I wrapped the striped baby blanket around my Betsy Wetsy doll. A dead fly’s wing hung to one corner of the fabric that brushed along The Barn floor in my motherly haste.
The Barn, was not for livestock. It was a magical space. Here, I unleashed my imagination. Sometimes I portrayed a socialite in a cast-off adult-sized sequined evening gown preparing for a ball. My high heels clicked on the cement floor. A crushed pack of Winston candy cigarettes and the remnant of a worn down Avon lipstick sample filled my patent leather purse.
Once, I imagined auditioning for the Rockettes. I wore my homemade tap shoes which consisted of Orange Crush bottle caps nailed with carpet tacks on the heels and toes of my red Keds. The sneaker’s thin foam inner lining tried in vain to protect my soft soles from the sharp points. But the pain was worth the effort. Cotton balls soaked up the droplets of blood.
But most of the time, I played the role of a mother and The Barn was my house. Betsy Wetsy was my baby.
The flannel cocoon fit in the crook of my sunburn arm as I transported my newly washed baby to the waiting red wagon. It was time for her walk. Lugging the metal rectangle up and down the driveway, my skinny legs soon begged for a break. My baby had rolled around quite a bit during her bumpy ride. I scooped up the now un-swaddled infant cargo and skipped with her back to our house in The Barn.
The muted sound of buckwheat flies buzzing along the dusty windowsill in search of escape, provided a steady background hum as I rocked my baby back and forth in an oak chair. In an effort to feed my little one, I stuck the nipple of the water-filled miniature plastic bottle in her facial opening. Hours in the hot summer sun had faded the bright pink paint on her lips to a less appealing yellowish-orange hue. She was still pretty to me.
Next, I waited for the liquid to drain through the empty plastic cavity and magically drip out of a similar hole in the crack of her bottom. Sometimes, I had to squeeze her belly and shake her upside down. If I had a real cloth diaper pinned in place, I merely yanked it off and replaced it with a dry one. If her bottom was naked, the slimy residue spilled onto my lap as I exclaimed, Oh Betsy not again!
I took my motherly chores very seriously. Attending to my space in the back of The Barn gave me great satisfaction. While my baby was sleeping, I cleaned. I dragged out threadbare area rugs and hung them over the split rail fence where I beat them with a baseball bat. Tornadoes of dust swirled in the wind. I polished the random pieces of furniture in my house with scraps from my dad’s old undershirts. I danced with the tall straw broom an attempt to clean the pitted concrete floor. My chores took hours.
Using my mother’s gardening clippers, I snipped Queen Anne’s Lace from the field behind The Barn and arranged the thin stalks in a chipped glass vase along with an occasional pansy that I swiped from the garden near our porch. Tired doilies covered every flat surface of my house. Mismatched sheer curtains hung from lopsided metal rods secured by long, rusty nails. My house was lovely.
I think I was hardwired to be a mother. It was my calling. And while I observed other iconic mothers on TV, I developed my own style. I did not wear pearls and a fancy apron like June Cleaver. My hair was not done to perfection like Donna Reed.In fact, my mother kept my hair short, except for the one time when it was long enough to succumb to a Toni home permanent. Otherwise, I had a pixie cut.
In the summertime, I preferred a one piece seersucker sun suit with shoulder ties and elastic openings that hugged my skinny legs. I rarely wore shoes. I liked to feel the morning dew on the grass under my feet. After a full day of playing outside, the bottoms of my feet looked like two old chocolate covered graham cracker cookies.
I was more of a Lucille Ball kind of gal. Silly moments and high jinks adventures filled my days. One afternoon I thought it would be fun to unearth the 18th century graves in the small cemetery behind The Barn. (Mother quickly put an end to that as she bellowed from the open kitchen window to put back the shovels and pick.)
I also carefully observed my own mother when I was old enough to analyze her habits. She was a dedicated homemaker and very clever. She made most of our delicious baked goods from scratch, even though from 6th grade on, I begged for a Freihofer Bakery birthday cake.
