Sunday, April 20, 2008

Goddess in Pink Cotton

For the past 4 years I have attended a monthly spiritual writing group. The purpose of the group is not necessarily to make us better writers--the act of writing is just a way to express our thoughts and feelings on assigned topics. Originally we worked our way through a spiritually-oriented book of writing prompts but our themes have broadened since then and now include all kinds of women's issues and other self-exploration. I have written a lot about my mother in this group--the piece below is one of my shorter and more accessible ones. It was written in response to a prompt about personal metaphors and images of the sacred.

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Remembered images of my mother and her mother come close to the sacred for me. Both of them died before I reached my teen years so admittedly, the images are fuzzy, but partly because of this fuzziness, more godlike. In my mind they're alone, doing household tasks. I have to think harder for images of them standing beside their husbands, usually only when dressed to go out to a church-related event.

They always dressed in faded florals and pastels, recycling the same cotton shirtwaist patterns in those pre-polyester years. I especially remember a lot of pink and soft blue in their clothing. They had large noses, imperfect hair and both wore glasses, but they had gentle, intelligent expressions. I remember these now-gone women with the sun behind them, or an evening lamp as they did sewing projects--or maybe it's almost the glow of a halo effect. There truly was some kind of upper-body glow, despite their wrinkles and their yellowing skin (Texas is not kind to dry German skin).

These ladies radiated belief and sincerity and lived with ritual and mission--church, housework, childcare and family care. They were healers, with love and creativity--Mother used to make sickroom trays for us children with muffin cup compartments for our pills and crackers. Holidays and birthdays were marked with family-tradition celebrations and gifts. I never felt that Mother was getting out the Christmas decorations just for us--it was something very important to her too.

Grandmother was more of an old-fashioned memorize-Bible-verse type, but both ladies demonstrated--not just respect for education and diligence in learning--but also humility in achievement. Both Mother and Grandmother stayed very focused and only occasionally showed pettiness or negative emotion. They modeled good works with a good attitude.

Grandmother was meeker than Mother and seemed more fragile. From a very young age my mother was her backup in the family, a sturdy little housekeeper and "mother" to her two younger brothers.

I recently came across a very early photo of my mother that shows more youthful grinning joy than most of her other images. She was wearing a dark short coat with broad rows of shiny buttons, little pants (unusually sporty for the 1920s) and a soft floppy hat that had to have been her dad's. I was looking at an album with other family members, and we all let out a collective "Ooooooh!" sigh when we turned to this photo. We weren't just seeing a cute kid, but perhaps a young saint or goddess, enjoying the briefly carefree years of her youth before she realized the more serious parts of her life's mission.

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