My mother married at age 18, fresh from high school. I was born nine months after the wedding. All the old ladies counted the days ‘til the bitter end; they were disappointed when I came late.
My father was a farmer by day, but worked a myriad of other, off-season jobs to pay the bills. He drove semi, worked the kill floor for the local butcher, repaired cars . . . When he was with us, home was pure. He was a good dad; he kept us in a house and brought food to the table. He worked hard. He couldn’t make the pure of home happen as much as he liked.
So, my mother worked, too. She cleaned my classmates’ toilets. She used the money she earned to buy my Dad new socks and my brothers and me Nesquik. She did not buy things for herself. Once, my Dad asked after the new pair of jeans she’d gotten. She told him she'd taken them back to the store, that having something new for herself made her stomach ache.
She cleaned other people’s houses, and made our house a home. Her hands were rough, red and gritty. She never complained. She was patient.
She knew why I hated school, why I came home with my throat knotted up. She knew why I loved Tennyson, why I loved the eggshell perfection of paper, the worn-flannel comfort of earth. She gave me everything she’d wanted when she was a child. She let me ride my red-headed pony away from the confusion of being young. She let me be private and small.
Now, I’m a mother. My husband is a pastor by day. When he is with us, home is pure. He works hard.
I work, too. I am not half the woman my mother was; I complain, parry, attack with the cowardice of venomous snakes. But God has been good to me, far better than I deserve.
I have my mother’s hands.
*"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his." Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest.