I didn’t know what was in the bag, but I felt pretty sure nothing good would come of it. Something about the way my mother swaggered into the living room, her skin flushed from scheming, her raincoat agape, and the bag dangling over her shoulder like a fresh catch, two fingers curled through the hanger. No, I was positive. Nothing good would come of this at all.
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the book splayed open on my knees. I held it up so she could see the silver-stenciled bells, the nesting doves along the yellowed spine.
Sometimes, for a reason I never could explain, I found myself drawn to my parents’ wedding album. I would sit there in the big yellow chair studying their pictures, immersing myself in the story of their past life—which did not include me but without which I would not exist.
At thirteen, this paradox had begun to sting, like salt water flooding a wound. No other way but this way, the voice in my head would say.
Laying the bag down, my mother moved toward me, perched on the arm of the chair. I watched her patent leather pump slide on and off her heel as she gazed at the picture, then over at me, then lifted the collection out of my lap and laid it to rest on her own.
“Look how thin your father was there,” she remarked, tracing his long body with her thumb. “Guess how much he weighed on our wedding day?”
I shook my head. “No idea.”
“One hundred sixty-five pounds! Can you believe that?”
“It sounds like a lot,” I agreed.
“Are you blind?” Actually, I was—half-blind anyway—but I knew my mother didn’t want to discuss that. “Look how skinny he is! He’s narrow as a fishing rod and twice as long.” Her tone conveyed a strange mix of pride and disapproval.
I looked again, but all I saw was my father younger, his hair dark like engine grease, his sweet, familiar smile.
My mother closed the book and held it dramatically between her hands. “Now he’s so fat he’s popping the buttons off his pants.” Shaking her poodle-permed hair: “Who would have ever thought?”
“But you said he was too skinny before.”
“There’s filling out, Julie, and then there’s filling up and growing a gut the size of Canada! Imagine what he would say if I had let myself go.”
My guess was probably nothing, since my father struggled to get a word in edgewise, even when it was important. I don’t think she would have let him shout “Fire!” if our house were about to combust.
“We’ll get back to the matter of your father later. Right now there’s something I want to show you.”
I followed my mother into the dining room, wading through a shallow pool of newsprint and grocery lists. I noticed she had cut an ad from The West Seattle Herald, but this was not uncommon practice. My mother had long ago appointed herself the private archivist of our suburban world and something of a cosmetologist for the local community. “Even history could use a face lift!” her banners would read, and I imagined her traipsing through the streets—with her seamstress scissors or her gardening shears—snipping away at each offending thread and shoddy blossom.
“Something else for the scrapbooks?” I asked—perhaps a recipe for a cheap quiche that included six servings of vegetables, or an editorial on the rise of sexual deviance following Lawrence Welk’s retirement.
“Not quite. It’s a writing contest.” And sure enough, it was.
This Mother’s Day tell us why your mother’s an inspirational woman. Pick up an entry form at any Bon Marche department store for complete details. Prizes include cash, merchandise, and the chance to meet local news anchor Jean Enersen at a special mother-daughter lunch.
“You’re going to meet Jean Enersen,” my mother grinned, circling the submission deadline in red ink. She picked up my hand and gave it a squeeze. “We’re going to meet Jean Enersen.”
Dear Bon Marche “Inspirational Woman” Essay Committee,
I would like to nominate my mother as an inspirational woman because she has a tremendous amount of know-how and a phenomenal ability to get things done. Sometimes she knows what people need just by looking at them, and even if they think she’s wrong, her track record suggests she is able to improve them considerably.
When I heard my father’s car on the drive, I put down my pencil and peeked out the window. The round, pink heads of our rhododendrons partly obstructed my view, but if I craned my neck, I could see him—waving to a neighbor, tugging the trash bin back from the curb, stopping to slip a breath mint into his mouth, then searching his pockets for the keys. Did he ever gulp? I wondered. Did his loafered feet ever turn cold? Others saw a tall, good-looking man in a polo shirt and pleated pants. Little tassels on his shoes. A briefcase tucked under his arm. But how else could I see him, standing there on our stoop, smoothing the silver cowlicks in his screen-door reflection? How else could I see him but as an unsuspecting duck, preening himself outside the yuletide oven?
The interception was immediate. I smelled buckshot before I stepped into the hall.
“What a terrific suit!” my father exclaimed. As is sometimes the way, he didn’t realize that he’d been hit. He didn’t know that he was bleeding.
“There’s a catch,” my mother said. I pictured her then, blowing smoke from the musket barrel.
“What’s that?” My father held his prize up to the light, admiring—three pieces, pinstripes, navy and white. Too dressy nowadays for the opera or ballet, though my mother might disagree. My mother believed in dressing to the nines when everyone else had stopped at seve