Part 14: The Mother

Posted: Thursday, May 29th, 2014
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About Letters Never Sent Series

A collection of never-sent, personal responses to real people in Martha's life, profound events and little encounters alike.


Dear Baba (my infant name for you),

You’ve lived in heaven for many years now . . .

As you lay in a coma my fear was that I’d forget you. Being little more than a child, I understood that for me, you would be dead for many, many years. Secretly I promised you, “I will never forget your hands.” And I would study those small stocky hands for hours memorizing the blue veins and fingernails.

Then you were gone. So totally gone. Nothing left of you.

And eventually I forgot your hands, just as I feared.

I married a man you never met, bore children you never held. You would have loved Scott’s red hair, delighted in Lee, made Julia smocked dresses. You would have been silly over them.

So much life unlived.

What dying prayers did you pray for your little girl that I should be so blessed? That I found the Savior? That I am loved?

But I never deified you. I can see you still . . . standing at my bedroom door, so angry with me and I just could not comprehend why. I remember the pain you inflicted on my sister. I haven’t forgotten that you were real, human.

I remember . . .

Your love for the church, and deep reverence for ministers.

Your patient endurance of your own difficult mother. I can see you straining to see black thread on black wool; a suit you made for her. She insisted it should be black. I remember the little coats you made for me, tailored and expertly sewn with velvet collars.

And oh, your giving. You gave of all. Cakes, service, time . . . continuous.

I remember your beloved flowers I wasn’t the least bit interested in. I can see you weeding the purple thrift. Adoring the jonquils, the iris. Why did you plant them under my window?

I can still see your little tin box filled with Georgia dirt you took to Texas when we moved. I can picture the spot you knelt to kiss the ground of your Georgia home, fulfilling your laughing promise should you ever move back.

I see your worn Bible.

Yes, I can remember some things about you . . . but mostly I forgot.

I could not reconstruct a single sentence you ever spoke.

I can’t remember any of your clothes. If I heard your voice recorded I probably wouldn’t recognize it.

For years I thought I’d lost you, that I had a deep need for you. I felt I had missed your influence . . . and never really knew you. I grieved.

At last I came to realize that you were closer than in life. For you are IN me. Your life is stamped indelibly on mine. Your standard rises before my subconscious calling me to your life.

You lived the value of work before me. I didn’t work as a child. I played. Your gift to me for the early load I would have to bear. And my inner belief of womanhood is founded on you.

“A woman does many and varied things: gardening, sewing, scrubbing – even business. A woman is always learning. She tackles hard things: slipcovers, a thousand cookies . . . A woman cooks. Constantly and well. Canning, freezing, providing. All she does is done the best, the very best that she can do.”

You are why I could never use cake mixes. It’s not bondage, not silly guilt. Just an impeccable standard of excellence. Work you gave me, yes – but more, dignity and privacy. Kindness of manners, too – you drilled me.

You took me to the ballet. A thing very hard to do in those days. A thing my little friends didn’t do.

Relentless excellence but not obsession. You were cool. You played a mean bridge. You let it all, or at least most of it, be fun.

It occurred to me not long ago that it was strange I should so focus on your hands. Why not your face? But I know why. Those hands slowly brushed my waist-long hair, made my doll clothes, gave me hot chocolate and clean sheets. Those hands were my provision. My security. My comfort. And those strong little hands with all their gifts were leaving me for the rest of my life.

While I have never attained your standard, it calls me. Your style lives. Your essence is in me. And so . . . your presence remains.

“. . . And should she know her dying, a woman does not burden her child with details and complaints of suffering. She doesn’t give that child a shred of guilt. She spares her child at her own expense and covers her own grief over leaving. She passes to God with dignity and privacy, leaving as few grim memories as possible.”

Even dying is no exception to her pursuit of excellence.

Dearest Baba, you never left me for a single day.
Your handprint is in my soul.

See you soon . . .

Copyright © 1983 Martha Kilpatrick, Letters Never Sent

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