Beauty is many things. It is the sun rising above the timberline to give its light to a dark and waiting world. It is the sound of a loved one’s voice when an eternity has elapsed since you last heard the familiar echoes in your heart. It is the violet beside the road, the Sweet Williams, the rose petals and budding oaks in spring. It is the voice of a friend when you need someone who understands. There is a secret– the beholder of beauty must open not only his eyes but his heart if he is to see the total realm of beauty. Like the ivy across a trellis, beauty and love intertwine, the one depends upon the other. Together they stand out in all their splendor.
My mother was a quiet person, and yet she guided me through childhood and adolescence as powerfully as a commanding general guides his soldiers through a battlefield. She tempered her authority with love.
I knew I should pay attention to my mother’s commands because my father would back her up. The peach tree at the side of the porch also lent its support to Mother for disciplining purposes. So, along with my six siblings, I learned to obey.
Mother referred to the Bible to teach moral values. She didn’t read the Bible to me. She lived by its example and there was no mistaking its message. There was never a shred of doubt in my mind but that Mother would be home when I arrived from school. I knew she would be home on weekends, and I even believed she would be there forever. My parents did not quarrel in my presence. Therefore, I had no fear that my home would fall apart. And it did not. My home was always there at the end of my trek through the woods from school, and Mother stood at the stove cooking supper to have ready when Daddy came home from work.
I helped Mother pick beans from her garden, sinking my bare feet into the soft soil beside each straight row of plants. I watched as Mother pulled her sunbonnet snugly to shade her face from the hot sun. She hummed happily, as I worked beside her, but with each snap of a bean, I vowed to become a movie star. Her garden contained all sorts of vegetables. She stored ripe tomatoes in a Mrs. Tucker’s lard pail and hung it on a prong of the cedar post that cornered the back porch. The tomatoes were juicy and good, she said, sprinkled with salt, and she shared them with our neighbors.
Mother’s suntanned, wrinkled fingers picked soft, snow-white-down from ducks squawking in rhythm to each tug of the feathers. She stuffed the feathers into pillowslips and made comfortable pillows for her family. When she milked “Old Jerse,” the cow, Mother placed the fluffy foam onto the pink tongues of orphaned kittens.
When I needed the recommended dose of castor oil, for whatever ailed me, I had two choices for taking the medicine–one way or the other. I chose the “one way” and swallowed the liquid, gagging on it, but thereby leaving the peach tree to bud with all its pink blossoms.
When I was a teenager, Mother accepted the boys I liked. She never found fault with any of them, although she might have. Perhaps my memory fails me, but the only negative remark I ever heard her make about my boyfriends was that the tall, handsome, dark-haired one, “sure had big feet.” His size 11 shoes looked “like boats,” she said. He’s the one I married.
From Mother I learned how to be grateful. She taught me that life in general could sometimes be better, but that it can always be worse. If I thought I had nothing to be thankful for, she would tell me about her uncle who often reminded ungrateful persons that, “You have two eyes with which to see, and two ears with which to hear, don’t you?”
My mother also taught me to try my best at all things worthwhile. She reinforced her message with this rhyme: “Let a job be large or small, do it right or not at all.” She was a clever teacher. She would quote her elders of having said the same thing that she was teaching me. Somehow, that gave her credibility. If I felt like rejecting the lesson, there was no point in disagreeing with Mother because the idea had not originated with her. And I couldn’t rebel against someone who was not present.
From Mother I learned that all people are important, and that those who have the greatest need have so much more to offer me than anything I might give to them. She taught this without preaching. Her handwriting in bold blue ink on the pages of my childhood autograph book encouraged me to “Always do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and remember that a friend in need is a friend indeed.”
She crocheted doilies with twine from flour sacks and embroidered the flour sacks for tablecloths to make our home a lovely place but what made it truly beautiful was her presence.
My mother’s name was Laura Sephrona. My kids called her Granny. She plaited her dark, silken hair and wound it around and around her head. Her eyes were gray. She was short and plump when I knew her, but in a photo on a yellowed postcard with crinkled corners, she wore a white blouse, trimmed with tatted lace, and a black, cotton skirt with a 24” waistband. High top, lace-up leather shoes covered her small feet. She fell in love with Daddy, she said, because she liked his blue eyes.
Tempered with love, Mother’s power included an admirable ability to express her feelings and ideas with only a few words. Plain and simple words, handed down to her by other caring people.
Once when she was telling my husband and me about an item that she wanted– I can’t recall now what the item was– Mother said, “If I ever find one of those, I’m going to cabbage on it.” When my husband asked her what “cabbage” meant, she said she didn’t know but that he could look it up in the dictionary. He did, and found his answer.
When she told me to go “stop up the rooster,” I knew what she meant. But my town-dude husband didn’t get it. When he watched me close the door to the chicken house and latch it, he laughed so hard that I laughed, too, just because he did. But I had understood Mother.
While Mother taught many things as she nurtured me through childhood, she did not teach me how to cook. I learned that from my husband. He always let me know when I forgot to salt the food, and gradually I learned how to cook, at least well enough to please him, but that’s another story.
