By Nancy Aronie
Id change my underpants because my Mother was right. I fell off a collapsed deck once and while the paramedics were strapping me into the ambulance gurney I joked and said I’m not going to the hospital because these are Mondays undies.
My mother was right about a lot of things but it takes some time for us daughters to realize there was actual wisdom at their own kitchen table.
My mother said things like, you cant wear white after labor day, and I remember thinking but wait that’s when I look best in white, being brown and all from summer sun and she also said the reason she had her hair cut every three months (even though she looked better with longer hair) was because women after a certain age shouldn’t wear their hair past their shoulders. I don’t know where she got these misguided Miss Manners mini prisons.
When I was really young I didn’t think my mother had much to offer. She was tired all the time, had big migraines and a very small voice.
But it was more about what she didn’t say and what she did that found its way into my now life.
On Saturdays when she came home weary from her third job (this one as a receptionist at Schultzes Beauty Salon) instead of taking a nap (I never saw her nap) she and I drove down Asylum Avenue where she picked up black women holding bundles at the bus stops waiting to get home weary from their own jobs of cleaning white women’s houses. She knew all the neighborhoods (she had lived there) (Jews move up and Blacks move in). We’d squeeze in all together and you could practically hear the collective end of the work day sigh. I could feel the soulfulness the gratitude and the love in that car. Sometimes I’d hear her friends say aren’t you afraid of driving through that neighborhood? And my mother would say its my neighborhood too and besides these women are my neighbors.
She moved into an apartment complex that was a bit of a retirement community. Lots of widows in their seventies and eighties where the gossip mill was alive and well. I never heard my Mother ever pass along the secrets everyone came to her and whispered.
She had one friend Tillie and I remember the two of them laughing and saying haven’t they got anything better to do? My mother was taking a painting class and was in the middle of learning how to do clouds when the teacher died. She kept her brushes and her watercolor paper on her red plexi table as if she were waiting for him to return. Tillie and Hennie's apartments faced each other and they both had African Violets on their sils. They would catch each other watering at the same time and wave across the courtyard. Then Tillie was rushed to the emergency room and her grown children called Hennie and said Tillie probably wont make it. When I phoned my mother and offered to drive her to the hospital she said I’d prefer to remember Tillie the way she was. And I may have snapped a bit but I said Mom this isn’t about you. Its about Tillie. Helping her make a big transition. You can just sit and hold her hand . She said in the voice I had come to know and love I knew I shouldn’t have answered the phone. Ok pick me up in a half hour.
We were teachers for each other. She got her voice late in life and because of her I got mine early.
Originally this was a piece entitled if I could change one thing and it turns out if you change one thing you’d have to change everything and if you changed everything there’d be one thing you’d want to change out of that lot and you’d have to keep moving keeping ahead of your life running and changing yet again and again and again.
Better to sit still… accept what is… and if you’re planning on falling off a deck in Chilmark, go ahead, just be sure you change your underpants.