Note: This story continues from its point of conclusion in our digital and print magazines.My stories and my daughter would keep me young and full of life I decided. I look at the clock once more, then picked up the tray with tea and slowly started walking down the long hallway toward Marlena’s room. The cold always kept me in bed a couple of minutes later than usual and maybe it was starting to do the same to her. I understood.”
“Wake up, coconut. Time for tea with your mama,” I said as I tapped the door of her bedroom open with my foot and walked in carrying the tray. “Did I ever tell you about the time my crab crossed the line before some boy’s crab?”
“Yes, Mama, and it was the first time his crab ever lost to any other crab,” said her lazy voice from beneath a lump of blankets. Her eyes peered out from a hole as she watched me turn for her desk. “Look out for my…”
Her warning came too late. I tripped over the radio that she kept on her floor so she could listen in bed at night and my feet came out from under me, sending the tray with my mother’s china flying through the air. When it crashed down onto the hardwood floor, it looked like hundreds of shattered seashell pieces, not a single one big or whole enough to keep.
As I lay in the puddles of hot water, with sharp fragments of china was lost — moments upon moments with Mama and Grandmalia and their fingers holding this very china and their lips sipping from it, then telling me a story or a tidbit or a grumble.
It didn’t matter what. We always sat around talking about interesting stuff as we drank tea together. Nothing could replace the broken china.
“How many times have I told you, Marlena,” I scolded, “not to leave the radio in the middle of the floor. Were you up all night listening to it again?”
“No,” she said jumping up from the bed and taking hold of my arm. “I was listening to dramas and commercials for a little while and you know how hard it is to hear from the speakers. I had to move it closer to my bed.”
She pulled me up to my knees. “Are you cut?” she asked. “I think you are, right there, on your knee just a little.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted. “But no more radio at night, you hear?”
Yes. I’m sorry, “she said, helping me stand up.” Would you like me to gather up and save the broken china pieces? We can make it all into a beautiful mirror.”
“I like that idea,” I said and felt a smile set across my face. “Will you do that for me?”
I was devastated over the broken china, but I had to be careful not to blame or make Marlena feel at fault. I didn’t want her feeling responsive for my unhappiness. That wasn’t her problem. It was mine. I’ll never forget my feelings or failure when my reading and stories no longer kept my own mother happy.
“Mother,”Marlena said to me as I sat o her bed and held a cloth to my knew, “ Are you sad because the china belonged to your mama?”
“Yes,” I said. “And to her mama, your great grandmother Dahlia. And I planned on giving it to you.”
“I would want it,” she said sharply. “I would never want to drink tea from it without you.”
She got me to thinking. After I died, my spirit wouldn’t be floating in a cup of tea. So maybe the tea set wasn’t the one special item that I wanted to pass on to my daughter after all. Of course there was the money. She and her brothers would get plenty of that. The boys were already making their own money, but they were going to get mine as well because I had a lot to give.
My writing had carried us through and brought in more money than I ever imagined it could. Thanks to my articles and later my columns being published in major magazines ere and in Paris, Italy, and England, I made more steady and consistent money throughout he years than Leo ever lost in gambling. My children had everything they ever asked for. I sent them all to the best schools and paid for tutors to teach them what-ever it was they weren’t learning at those schools. They played piano and golf and tennis and attended every suitable social event.
None of it had been easy. After letting all our staff but Nora go, I worked my tail off writing by day and tending to a family and household chores by night. It was then that I missed my mother the most and the days when we did the household chores side-by-side. I realize she worked that hard back then not because she didn’t believe in having fun. She worked that hard back then not because she had to.
A mother does much that goes unnoticed until she is gone, and then the cobwebs form and the dirt piles up and the house falls down. It did that when she was in her saddened mode, and it did it again when I’d get into mine, but then I’d snap out of it and clean things up. There were times when money was so scare I could hardly afford eggs, so one by one I sold the garments that Leo had bought me. I was savvy in doing so, for just as with real estate, a women needs to know when to sell. I sold in time, just before the fashions changed.