Many others have been instrumental in my walk through life, but Mother guided me successfully into adulthood, and to the position, I now fulfill as wife, mother and grandmother. When my sixth of seven grandchildren named me GeGe, it was the crowning glory to a life already blessed.
For my wonderful life, I credit my mother’s wisdom, strength, faith and her ability to command in a loving way. Without her expertise, today I might be adrift on the sea of life, unanchored, and unwilling to meet the challenges that arise almost on a daily basis. But thanks to her, I can face the challenges with confidence that life might be better than it is but that it can certainly be worse. With a humble heart, I look squarely at life with my two eyes, and listen to the merry sounds of grandchildren’s voices with my two ears—content with my corner of the world, and the family and friends within it.
© 2014, Freeda Baker Nichols, poet and writer, of the Ozarks Foothills, Arkansas, U.S.A.
All rights reserved.
When Dogwoods Bloom
for the Arkansas Folk Festival
On Mountain View’s courtsquare this past weekend,
a fiddler sat and played a song of choice.
He tapped his foot in rhythm to pretend,
once more, that he could hear his darling’s voice.
Oh, hold me close before you must depart,
she whispered in the autumn mountain air.
Though drums of war beat louder than his heart,
he made a promise on that old courtsquare.
He said he would return when dogwoods bloom,
then marched to rhythm of his country’s call
and often felt that he would meet his doom
but he returned a hero that next fall.
The dogwood blooms had fallen off and died
and buried there beneath them lay his bride.
The man who tapped his foot would try to smile
each time he moved his bow to make a tune.
He watched the couples dressed in Ozark style
as feet would dance in springtime afternoon.
The sight of dogwood blooms, the music flow,
the tangy taste of sugared lemonade—
oh memories, how bittersweet they grow
as wagons roll to start the grand parade.
His country’s flag waves highest on this day.
He shuts his eyes and no one else can see
the tears that never fully wash away
his deepest hurt, his pride, his loyalty.
The dogwood blooms had fallen off and died
and buried there beneath them lay his bride.
(These are the first two stanzas of a longer poem)
© 2014 Freeda Baker Nichols
The grand-daddy gray beard’s blooms,
snow-white against a green-leafed pad,
each year made lacy white bouquets
and caused me to remember Dad.
How he had found the small ash tree
and Mama spoke as to kid,
“You can’t transplant when in full bloom,”
but that’s just what my daddy did.
And then the bush thrived years to bloom
each spring when all things new
burst forth as red, red robins sang
when skies shone rain-washed blue.
The gray-beard weathered winter ice
the day my daddy died,
because my mama cried.
Then in the spring she, too, took sick
and soon she went away
and as they closed the casket lid,
it seemed I heard her say.
“You can’t transplant when in full bloom.”
But that is what was done
and now the flowers in God’s Bouquet
out-number the rays of the sun.
© 2013 Freeda Baker Nichols
- Photo credit: Flowering ash tree Wikipedia (Zemanta)
To Keep Love Blooming
Beside the gate, the yellow roses bloom.
She planted them when she became a bride.
He gave the bush to her when they were young.
He loosened up the soil with rake and hoe.
Despite the snow and ice and floods, the rose
bush grew and blossomed every year in bright,
silk buds. The petals disregarded sun,
and children’s hands that picked them for bouquets.
His hands last picked them for St. Valentine’s.
When tears like crystal glistened on green leaves,
she took a root to plant next to a mound.
Now, roses bloom inside another gate.
© 2013 Freeda Baker Nichols
Photo credit: Photos provided by Zemanta through WordPress
When Aunt Miranda married Jim
she said to him
the wedding vow
two times, somehow.
When Uncle Jimmy said, “I do,”
she said it, too.
“Oh, never mind,”
the preacher whined,
then he pronounced them man and wife.
Throughout his life,
will Jim recall
his vow at all?
© 2013 Freeda Baker Nichols
I raised my voice to make him hear,
the noise exploded in my ear
and now I, too, can’t hear a thing.
I think I’ll give him back his ring.
“Do what?” he yelled when he was told.
“You vowed to stay ’till we are old.”
“Oh, that we are, my precious dear,
’cause neither one of us can hear.”
He mouthed the words, “I love you still.”
Asked me to stay. He knows I will.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
We held hands and walked past the
lilacs and apple tree blossoms,
lingering at bassinets and baby cribs,
to catch smiles, dimples,
a glimpse of an indescribable love
that came unannounced and stayed as
we held hands through the years.
We ran, we played, we laughed, we cried.
Viet Nam became thorns along our pathway
and our country stumbled when no one
welcomed home those who sacrificed
to give us freedom to hold hands, to walk
through the years–to live, to love, to be.
Since ‘Nam, other wars have claimed the core
of happiness, and tears hiding ugly scars
have formed unending rivers of regret.
Yet, our journey continues to be indescribable
and filled with love that invited our hearts
to join, to bond, to stay on the lilac-scented
pathway where we first held hands.
Our journey began not a long time ago, and yet
eternity passed while we waited for the doctor
to emerge from the operating room. Together
we watched the expression on his face, which
told us before his words reached our ears,
that our little one would run and play again.
