Mother’s Daughter by Carla Bender

Does any daughter feel she keeps an upper hand to her mother? Holding steady was difficult enough, but the time had come for their biannual mother/daughter day together and the pair were going to see a play. The play outing was a perfect occasion for the two so opposite of each other, for they both loved stage performances. Little did Felicity realize her mother’s possibilities in placing herself in the shoes of a lovely young woman who moved about with grace and elegance across a stage.

Naomi was a bit klutzy with coarse speech and an abrasive tongue and if that weren’t enough for Felicity to bear during times spent together, Naomi’s spirit of anger was another. Verbal weaponry was powerful in the family stronghold and navigating through the warzone of sin, shame and unforgiveness was as if tiptoeing through a field of hidden landmines, never knowing when you may be stepping on one. When Naomi’s fuse ignited, a barrage of volatile words would swing through the air in bola weapon fashion with its intended victim receiving a clobbering they wouldn’t soon forget. Felicity remembered…

Why can’t you get this right?! You have no sense! You’re just like your rotten daddy! The words stung to recall them. Daddy had left before she could remember him.

Felicity was surprised when people asked her if she had been adopted. The question came most often after someone had crossed paths with her mother. Felicity had a different approach to life, choosing her words with caution and thinking about what she said before she said it. Her voice was soft spoken and the words she chose were thought through carefully. She controlled her tongue most effectively by observing those within her family who did not.

Attending musicals were amongst Naomi’s favorite things to do and the local theatrical summer performance was a perfect birthday treat with dinner plans beforehand setting the pace for the night. Mealtime was the best part of the evening, for Felicity knew the food would be a distraction from the normal topics of conversation and the bitter taste that flavored Naomi’s speech would be replaced with a delectable sort of indulgence; her mother would enjoy someone else’s cooking and the luxury of delicious food placed in front of her made her feel loved.

Felicity pulled in front of her childhood home and honked the horn. Her thoughts took her back as she looked at its structure speckled with stone in variations of brown. If those walls could talk, what would they say? she thought to herself, for the tension within them was a battleground not only of good versus evil, but of the unknown story of its family formation and tales that were too much for its four little children to make sense of. You’re going to end up in hell with your father! Felicity shook off the echo and the image of her mother’s angered face, a concoction of horrors that she didn’t know what to do with that tried to taunt her.

Felicity watched as her mother opened the door of her home and walked merrily toward the car. She knew immediately that Naomi was in good spirits. She was dressed lovely in a blue skirt and a floral pattern sweater. Her chestnut brown hair was newly done up as it is every Saturday and the touch of pink lipstick that was her only choice of makeup was enough for she always had a rose blush to her cheeks. Her clip-on earrings were in place and a simple elegance enhanced her appearance despite her not having the thin waistline she so desired. “Hi,” said Naomi as she nestled into the passenger seat of the car beside Felicity with her face glowing in a radiant smile. “The Sound of Music” performance is best done in a theatre with good acoustics, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Mom,” Felicity replied. Her mom was right. The size and echo from an older building were if a magic wand was waved and each hearer was left with a tingly sensation that excited every sensory nerve. The theatre gave that time of pleasure and the afterglow of the performance left the theatre goers indulged and hopeful of a happy ending in their own story of unavoidable situations. What could possibly be a better contrast to the tension that was so constant in daily living and monsters to the past that regularly reared their ugly heads?

Naomi transitioned into tales of her work week, frustrations and funny situations while the two rode along and Felicity nervously braced herself for the questioning to begin. “So, when were you last over the mountain?” asked Naomi and the pit within Felicity’s stomach began to form. “Two weeks ago.” Felicity winced. “Over the mountain” was her mom’s way of asking if she had been around her father lately.

“Who all did you see while you were there?” asked Naomi.

“Just Gram and Aunt Dre,” Felicity replied, avoiding any unnecessary information that would bait Naomi’s curiosities into a new direction of her usual fact finding.

“That aunt of yours… Your grandmother was the whole reason we didn’t get along,” said Naomi vengefully and the tone of the car ride sparked. She pursed her lips and dressed her facial expression in a garment of scorn which veiled Felicity’s vision to what she had experienced.

“Mom, why do you say things like that? I like being in Aunt Dre’s company,” said Felicity cheerfully.

“There are things you don’t know. One time she and your uncle came to visit us and your aunt had a smirk on her face the whole time. She barely said a word to me,” said Naomi begrudgingly. The fierceness in her voice was frightening to Felicity and shadows of murderous images teased at the memory shared.

