on the left side but inside. I told you, there are a lot of steps. Nineteen more steps up to the third floor but there is no door, just open doors and the boys’ side to play and the girls’ side to play and the boys’ side to nap and the girls’ side to nap. That is where all us children spent the summer nights together, Big Cousin, there to watch us. Today, all of us were not up on the third floor playing. They were inside with their Mother and Father, my Aunt and Uncle. I was downstairs at Grandmother’s, sitting in Mother’s favorite chair, in my pink and white frilly dress, looking outside at the big cars lined up, listening to the sounds up and down the stairs.
Why am I all dressed up and it is not Mass Day? Grandmother went to Mass and when I was in her house, I went to mass. Mother and Father did not go to Mass. Grandmother did not talk about that. When I was with Mother and Father, I went to a big church downtown on the corner with wooden benches they called pews that hurt my bottom so I squirmed. Ladies did not wear white lace hankies pinned to their hair at Mother and Father’s church. Today, everyone had on a hankie, a white one, and everyone was dressed in black.
I am four years old. My mommy went to heaven. I have on a pink and white frilly dress. My little brother is almost three years old. He has on a little white suit that he is getting dirty playing with his trucks and little cars. I am not dirty. I am being a “little lady.” Mother is not here. Father is here today.
The lady next door came in the room and touched my hand, a sad look on her face. “I will stay here with the children.” She stroked one of my braids all the way to the little white bow. Then she shook her head and went into the kitchen. “Do the children like lemonade? I can make lemonade.”
Then it was all quiet, the tap-tapping and clomp-clomping ended. There were doors opening and closing and all the grown ups were standing outside, lining up like when my cousins and I try to decide who is the tallest, except they are not measuring themselves, they are just lining up. Then they are getting into cars. Grandmother and Father get into the big black car that is behind the other big black car. Then everyone else gets into cars behind that and they start driving. My little brother does not come to the window, he is in the kitchen having a “nice sugar cookie” and a glass of milk. I am staying at the window, sitting in Mother’s favorite chair, waiting for her to come back from heaven.
All Rights Reserved, ©July 10, 2012 Pink Latte Publishing, a division of Tayé Foster Bradshaw Marketing & Communications Group®, Kirkwood MO