411 Focus

They, my "first" mother and my stepmother each loved in her own way, to the best of their ability, and became friends

Contributed By:Dorothy Nevils maslivend@sbcglobal.net

What's a mother?

I’m different. I know that. There’s nothing wrong with being different. Nope. That’s the way to tell folks apart, so it doesn’t bother me. Plus, for you who think different is a problem, it’s not my fault. Each of us is different, and a lot of things are at the root of that difference.

As you know, I was born and raised in the country, ‘way back in the forties. During that time, and in that space, families were different, “a whole lot” different! Fathers and sons worked the fields and cared for the livestock – mostly mules, for labor – and cows and pigs for food. Mothers had what was considered “lighter” work. They stayed closer to home doing “women’s work.”

When people think about the differences in the mother’s station and the father’s when I was growing up, they kind of get side-tracked by appearance. Fathers returned from the field wet and smelly, with a mask of clay on their faces. I remember Daddy washing his hands and face on the back porch and completing the job with the “community” towel that had hardly an inch of clean anywhere when he slung it over the wire across the top of the back porch. Then, when the last kid had washed, everyone sat down to eat.

Mothers were “hidden away” in the house – at least mine was. She had borne no children in her life, but had raised a “perfect” one before she had to contend with me, a sullen one who missed her “real” mother from whom she’d been separated for at least three years. Like the majority of people in that time and that community, I really didn’t appreciate the idea of a mother. I guess it was “left-over non-importance” from that time period.

Women weren’t important. They did “women’s work.” Most didn’t work in the field. They didn’t “earn their keep,” so to speak. The heat from the iron stove didn’t match the heat streaming down from the sun. These smaller rivulets coursed down the cheeks, meeting at the bottom, to be wiped dry with the corner of a handmade apron. The steam that issued forth from a half dozen jars of green beans for winters’ meals didn’t compare to the rivulets of sweat that cut twin rivers in the red clay of the man’s face before becoming one at the bottom of his chin. Nobody took “house” sweat seriously.

I have no idea what the first three or four years of my life were like, but I do know that both of my mothers were “mothers” to the best of their abilities. Both of them had obstacles: How could my stepmother compete with a mother I only got to know after she herself became my mother?

She didn’t compete. There was no competition. They, my “first” mother and my stepmother each loved in her own way, to the best of their ability, and became friends, and one of my favorite photos is of the two of them sitting together, laughing – really cackling – over some wild and crazy thing one of them did, one whose hair was silver, and one’s as black as coal.

Time heals. That’s what “they” say. I had spent so much energy being angry and no one could suppress my anger. It lasted for years, into high school. Then it just sort of drifted away. They did nothing I can put my finger on, nothing drastic. I cannot even pick the year it left… but it did! It just left – and I had two mothers, one the right age, and one old enough to be my grandmother!

Story Posted:05/11/2019

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