“Mom, don’t you think you should forgive things like that? I’m sure that Aunt Dre didn’t know what to do with you and Dad. How many people did?” Felicity responded.

“It’s easy for you to say. You’ve not lived my life,” said Naomi and Felicity began to feel wind gusts approaching from an emotional horizon. She searched to find the words to ease the storminess. The thunderclouds began with a verbal flash of lightening,

“She’s no different than those girls who were at the Christian college I went to. One time one of the girls walked by me and put her eyes to the ground so she didn’t have to look at me.”

“How many years ago was that, Mom? Don’t you think it’s time you give that memory up?” responded Felicity.

“Those girls were all the same. The popular ones thought they were big stuff, and if you didn’t fit into their clique, they didn’t want anything to do with you.” Naomi got louder as she spoke and Felicity glanced at the radio knob debating if she should invite a distraction into the situation, not only for her mother, but for her own sanity as well.

As the pair travelled along, Naomi continued on in events of the past and Felicity turned the hearing off within her and decided to listen instead. What happened to you, Mom? It was too great a dilemma for her to come up with answers, after all, these were regular episodes that Felicity endured with Naomi and it placed her in a difficult position of not wanting to be near her.

“We’re here, Mom!” said Felicity joyously as they at last pulled into the playhouse parking lot. “Let’s go find our table.” The two left the car behind and the discoloration of the memories that tainted the atmosphere with it. The trees at the theatre grounds were tall and the gentle breeze that evening stimulated movement amongst them and the dance they created was light and uplifting. Attendance looked full that evening, perhaps a sellout crowd, and the small round tables for dinner were beautifully arranged at the side area under the trees for an outdoor dining experience. Menu choices made ahead of time were beautifully displayed at each place setting and theirs were at table number seven.

Naomi remarked at the exquisiteness she saw. “This place setting is fit for royalty! Everything is just so. This is how the meals at yearly seminars are set up for the displayers of House and Home.” Felicity smiled at Naomi’s expression of a perk to one of her jobs working as a home party consultant. Home parties were a big thing amongst women of their time and it wasn’t hard to see the confidence Naomi gained learning to stand in front of a group of women and direct their choices in bringing beauty into their homes.

Naomi and Felicity enjoyed a full dinner with an appetizer of Scallops Rumaki, Watercress Soup, Greek Salad, Salmon, Asparagus and Key Lime Pie for dessert. “That meal was out of this world!” Naomi’s voice screeched, but was void of any anger at last. Felicity laughed at her mother’s normal expression of fine dining. The evening continued and it was soon time for the play to begin. “I hope the characters are right for the part,” said Naomi. It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Julie Andrews as Maria.”

“That’s for sure,” said Felicity, letting her self-thoughts take over and entertain her before the opening of the curtain. I wonder what mom will think about when the play gets to the love scenes: Liesl and Rolf, the Captain and Maria. There is no denying the chemistry portrayed. Little did Felicity grasp the void of experience and the dark curtain over romantic love in her mother’s life, but she knew that she was empty.

The evening ended with a spectacular performance and a standing ovation. The cast was well placed and Naomi and Felicity chatted during the car ride home, reflective on the night and the happy ending they knew was to come in the story. “Are you watching Miss America when it’s on?” asked Naomi.

“Probably,” said Felicity. Naomi never missed the pageant for as far back as Felicity could remember. She rolled her eyes within herself. What does Mom even get out of watching that?! “Mom, those women aren’t the only contributors to a society.” Naomi listened, but Felicity could tell it was superficial. The evening came to a close and the pair want back to their homes and their day to day living. Felicity was clueless that her mother wished to have even a hint of the intellect, beauty and talent of the pageant females and admired the opportunity from afar. She had many possibilities as she placed herself in the shoes of the beautiful young women who walked across the stage and were announced.

Time passed and Naomi had grandchildren, four from Felicity. The thought that mother and daughter had something in common never crossed Felicity’s mind. Then, one day it happened…
Felicity’s husband, Ben, was out of town and the baby was sick. The other kids weren’t old enough to be left at home and Felicity had no choice but to go to the store for medicine. Frustration mounted as she tried to get everyone ready in a fiasco-like form and cried out, “I don’t want to load up the kids and go to Walmart for medicine.” Felicity wasn’t prepared for the answer that penetrated her spirit, and her eyes gasped in childlike wonder, Your mother did it all the time. The voice had no volume, but was so distinct, Felicity jolted in response to its rebuke. “Thank you, God, for my mother.” she said aloud.

