Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm always finding stuff in my desk....

Maybe I should just clean out my desk once and for all, make a clean break with the past and the things I find in it when I open it up and root around from time to time.

But I've come to think of my desk as a Keeper of Memory that I should only dip into from time to time and find something wondrous.

Tonight it was a picture of my mother: Marion Cleo Jones Bradley.

Cleo, which is what everyone called her, was a school teacher, so she had her picture taken when the folks came to take school pictures. The one I found tonight must have been taken in the last years she taught, before she grew ill and died. She was teaching in those years in Switchback Elementary School, though all the years I was growing up she taught at Pageton Elementary School. Pageton was closed at some point when I was in college and she moved to Switchback, further away but because my parents moved from Anawalt to Princeton when I was in college, she didn't have to cross any mountains to get there.

Her hair is turning gray in the picture. She has on a blazer with one of the pins she always wore--costume jewelery and a tad tacky for my taste, on the left lapel. She has on a blouse with wide collars and her head is tilted to the left, probably because the photographer told her too. She is smiling slightly. Her glasses are clear, like a pair I had not too long ago. I have her nose and her hair.

She died when I was 25. She never met her grandchildren. She died young, in her 60's. I am five years older than she was when she died.

And here's the awful truth: I don't remember much about her at all. Not at all. Not her voice or her manner or her smile (which looks forced in the picture) or her laugh or her smell. She died 42 years ago and all that detail has faded.

My father lived another 12 years or so. Miserable without her. So I remember lots more about him.

They were older parents--much older in those days. She was 38 and he was 40 when I was born. They were the age of my young friend's grandparents.

And I don't remember her voice.

That haunts me.

Both my children are a decade older than I was when my mother died. I hope they will never forget the sound of my voice. I hope they are never haunted that they don't.

I stare at the picture and don't make any emotional contact with it. It looks kinda like I remember my mother, but not quite. She's too thin--maybe she'd lost weight because this was near the end of her health. She had a series of strokes and died. Once, at our kitchen table, she grabbed and pill bottle and put a pill under her tongue with no comment. Just a deep breath as the pill dissolved. I looked at the bottle later and realized it was nitroglycirin and my mother's heart was in deep trouble. She's never mentioned it to me and I was already married. Two years later, she died.

One thing I realized long ago is that my parents kept me from knowing 'what's wrong?' always.

Even when I was grown, they didn't tell me my mother had a severe heart problem. My father never told me he was having memory problems until the dementia was full blown.

I was an only child of older parents. Their instinct was to shelter and protect me. I know they meant well and thought that was best.

But it wasn't.

And I can't hear her voice. I never dream of her, almost never. I dream of my father often.

Flesh of my flesh and I can't remember her voice....Maybe looking at the photo every day might bring it back. Who knows?

Who knows anything about parents and children? Really....

If I can figure out how to do this, I'll share a post from August of last year about all this.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Another found poem

Looking through these papers is like experiencing deyavu "all over again" as someone wise (I've narrowed it down to William James, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra) once said.

Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was my mother. God bless her for that. She grew up during the depression and had a hard life. She somehow, climbing out of poverty and ignorance, became a teacher and taught 1st or 2nd grade for years, decades.

I found this poem about her. It seems a bit harsh, but I wrote it over seven years ago and who knows (certainly not me!) what I was thinking when I wrote it. But it was like meeting an old friend in Grand Central Station to find it. And I share it with you.

As the Africans say, 'this is my story, receive it with a blessing and send the blessing back to me...."


Well, every day is 'mother's day',
if we are to acknowledge the broad, inclusive
knowledge of our best friend, Dr. Freud.

Who among us can disentangle from the clever, ubiquitous web
of deceit, devotion and dread she wove around us?

"Step on a crack and break your mother's back."
She didn't make that up,
but she would have, given the choice.
Control, control and more control:
that is the currency of Mother Love.

However, this is about my mother 
(write your own poem about yours!)

My mother made a mistake in timing.
She died the week of my 25th birthday.
Elsie, her younger sister, my aunt,
put her hand on my shoulder as I sat
by my mother's death bed, feeding her vanilla ice cream
from a little paper cup with a weird wooden spoon
as if it were exactly what she would want
as she lay dying--which is True as True can be.

"Happy birthday, Jimmy", my aunt Elsie said,
(though she may have said "Jimmie"--the spelling
of my nickname was almost Shakespeareanly varied)--
"did anyone else remember?" she continued,
into more ice cream I was feeding to an almost dead woman.
No one else had--not even my father,
not even me--I'd forgotten my own birthday,
twenty and five: a Big One.

He, at least, could be forgiven.
His wife, after all, was dying.
But why did I forget such an auspicious date?
Because 'mommy' was more important?
Of course she was--she'd made it so
through innocence and guile
and the web she'd woven around me
in all the years before.

She never hit me--not once--I swear it is true;
except with guilt and 'responsibility' and the sticky
lace of Mother Love.

I've lived a life-time since she finally died,
sated on ice cream from my hand.
I only remember her face from photographs
and remember her voice not at all.
She was a good mother--believe you me.
She did all she knew to do and more besides.
And she loved me. She did--she did.
And would love me more if she knew
the man I am today.

Yet, over three decades later, I remember this:
my father and I standing on the loading dock
of Bluefield's hospital, watching the dawn.
Nurses were unhooking all the lines that had held my mom
to this life. I expected some tender moment,
sleep deprived as we both were.

What I got was this: my father looked down at my shoes
and handed me thirty dollars--a twenty and two fives.
"Buy some new shoes for her funeral," he said.
And I said, holding the bills in my hand,
"this isn't enough...."

Although, in those days, it really was.


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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.