Mom decorated the house extensively for the holidays. In preparation for one Christmas season, not a single pinecone or dried milkweed pod had escaped her can of gold spray. She was a master of gilding.
I especially admired Mom’s idea of a mid-morning coffee break. Therefore, I mimicked a similar respite in The Barn. A teacup full of Tang and a couple of Ritz crackers nourished me as I leafed through a National Geographic looking for pictures of naked people. If I had a candy cigarette leftover in my handbag, I wiped off the lint and let the white stick dangle from the corner of my mouth in a serious manner as I crouched over my tiny kitchen table until the break had passed.
As my age advanced, I put my motherly world on hold. Leaving home for college after graduating from Canajoharie High School at age seventeen, I was ready to explore the unknown—secure in knowing that someday I would return to my motherly status.
Impatient to start a family right after I was married, I remember how discouraged I was when maternal events did not move along as quickly as I hoped. Turning to science, I purchased a basal thermometer in hopes that I could pin point my optimum window of fertility. Fortunately, conception did not take long.
I was elated as my belly grew. I was constantly hungry and filled my grocery cart with Drake’s Ring Dings and Yodels. Healthy food choices took up the majority of space in my cupboards, but I viewed my ever-stretching stomach as a wonderful excuse to indulge in boxes of chocolate covered devil’s food cakes.
My, my have we been eating ice-cream?
My OBGYN asked me with a twinkle in his eye as he entered the exam room.
Nope. Ring Dings and Yodels.
I gained 44 pounds with Samantha and 42 pounds with Rick. I had never seen such numbers on the scale before. Thankfully, months of breast feeding and my effective metabolism quickly left those inflated pounds in the rear-view mirror. The dial of the bathroom scale never revisited those weights again.
Right up to the birth of my daughter Samantha, I worked as a corporate paralegal. Each day, I needed to wear something comfortable, yet professional. At home I was fine in oversized shirts and drawstring sweat pants. So with the help of a girlfriend, I sewed several maternity dresses One outfit in particular was made of Kelly green sail cloth. When seated in my office chair, I resembled a small pup tent, but I was comfortable.
The first embrace of my daughter in her hospital flannel blanket transported me right back to my early motherly days. Her tiny lips pursed together like a rosebud. The wisps of moist hair formed a triangle on her forehead and pointed down to her deep blue eyes. When her little fingers latched on to one of mine, I promised her I would always be there.
Surprise! Twenty-one months later, our son arrived. He became the first and only grandson in my family. Initially, I was shocked by a male off spring and actually declared to his father “I am not sure what to do with him!”. Thankfully, my motherly instinct kicked in. After a few warm sprinkles, I quickly learned to keep his front covered when changing his diaper. Our tight household budget justified the use of Sam’s outgrown pink sleepers for Rick. I only used that color and the frilly ones at nighttime. He wore the yellow and green outfits for daytime. Eventually blue entered his wardrobe.
Today my two children are grown-up and married and each has a son and daughter of their own. It is so wonderful to observe the circle of life. What beautiful families they both have.
My precious grandchildren allowed me to be full-out motherly again. With each one’s arrival, I had the opportunity to rub my cheek on the top of a tiny head and smell the sweet scent of a newborn. I loved to rest warm bundles of life on my chest and feel a tiny heartbeat next to mine. And then, I would return my grandchild back to its rightful parent and wait for the next visit, as I peacefully slept through the night.
I still feel motherly every day. Phone calls for advice and recipes. Invitations to babysit. Kid sporting events. Elementary musical concerts. Holiday gatherings. All fuel my motherly fire. Giggles and silly actions relax the wrinkles of time on my aging face.
Although I enjoyed teaching for twenty-five years, I once announced to an audience of parents on Back-to-School Night that my best job will always be that of a mother. I want that to be my legacy.
Thank you, Samantha and Rick, for being such wonderful children and for keeping me in the motherly lane with you and your wonderful children, my grandchildren. I love you!
Mom (aka Mimi)