When I was a little girl
Mommy would sometimes sit
At her place in the kitchen
And hug her shoulders and cry
As though her heart would break.
I was little, I thought maybe
I’d done something. I’d hug
Her knees and say I was sorry.
She’d pick me up and rock me
And say, “Oh honey, it’s not you.”
And then she’d say the same thing
Every time, like an incantation,
“How long can love last?
I need to know if I’m going to hang on,
How long it lasts.”
It didn’t make any sense to me.
She never did any of this
Around my brothers or Daddy,
So it was kind of our secret
But it was more mystery than secret.
We were a normal family
And life was on an even keel.
Daddy was halfway through
A forty-year career at the Ford plant
And Mom had four kids and a house to manage.
Most holidays Dad’s brother, Uncle Grant,
Came over from Illinois with his family.
The boys all played touch football,
We girls locked my bedroom door and told secrets.
When the guys came in
The boys took over the TV room
And the Dads went to the basement
For beer and cigars.
The wives were in the kitchen
Doing the food and sharing their own secrets.
Some of them.
Twenty years later the family
Was together in a hospital
Around Mommy’s deathbed.
She asked to speak to me alone
And she gave me a very special task.
As soon as I could get the house to myself
I got a stool and went to the hall closet
That had held so many Christmas presents
For so many years.
On the top shelf, in a nondescript bag
Was a Quaker Oats box, sealed shut.
Inside there were two black and white photos
Of Uncle Grant in his Navy uniform,
One alone, one with Mommy.
There was a four-leafed clover
Taped to a little square of cardboard
With tape so old it was brown,
A little cloth bag of seashells,
And a packet of letters
That I had been told not to read
Rolled up and tied with a ribbon.
Tell a woman not to read
Her mother’s love letters?
But after the first one
I knew she was right.
I put them back in the box
And when I had the opportunity,
Destroyed everything as I had been told.
Another twenty years went by,
And now my time is close.
I’ve begun writing some stories of the family
For the kids, grandkids, and those to follow.
I thought hard about this story and left it out.
Some things go to the grave
Because that’s the best place for them.
But it’s hard and it’s painful
That a passion like theirs
Should be lost in a black tunnel of time
Without trace or memory.