Felicity poured her heart into day to day living with her dear little family. She began to recognize how different the opportunities her choices had brought her compared to Naomi’s, each stemming from chance and the unknown of the path before them. Unsurprisingly, pleasures and play with the children pushed back household tasks and Felicity sometimes gave her mother a call to ask for help.
“Hi Mom,” said Felicity on the phone to Naomi. Do you want to come iron for me this week? Ben is away and my clothes pile is big.” Ironed clothes look the cleanest and crispest. Naomi was an avid ironer and even enjoyed the job; in fact, she spent many evenings ironing to make an extra income to provide for her family. Back in the day, most families dried their clothes on the clothes line to cut down on the electric bill and ironing was a must to smooth out the wrinkles if you wanted to have a nice look.

“Sure,” said Naomi. I can come Tuesday around 6:00.

“I sure do appreciate it, Mom,” replied Felicity and she knew this to be an occasion where her mother felt useful and the task distraction would keep the conversation steady.

Naomi arrived and the grandchildren welcomed her as they always did. “I brought the children some ice cream,” she said and opened the freezer door to put the chocolate covered vanilla bars in. Something in the way in which the grandchildren received her softened her spirit from the genuine flow of affection back to her, affirming that she was theirs. She set about her task and plugged the iron in waiting for it to get hot. It started to sizzle and so did her expression as the past, once more, began to mock her at the memories her own mother gave defining who she was in a degrading way, comparing her to the other side of the family tree:

“My mother used to bring it up all of the time. ‘We aren’t the Burns family. They’re smart and we’re not. You’ll never make it if you go to college.’ They were all terrible smart; I wanted to be an RN and college was just a waste of my time.” Naomi pressed harder with her iron. “Fran ended up in a supervisor position over all of the other nurses and Dorothy Ann was right there with her. My mother used to say, ‘They made it because they could. You aren’t them and I’m just being honest,’ ” and Felicity began to pray inside herself to comprehend how to handle these sessions with her mother as she had so many times before.

Naomi finished out the ironing and each garment was perfectly crisp, hanging at the entryway in pristine formation, more beautifully than the rack at the clothing store where they came from. Her huffy departure was awkward and Felicity didn’t know what to say to her as she left her home. At least my children gave her warm goodbye hugs. Jostled, Felicity was more than ready to see her leave and walked by the photo of the little girl (Naomi) in the picture frame on her old antique table in the hallway and picked it up while questioning, What happened to you? She recognized that Naomi felt imprisoned and crippled in the vision of who she was. Felicity began to form ideas of what exactly happened to Naomi and the wounded spirit that tormented her existence.

As darkness fought against the resolution that Felicity sought so eagerly to find, she stumbled upon a scripture premonition that puzzled her: What credit is it to love those who love you in return? Even the heathen do that. Felicity knew that she was loved, but how was she doing with giving it back, especially when dealing with those who were difficult or hard to love? Mom; Naomi; bitter… and she knew that she had a direction to go in. The next time Naomi came to iron, Felicity told her the story: “Mom, Ben was away and the baby was sick and I had to go to the store for medicine and I cried out, ‘I don’t want to load up the kids and go to Walmart for medicine,’ and I heard within my spirit, ‘Your mother did it all the time.’ ”

“WHAT?!” and the shock on Naomi’s face was as if the deepest depth of the darkest valley in the sea of the unbeknownst acknowledged who she was as the single mother providing for her family. When special occasions came around, Felicity made sure they were celebratory for her mother. Naomi felt like queen of the neighborhood when the flower truck pulled up to her house on Valentine’s Day. When Spring came around, Naomi would say to Felicity, “Everyone commented on my gorgeous corsage when I wore it to church on Easter.”

“I’m glad, Mom. You deserve it,” would be Felicity’s response.

On occasions such as Mother’s Day, Felicity picked out the warmest of cards, not mushy, but with a message: “You’re My Hero, Mom” and as time passed, daughter became mother and mother became daughter and Naomi returned to Felicity when she needed consoling. Such moments, put the two together on the same team and in Naomi’s final years she said to Felicity, “You made up for all of the happiness in life that I didn’t get,” and Felicity knew that she had found her purpose in learning what it means to love.

Time moved on, and Naomi left this life with a peaceful heart, knowing that she was loved and that her voice had been heard. A few years later, Felicity went to her daughter, Estelle’s, college graduation and as Estelle walked across the stage as a lovely young woman with possibilities, she wore her grandmother’s shoes. They announced her name with Summa Cum Laude, and Estelle looked at her mother, together smiling as they looked up to heaven and into the stars… They knew that Naomi was watching! It was even at the Burns family alma mater.

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