My Mother and The Lessons That Never Fade

by Suzi Baum
Originally Published: 

What my mother taught me has a lot to do with secrets, tight lips, dimly lit rooms and grabbed elbows.

What my mother taught me is that gingerbread is best if mixed with blackstrap molasses the day after Thanksgiving.

What my mother taught me is that laundry, though relentless, can be hung on a rope, a branch, a hanger, or on the back of an Adirondack chair. It can be wrung out in the sink and hung on the shower curtain rod or passed through two rollers cranked by hand under birch trees where we wash our summer clothing in lake water.

Laundry can be dried in a new Kenmore dryer fitted with a dispenser of golden fragrance that fixes the memory of scented dried t-shirts and my mother biting back tears standing over the washer, gripping the white enamel edge of the top loader unable to give me words for her grief, but what I later learned was over the loss of her sister’s newborn. Crib death. I had never heard of that before.

She taught me that baskets of socks and undies and tank tops can be transformed into unbelievably orderly piles. That there is virtue in stowing these in your drawers promptly before the tower of blue jeans topples, thereby undoing her effort and a shame, “just a damn shame,” she’d say.

She taught me about energy and expensive hours and how you could come to the end of a life and your daughters would resemble you, laugh like you, make turkey gravy like you, set the table with napkins and candles just like you, but who do not know you, who have stood at doorways looking in to dimly lit rooms where unsayable things are held, folded and stowed in the closed drawer of your heart.

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