Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sucking Teeth

"Here, kiddo - this is for you, since you're always writing something or the other," she said, handing me a leather loose leaf binder, which closed securely with a zipper, and had a little corner where a monogram could be added. There were two of them. Mine was dark brown. The other was blue.

"Who's the other one for?" I asked.

"Your nephew."

Steven was all of four years old.

"What the hell is he going to do with a thing like that, Ma? He can't even read or write, yet."

My mother did that thing she did - that thing people from the Caribbean do, where they suck their teeth, and silently ask themselves, “Why am I wasting my time with someone who just doesn’t get it?”

"Time goes by quickly," she said, "before you know it, Steven will be in school and then, in the blink of an eye, he'll be in fifth or sixth grade, and he'll have a use for this, and I'll have it waiting for him. You'll see."

"You mean to tell me you bought these with the intention of giving one to me, and holding on to the other for five or six years, just so you can give it to Steven then?" I asked, mocking her, but with love.

"Laugh at me if you want to. I don't really care. I saw this and I liked it for Steven when he's older, so I bought it. Actually, it’s none of your business." This, too, was said with love. It was like this between us.

She walked away to stow the binder somewhere until Steven was old enough for it. On her way out of the room she said, without looking back, "Time goes by quickly. You'll see, smartass."

I was living overseas, years later, when she called me on the phone to tell me that she'd just given Steven his binder for the start of the sixth grade school year. She sounded pleased with herself. I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was waiting for me to eat crow.

"You're nuts, you know," I said, "But you do always give the best gifts. He loved it, didn't he?"

"Of course he did. You knew damned well he would."

I laughed and had to admit she was right.

That was all a long time ago. Steven is a grown man, now. In less than a week he's getting married to a wonderful young woman. It will be the first time the whole family - what’s left of it - is together since my mother’s funeral in 2010, where Steven took the podium and spoke so lovingly about his "Gram.” His words - those of a young man who, for a moment in time sounded like a wounded, heartbroken boy - made me ache, and wish he really were a little boy, again. Just last week he was a newborn baby who fit in the palm of one of my hands. Just a few days ago he learned how to write his name. Just yesterday he was giving one of my mother's eulogies. I keep thinking if she were still here, she'd say it, again: "Time goes by quickly." This time, I'd get it.


shirley said...

I love this.

Lisa Schamess said...

I'm weeping.

that is saying a lot, because i have read so many wonderful things you've written about your mom. Yet, each time I think I can't be moved again, I am. I feel sometimes as if you've really assembled the portrait of her so faithfully, I might know her if I'd had the pleasure of meeting her.

"This, too, was said with love. It was like this between us." - beautifully evoked throughout. The rough and tender of your love.

www.icescreammama.com said...

so sweet and sad. she sounds like she was pretty wonderful.

Jacqueline Bryant Campbell said...

This was so lovely. Mothers can tell you things, but it takes some living before we understand them.

Michael Walker said...

Your mother was wise beyond words.

Kristin said...

Loved this! I went through a period of sucking my teeth. It was in the late 90's and all my female students were doing it. I couldn't help myself -- plus, it just FITS sometimes. :)

Cindy said...

I love how you capture your mother's voice; the dialogue between you is so revealing. And how you jump from past to future to past again so fluidly.

Stacie said...

So good. Mothers know so much more than we give them credit for.

Asha Rajan said...

This was achingly beautiful. The lump in my throat won't be swallowed. In the blink of an eye, it all changes. Just so very poignant and such a precious memory of your mother. Thank you for sharing it.

Michelle Longo said...

Lovely story here.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute to your mother. I am impressed not only with her wisdom but for her ability to remember a gift she bought six years prior.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little jealous of your family. And this reminds me too of a Kenny Chesney song about how fast life speeds by. Moms know just about everything, don't they? :)

Anonymous said...

I'm piping in to concur with the comments shared. You really have a knack for drawing the reader in. I fondly remember how I howled with laughter at the post where you and Ma were on the subway and spotted a porn star whom your mother, without reserve, unabashedly pointed out.

Keep sharing the memories. I so love them. Hope you're recuperating well from your surgery. Thanks. /mzpiggie