catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 21 :: 2008.11.21 — 2008.12.05


A porch glider and a glass of sweet tea

One of my earliest memories as a child is of sitting on my grandmother’s porch on Saturday evenings. Whiling away the time between clean supper dishes and The Lawrence Welk Show, we sat on the metal glider. My little legs straight out, I would scoot my bottom back and forth trying to get it to go faster, but Mama’s strong rhythm pushed by her firmly planted feet is what kept us going. Smelling of lemon-scented dish soap and Estee Lauder dusting powder, we would glide through the summer air with our orange cups of sweet tea in our hands. And we would talk. Sometimes she would tell me about her father’s wavy black hair or the basketball games she won as a teenager or the letters her mother would write her when she was in dental hygienist school. Leaning on her wonderful side, which always seemed to have a perfectly shaped spot for her grandchildren, I would listen to her recreate the past amidst the chirping of crickets.

Those moments on the back porch were just one of many that Mama used to bring me into the realm of women-a place of peace and strength. She taught me more about “what it means to be a woman” than Susan Gilbert or Gloria Steinem ever could. For her, being a woman meant having a room of your own, but also choosing to welcome people in. To serve others, to give. Her self-assured femininity did not come from copious piles of fashion magazine articles or a self-obsessed view of her own sexuality, but her service to others and a simple trust in who God made her to be-a strong, giving woman.

After marrying a second time, she spent more than thirty years with no outside job.  To me her life seemed to revolve around making beds, putting out clean hand towels and ironing handkerchiefs. But she took the time to teach me as well. Where to place the juice glasses on the table, where the salad bowl goes. Knife blade positioned toward the plate, away from the spoon. I think I can trace my odd love of ironing to her back bedroom, where with her hand over mine, we would iron Papa’s handkerchiefs.

She taught me not the unbridled, tough-skinned, oversexed freedom of the modern woman, but something more powerful and alluring-the ability that women have to give others pleasure, comfort, and safety in the familiarity of a home.  A perfectly brewed cup of breakfast tea or a well-placed grapefruit knife were ways that she showed her power in creating by serving.

Sure, some may argue that she was weak or a product of her time, when women were given no other options. Perhaps that time was harmful and binding, Mama experienced the effects of that. As a divorced woman in the late 50s, the car dealer would not let her purchase her own car-a male neighbor had to come with her. Yet, I think she took these debilitating attitudes, and walked through them, graciously conquering as she went. She didn’t protest; she didn’t fight. Maybe she should have. Instead she kept going. She kept serving and loving.

As a child the thing that made her look the strongest in my eyes was her ability to pray. Together, when fighting the mall traffic, we would pray for a parking place. She would tell me every day on the phone, “I pray for you.” I knew that if the request was a lost contact lens or a new job, her answer would be to pray.  Even when my angst of teenage awkwardness and self-loathing hit, she would answer my gloom with her oft-quoted phrase, a firm prayer-filled assurance: “God don’t make no junk.”

As I slowly lose Mama to the deep well of Alzheimer’s, I still see glimmers of femininity. She still puts on her lipstick, and most of the time she remembers how to fold a napkin. On the phone, when she sometimes calls me by my mother’s name, she assures me that she prays for me. In the moments on the porch or at the Sunday lunch table, she taught me many things: how to walk (stomach in, chin up, but tucked in), how to cross my legs, how to put on pantyhose and how to set a table. Now, as I approach thirty and my life defies the current definition of womanhood set by Carrie Bradshaw, I walk with chin held high, because I know whom I was made to be-a woman. 

your comments

comments powered by Disqus