I thought we had forever | Home Again

By Joanne Peterson | Jun 30, 2017

My brother Warren and I spent part of an evening last weekend sifting through a picnic basket in which I’ve kept treasured papers and photos belonging to our mother, who died 20 years ago. Twenty years? How can that be? As I write this, I feel her, as close as breathing.

As my brother and I shared various photos, yellowed newspaper clippings, junior college annuals and the other intriguing items layered in the basket, here is the refrain that slid through my mind: I never learned enough of my mother’s story. Why did I wait too long to ask? What was I thinking?

I know my mother was born in Mount Vernon, Illinois, and as a child lived in Enterprise, Oregon, and in Ferndale, where she started first grade. I don’t know why her family left Illinois, and I don’t know why her family moved to Enterprise or Ferndale or –finally – to Yakima.

Why didn’t I learn those things?

I have the China head from my mother’s childhood doll, but I don’t know how old she was when she acquired it. Did she play with it, the cotton body soft in her arms, while her two brothers climbed trees in the yard? Or was my mother a climber of trees, too? I know she fell off the porch and broke her arm when she was still in grade school!

Did my grandmother teach my mother to play the piano and –later – the organ, or did she take lessons from a music teacher? Did she like to read as a child? As an adult, she seldom found time to pick up a book, and cheerfully acknowledged that my love of reading came from my father.

Did she like to draw or write? Did she mind being the oldest child, with many household responsibilities? Who was her first friend? What subjects did she like best in school?

Why don’t I know these things?

Did my mother struggle with embroidery as she sat next to my grandmother, working on tiny stitches? Did she tease her younger brothers? All three siblings adored one another as adults, but did they enjoy one another as children? As a teenager, did she teach Sunday school because she wanted to or because her mother insisted? Did she go to dances? What was her first job? Who taught her to drive?

Why didn’t I ask these things?

A leather-bound notebook, her pen clipped to the cover, contains notes from classes my mother took at Yakima Junior College. The notes on page one begin: “Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet,” and move on to Othello, Lear and Macbeth, before skipping to sociology notes. Did my mother long to go to college, or did her parents urge her? In her school annuals I see her best friend Lenore Smith. I see that my father's sister Eleanor also was in college with her. Were they friends? And I see that my mother was in glee club and drama. Drama?

I see my mother clearly as part of a family, our family. Her earlier years shift and shimmer, though, lacking the details I long for now. We took walks together. We gardened, shopped, sewed, cooked, baked, went out to lunch. So many opportunities!

Why didn’t I learn more about her?

What was I thinking?

Oh, I know.

I thought we had forever.

 

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