I Remember Mama
on her birthday, January 8th...
In loving memory of Frances Longo Walsh (1915-1966)
I recall the way
my mother’s whole body jiggled when she laughed,
her sweet, shy smile,
that she understood Italian, but never spoke it,
the utter simplicity of her desires...
never asking for or receiving much
and not once complaining.
She had all she wanted, a home and family.
I remember the helpmeet working side by side
with our father, clearing the land
and building our stucco home.
My mind’s eye sees her plucking
chicken feathers in the backyard,
walking uphill home from the bus stop,
scratching her itching back
against the bedroom door frame;
camping, just to please us children,
though it was more work than fun for her.
Recall, as if it were yesterday,
the flowery apron over her housedress
with its chain of safety pins
and her elastic band bracelets,
and Mother, standing at the stove, stirring
the bubbling red sauce in the big enamel pot.
Little Mommy, four-foot-ten and overweight—
She served herself the skimpiest portions,
never ate dessert, but occasionally gave in
to one indulgence: a crusty Italian bastone
from Minardi’s, sliced and spread with a pat of butter.
Hindsight reveals her quick on her feet
in the yard goods department at Quackenbush’s,
where customers remembered her
for smiles as quick as her feet.
When she arrived home, she changed her clothes
and aired out one of her two work dresses
on the clothesline off the back porch.
In retrospect, I see her
rolling her dark hair back into two neat curls
above her forehead,
applying red lipstick to her upper lip,
bringing both lips together to transfer color
to the lower, then, blotting.
Never attended high school, but
she could add columns of numbers
rapidly, in her head.
She read the newspaper nightly,
and completed the crossword puzzle.
My memory flashes to her relaxing evenings
in our parlor, in the old tufted chair,
watching Alfred Hitchcock or Lucy or
Barbara Stanwick in, “The Big Valley”.
She never missed the easy crooning of Perry Como.
He was her favorite. (He’d been a barber, like her father.)
I remember it pleased our father
that she always waited up for him
till he arrived home after working
the night shift at Wright’s.
Yes, I still see clearly, her dear kerchiefed head,
which Gramma remarked, made her look
like a peasant in a babushka.
Remember trying to convince her to hike her hemlines,
wear “Kiss Me Pink” lipstick, update her hair style,
learn to drive.
Flashback to hear her inviting my date
to come in for a cup of tea at our kitchen table
when he brought me home.
Vividly, I recollect the day
she was curled up tight on the couch.
She didn’t want me to call the ambulance,
though her hernia was strangling,
didn’t want to spoil plans
my sister and I had with our friends.
I disobeyed. The doctors operated just in time,
before gangrene set in.
My mind’s eye still sees tears in her eyes
when she came to my wedding
without my father.
And I remember her joy
to learn both daughters were pregnant, however,
she died before her grandchildren were born.
Oh! How much her grandchildren have missed
for never having known her—
which is one of the reasons
I’ve written this poem
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