Holding hands, we thanked God for answering
We watched from the sidelines as graduating
caps hurled skyward hid the sun, and our children
marched away to drums pounding loud tunes only
they could hear. Tears roared like rivers.
Undercurrents tumbled regret, happiness, sadness,
pride, laughter, mixing the emotions that swirled
in our hearts.
We stroll past the lilacs that bloom now with less
color and past the apple tree that no longer bears
fruit. We stroll, holding hands.
© 2013, Freeda Baker Nichols
Photo source: Flickr.com through Zemanta
I am a poetess, Mama;
I wish I were a clown,
wearing a smile, wide and bright,
to hide my solemn frown.
I am a poetess, Mama;
I wish I were his wife —
the only role worth playing
in the grand opera of life.
© Copyright, Freeda Baker Nichols
There’s no return address on this letter. I rip it open. A check! One thousand dollars written on a Virginia bank. From Whit! I look closely inside the envelope for an explanation, but there’s nothing. Not one single word.
A while later, Layton comes by and we sit at the table on the patio. I try to put my thoughts about the check aside for now.
I’m glad Layton is here. Does he know how happy I am to see him? I try not to show my feelings. We talk a few minutes about many things, but nothing in particular. Chit-chat.
“Calypso, tell me how you got your name.”
I laugh. “My dad once met Jacques-Yves Cousteau.”
“The ocean researcher?”
“Yes. Dad went aboard his famous ship.”
“I’ve heard of his ship. He called it Calypso, didn’t he?”
“That’s right. Dad was impressed with Cousteau and he really liked the name Calypso. When he suggested the name to Mother, surprisingly she agreed. I would have thought she would give me a dripping-sugar Southern name.”
“So you are named for a ship. Suppose that’s why you love the ocean?”
“Actually, I’m also named after Cousteau himself.”
“My middle name is Yvette, the feminine form of Yves.”
“Calypso Yvette. Pretty name.”
“Thanks. I’ve been told it fits an artist.”
“You are a very good artist.”
“So good that thieves steal instead of buy?” I try to make light of the horrible theft, but Layton is not smiling. “Whit liked to tease me about selling the seascape when our bank account got low but he knew I’d never part with it.”
“That was a beautiful painting. I’m sorry it was stolen.”
“If you’ve never had anything stolen, you can’t imagine how vulnerable it makes you feel.”
He nods. “Do you mind telling me how long you and Whit were married?”
“And you? How long were you married?”
“Thirteen years,” he says and looks away.
He shakes his head.
“Whit and I never had children, either. If we had, I wouldn’t be alone now.”
“Do you think you’ll ever see Whit again?”
“I don’t know.”
“A few days ago, you mentioned getting a divorce. Do you plan to go through with it?”
“Yes.” I can’t even imagine how devastating that will be.
Suddenly Angelique’s red Mustang whips into my drive and comes to a quick stop. She gets out and strides over to the table. Layton–gentleman that he is–stands until she is seated.
The sun’s rays slant through the leaves of the pepper tree and brighten the table top. Angelique pushes her sunglasses to the top of her head. Her thick blonde hair cushions them. Layton shoots her an admiring glance. She is attractive. I recall telling her she should spend some time looking for Mr. Right. She always came back with, “He doesn’t exist. You’ve already got him.”
I clear my throat and shut my eyes tight. I don’t have him anymore. When I open my eyes, Layton smiles at me. I force a smile and turn to Angelique. “So how are things at the sheriff’s office?”
“Usual stuff. At least, we’ve not heard any more out of you. So that means things are okay?”
I nod, not trusting my voice to sound reassuring. Things have quieted down though. Rex Gentry unnerved me but I haven’t heard any more from him since he bought the painting. And I’ll be getting a report from the detective soon.
Angelique looks at Layton. “I have a habit of dropping in to check on my best friend. I hope I’m not interrupting your visit.”
“Oh, no. It’s nice to see you again.”
Angelique turns to me. “When did you say your Aunt Helen will be here?”
“She’ll be good for you. Her sense of humor will definitely lift your spirits,” Angelique says.
I turn to Layton. “Helen is my favorite aunt. I want you to meet her.”
“I’d like to meet her.”
After a time, Angelique leaves. A short while later, Layton says, “Time for me to leave, too. Is our date at the beach still on tomorrow?”
“Yes. I’ll be there mid-morning with my canvas and paints.”
“I’ll bring our lunch and see you at noon.”
When I’m alone, I look at the check again. The familiar signature of Whit Langley brings to mind how much I loved him. Love him. Maybe he still loves me. He sent this check for some reason. Didn’t he?
Don’t count on it, Calypso.
But why did he send it? Why? After all this time. I’m getting by, selling a painting now and then. My savings account though is dwindling. I need to look for a job. Or maybe I should sell this house and move back to Texas. Back to the cabin.
The cabin and acreage would bring a good price. Maybe I should sell the cabin. I don’t think I’ll ever want to go back there to live.
I wouldn’t be happy far away from the ocean.
I wouldn’t be happy.
© Copyright, 2013, Freeda Baker Nichols
(This is a middle portion of my short story-in-progress)