Dad brought pink peppermint home in a sack
and gave it to my sis, Yvonne, and me,
each time he made his monthly trip to town.
My sis and I would race each other down
to meet our dad each time that he came back.
Yvonne school-hopped on past the white lilac.
She was the first to reach Dad– she was three
and I was only two years more than she.
Two sacks he held within his weathered hand.
We smiled and thought that he was simply grand.
He parked his Model T beside the fence,
then gave our mom a hug without pretense
and she was happy with cake flour he bought
but candy was the best thing that he brought.
© 2014, Freeda Baker Nichols
Today two viewers signed in to follow my blog. They are Kate Burton and Linda Baie. One was the 699th to follow me and the other was 700. I’m happy they chose to follow. And I want to dedicate this poem to them. Thank you both so much.
The mums of purple in the vase of blue
that stands next to the fresh-baked apple pies
and plums, remind me of my child at two.
With hands on hips, she blinked her hazel eyes
and scanned the room as though in great surprise,
then stooped to give her spotted pup a hug.
She planned to trick me with her mock disguise.
She scooped some bitter weeds in broken mug,
and whooped and squealed and gave my heart a tug.
But now she’s grown and has a child of three
who troops right through he door, across the rug,
somehow just like her mama, happily.
She dances through the room a care-free kid,
and glances at me like her mother did.
© 2014, Freeda Baker Nichols
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.
In spring, irises bloom purple,
and a covey of speckled quails
resides next to an old log house
inside a fence of weathered rails.
A father built the bungalow
with logs he cut from woods nearby.
He built a cradle, too, of oak–
a mother sang a lullaby.
When irises bloom, I visit
the cottage by an old oak tree.
A calm and tender morning breeze
reaches out and touches me.
A cradle rocks — is it the wind?
Who is humming that sweet refrain?
Is it my mother’s gentle voice
singing me to sleep again?
© Freeda Baker Nichols
The dormant trees like sentries stand intent
on guarding darkest nights in icy air.
Though some are crooked, stooped or badly bent,
they keep the watch through hours of deep despair.
Last night, I saw the labored breathing start,
and watched it stop, my mind a maze of knots.
Emotion then dried up inside my heart
and turned as black as frozen plants in pots.
When columbine comes back in early spring
like flocks of little doves in red array,
perhaps my heart again will glow and sing
of love that held my hand through yesterday.
My memories might then renew and shine
like warming sun that hugs the columbine.
© 2014 Freeda Baker Nichols
“I don’t recall this house,” she said, in tears.
“It’s where you raised us children, Mom,” Tom said.
“Your honeysuckle vine is over there.”
He pointed to the corner of the yard,
where blossoms red clung to a green-leafed vine.
She shook her head. “I never saw this house.”
“The old gum tree’s where Billy broke his arm,”
Tom said, “when he fell from the highest limb.
The pies you baked you cooled upon that shelf
and Daddy liked egg custard best of all.
I liked the chocolate–don’t you recall?”
No matter how he tried, she did not seem
to recognize one memory of home.
Her babies all were born in that big bed;
the drapery at the window, she had made.
Her husband built the table out of oak; that’s
where the children bowed their heads for grace.
But not a hint of recognition sparked
her eyes while she walked slowly through the rooms.
Tom took her hand and gently led her out
the door, across the yard and to the car.
He drove the miles in silence to the Home
where she now lives with other residents.
He left her sitting in her easy chair.
There is one thing that he is certain of:
she’ll know her home in Heaven when she goes.
© Copyright Freeda Baker Nichols
This angel wing begonia is not growing up, as some do, but it leans from the weight of its row of wings. It turns toward the west from its position in a hanging pot on my porch. The foliage catches the light underneath the wings showing off a reddish color. This plant was given to me by a friend and colleague, Patricia Laster, a member of my critique group, Central Arkansas Writers. The begonia was started from a plant that belonged to her mother.
Our mothers are no longer with us, but to honor their memory, both Pat and I still have some of the flowers our mothers once tended. So when Pat shared this plant with me, I was happy to look after it and soon it began to grow.
My own mother loved all kinds of flowers and could keep them growing with little effort, it seemed. She definitely had a green thumb. Begonias and geraniums were some of her favorites. My mother passed away 35 years ago, and I still have two of her plants. A Mother-in-law’s tongue and a Thanksgiving cactus.
Angel wing begonias are a great conversational piece, a lovely houseplant, and can even prompt a writer to post it on her blog. 🙂
Do you have an angel wing begonia at your house?
steps ahead of father/
© 2013, Freeda Baker Nichols