Monday, February 24, 2014

My Mother's Stick

 by Darlene Jennings

Chapter 1       

               God, it was hot.

              Not even the two red and white checkered cotton napkins (recently made for my daughter’s wedding) that I had tied together and carelessly wrapped around my forehead an hour earlier could contain the sweat that was running down my face and burning my eyes.  The frozen bottle of water that I kept refilling with the garden hose didn’t help and the cigarette wasn’t comforting either.  I would work a while and sit awhile.  No one in their right mind especially at the age of 50 should be out in this heat and humidity.  Ok, I said to myself  just have one more cigarette, drink some more water and  sit down here on the stoop  and get your breath.

             It was then that I notice my mother’s stick.  Or at least that is what I had been calling it now for over 20 years.  For the past few months it had been holding up some flowering vine that I had purchased this spring.  The vine kept growing and falling over so at some point I had remembered the stick and  along with a piece of fish net ( which also had recently been used for decorations at my oldest daughter’s wedding) I anchored the vine to the porch post.  Now sitting there sweating like a stuck pig I had to laugh at the stick stuck in the ground. 

             God, if that stick could only talk.  I first remember it when I was about sixteen as I think that must have been when I first started washing my own clothes.  The instructions from my mother were to first fill the washing machine with a cup of Tide, start the water, wait for the tub to fill, and then stir like crazy with the stick to dissolve the Tide so you wouldn’t end up with white powdery splotches on your clothes.  I hated that stick.  What sixteen year old has time to stir water in a washing machine?  My mother must be crazy.  I swear she would catch me every time I didn’t stir and I don’t care where I thought she was in the house or the yard or out by the pool, she just would mysteriously appear every time I washed clothes. 

             The stick over the next few years went from stirring my cheer leading blouses to stirring baby diapers.  The baby belonged to me and I loved the baby but really began to hate the stick.  Now I had to stir for soaking, pre-washing and the final wash.  My goodness, how my father was ever able to pay the water bill at that house amazes me.

             Within seven years of the first stirring of baby diapers, the stick took on a new life.  As my mother lay dying of cancer at home in her bedroom the stick now became a tv remote.  The television set had a large dial for channel changing and with the addition of a  hook and black electrical tape to the stick, I was able to rig it just perfect so that mother could reach out, grab the dial with the hook and turn the channels on the television. 

             Sitting there on the porch it amazed me that almost 23 years later that black electrical tape on one end of the stick still looked the same.  The stick had changed somewhat in appearance as my oldest daughter at 17 had used it to stir the can of black paint that she painted her room with that year.  There were also shades of blue and pink  as the stick had been used for the same purpose by my youngest daughter a few years earlier.

             Funny thing about that stick.  I can’t seem to lose it.  Not that I have tried its just that I haven’t tried to take care of it so why is it that it keeps showing up?  Ok, maybe I stirred a few loads of clothes here at this house after moving in 1979 when my father sold the house on the beach.  The house that I loved, the house that I brought my children home to, the house that had the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a swimming pool on the other side.  The house that withstood Hurricane Hazel in ‘54 and the house that every year had the best Christmas party in town.  The house that was home to a beautiful mother, an infamous father and five children and then two grandchildren. The house that every relative within 250 miles visited at least once each summer of their teen age life and the house that every relative brought their first girlfriend or boyfriend to especially to meet my Mom.  They never knew about the stick.

             Ok, maybe my father wasn’t “infamous” but he was certainly a black sheep in this southern - baptist belt - soon to become booming tourist town.  He was also the envy of every man who ever laid their eyes on his wife and my mother, Becky Jennings.  I don’t remember how old I was the first time that I realized that she was beautiful.  Maybe around 8 when I would watch her put on her makeup for hours and brush her gleaming black hair for another hour and then stand in front of a full length mirror for another hour making certain that every hair, every fiber of her stylish dress was perfect.  And the smell....Shalimar...I still keep a lavendar velvet box that once held a bottle of her Shalimar perfume and every now and then when I yearn for her I will open the box just to embrace that smell and the memory of her.

             No other woman in town could hold a candle to her beauty but it is a funny thing that no other woman in town was ever jealous of her.  And as far as I know, no other woman was jealous of the fact that their husband thought she was beautiful.  Maybe it had something to do with her commitment to the community and to her five children and even to her husband even though he was never totally committed to her.  She was always the first mom at the school to help with the Christmas party or recitals or decorating for Halloween and organizing the carnivals.  She along with her best friend, Faye Taylor, are still know in the Chamber of Commerce circle as being two of the first ambassadors for Myrtle Beach, SC, in the early fifties.

             I’ve kept all of the newspaper clippings of the contributions that she made to this town.  Not money but time and energy promoting the community.  One of my favorite memories is the Beaux Art Ball where she and her friends would all be in costume (usually some group like ‘Lil Abner characters) and, naturally, mom was the sexy  Daisy Mae.  There were other community events like the annual Sun Fun Festival (again all in matching skimpy police outfits) and the Minstrel Shows where her dancing skills were the best on stage.  The whole town got involved in the shows which included (in black face) jokes about almost everyone, dancing, singing and just simple fun.  I think Mom really missed doing that show when it no longer seemed appropriate because of the change in our times.  I still have old scripts and programs from the shows tucked away in a box with pictures of the good times that she enjoyed with her friends in the community.

             Of course, all of this was years before the stick.  Now the stick is a reminder of how long ago she was beautiful and vibrant and how quickly life can change.  Life changed in 1964 when she told my father that he was no longer welcome to sleep at home.  At the time I didn’t realize that it had anything to do with another woman but that’s what it was.  No divorce, no legal separation, no nothing, except he didn’t sleep there anymore.

            Too bad she just didn’t beat him with the stick.

copyright 2014, Darlene Jennings

 Darlene Jennings is a native of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and dates herself by remembering when "we turned off the two downtown traffic lights in the winter." She grew up with sand between her toes and sand-spurs to boot.  Proud mother of two and grandmother of two, Darlene has been self employed for over thirty years in Community Management.  (A job that sucks the soul right out of you, she says.)  Her relief is community service and writing spur-of-the-moment short stories. Many stories have been shared with family and friends who suggested she write a book.  But that just sounds like another job to Darlene!

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