It’s my mother’s birthday. She would have been 87 today. That would have been a grand old age–and, really, she should have made it. She would have seen her grandchildren grow to be really fine young people, but, sadly, she would have outlived my sister and she didn’t deserve that on top of everything else.
I wrote a short story last year and have submitted it to a few publications. It’s very loosely based on an event in her life. I also tried to capture some of her internal voice. My mother had a sense of humor that was sometimes generous and sometimes biting. The older I got, the more I appreciated the latter. Maybe I see more of myself in the biting version of my mother or maybe I outgrew my sensitivities.
I don’t know if my mother coined this, but she once said to me, “People who spend too much time in small rooms end up saying small things.” There is a spirit of that in the story, which I briefly excerpt below.
I started my morning submitting this story to another publication. My mother deserves another reading.
From, “First Day,”
Marie Brown was sweating even before she reached the top of the stairs. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and almost 90 degrees. School was starting the next Tuesday, and Marie’s shoulders sagged at the thought of her fourth grade class starting out the year in this weather.
Marie paused at the top of the stairs, putting the box she was carrying onto a table. She had bought some folders, a new grade book, a new binder for her lesson plan. The binder had a bright green cover with an owl and the words “Teacher Binder” in different colors. It’s loud, she thought, and she didn’t like the school years, 2015-2016, printed in big blocky numbers.
She didn’t need to be reminded of the year. It meant she had been teaching for 35 years, in this same building, and even in the same classroom until this year when her principal talked her into a new one. “You have seniority,” Joe Guarino had told her. It was the biggest classroom, on the corner overlooking the one quiet part of the building. It had trees outside the windows.
Marie picked up her box of supplies, went to her new room. She walked the perimeter of it, taking in the dimensions, surveying how she might want to space the desks, where to put the tables that would hold supplies and books. She stepped to the window, looked out. A small garden stood there—someone’s idea a decade before to give the quieter kids something to do at recess. It had been tended exactly one year, but then they went into the summer with no plan about how to maintain it. It ended up producing some tomatoes no one ate and a few pumpkins that were stolen just before they could be collected for Halloween decorations. It had grown fallow, but at some point a neighbor got sick of it and filled it with wildflower seeds. Marie studied it. It still had some color.