Those were the years when my children were young and I had no time to primp or powder my nose or care the least bit what I looked like, the times when there wasn’t enough sunlight in the day to get done all that I had to do, the days when I’d walk into the kitchen and forget why I had gone there in the first place, and the days when each of my four children had an average six requests per hour, so I ran around in circles like a turkey with its head cut off responding to and handling twenty- four requests per hour, making it an awfully long day, to the point of begging and pleading with the sun to go down soon, just so the kids would go to bed and all would be quiet and I could hear my own thoughts. Those were the sleep deprived days that out a few wrinkles around my eyes and the days that brought me as much joy as one gets from spending a playful afternoon at the beach and swimming and leaping over waves and floating waist-high in that portion of the sea that is crowded with people and activity and lovely noise. If anyone asked, I’d have to say those were the days (my favorite portion of the sea!
“So, Mother, “Marlena said, putting her arm around me. “Did you win anything when your crab crossed the line first? Did you place a bet?”
I laughed. “Of course not,” I said, “Placing bets of any kind is wrong. Don’t you ever think about placing any bets with anyone, you hear?”
I tried in my mind remembering why I kissed Jaden that night when it was my crab that crossed the line first, or at least I think it was. Regardless of whose crab won or lost that night, I fell in love with him the moment I saw him helping that wounded pelican. And by the end of that night at the shack, I could hardly keep myself him, so when his crab lost, which I think it may have, I gave him a kiss anyway. “What happened next? What happened after your crab won?”
“Nothing. End of story,” I said with a smile and stood up. “ Now get ready for school. We’ll have tea together when you get home. I still have a couple of cups left.” When the kids were gone and the house belonged to me, I sipped my coffee in the office that once belonged to Leo but over the years became mine. My nationally syndicated column that dealt with whatever it was women were talking about over tea or coffee was due by the end of the day, but I wasn’t flustered. I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.
Today it would be about mothers passing things on to their daughters. Recipes, rituals, lullabies, stories, a crooked nose, voluptuous hips or no hips, ladylike manners or no manners, a dainty way of walking or sporty way of walking, a disgust or a respect for men, a critical way of viewing others and the world or a loving way, china set that breaks (–) But what can they pass down that might truly say who they were or where they had been or how they had felt or what all they loved or experienced during their escapade called life?
And do their daughters really care? I proudly preserved for years, then handed my daughter my own copy of Flower Fables but Louisa May Alcott, assuming she’d delight in it as I once did, reading it over and over a hundred times. But instead she let me know how much she prefers a good mystery, like one of the “Hardy Boys” books. A book about talking flowers with personalities didn’t enthrall her as it once did me.
It had me thinking that maybe there are other things I should hand down to her. I thought about my mama teaching me the word of God. I still remember today the scripture verses she had me memorize, and I’m glad I can reach into my memory and grab onto those when I need something to cling to. And Dahlia instilled in me the notion of giving thanks to the Lord even in times of despair. I’ve handed those things on to my own children, and I pray for them daily, but I know there’s only so much you can actually hand your children. For instance, I can’t hand them salvation itself. It’s up to them individually to accept the Lord, as it was with me to do that and God knows, at times it looked as if I was throwing that gift out the door. But each generation is responsible for its own salvation, and that is not to say that the generation before doesn’t have to do anything with regard to it. I do think a mother must equip and instruct and teach them everything leading up to it, then pray like crazy that her children will accept it. Praying for the souls of her children may be the most powerful gift a mother can give.
I stopped typing and sipped coffee, knowing full well that my mother’s prayers followed me through life like butterflies, and, still I felt them landing on my shoulder, making the tingle from time to time. I am eternally indebted to my mother can give.
I stated to type. I also believe declaring blessings upon children is a good thing to give them. I’ve told each of my children I believe in them and know they will accomplish great things in life. I am confident they will then tell their own children the same one day. This sort of gift definitely makes its way through the generations.
I continued my typing. But there is an age a women reaches in which she starts to wonder about her own mother in terms of who she was as a person, heart, soul, mind. And she longs for something that might help put an intimate character description on her mother and what she loved and felt passionate about in life.
I stopped typing, this time pushing chair away from the desk a moment, recalling the day we stepped foot on Sanibel for the first time. “It’s paradise,” my mother had said. And in her eyes, I did, indeed, see a sparkling I had never seen in her before. I saw her passion for the first time that day.
Christine Lemmon’s Island Novels can be found throughout Sanibel, Captiva and Southwest Florida booksellers plus ChristineLemmon.com, on Kindle and Nook. Upcoming book signings:
Wed February 11 | 11AM-1PM | Island Book Nook 2330 Palm Ridge Road | Thurs February 12 | 11AM-2PM | Fresh Produce, Periwinkle Place