Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
MENDING BROKEN HEARTS AS WE MOPPED UP THE FLOOR
My mother slowly shook her head from side to side, sighed, then picked up a string mop and began allowing fibers to soak up water.
"Mom?" I called from the top of the basement stairs. "You down there?"
"Yes." The voice was a monotone.
"Yes." My mother's tone was unchanged. "The washer's overflowed again."
"Could use it."
I was hoping my mother would give the usual response of 'no, I don't need help but thanks', and I only asked because I expected a 'no'. I called, "Be right there."
My mother was wringing fluid from the mop threads into a basement sink, where wash water was supposed to drain. She then let the mop absorb from the floor, and repeated hand-wringing. Soap suds spewed from around the front circular door of the Bendix machine.
"Want me to use towels? Or I can lay myself on the floor and saturate my clothing." I quipped.
"Maybe it was easier before gadgets. No. I don't really mean that. I'm just weary today." Dots of perspiration formed on my mother's temples.
"Daddy always bought things to improve our living. That washer was a new invention when we moved into this house." My mother stood erect. Mop strings spread out helplessly and she pressed hard on the yellow-painted wooden handle.
I dropped rags, fascinated with the rapid acceptance of fluid, and tried to pretend I didn't notice her emotional pain.
"Watch your hem, Lois."
"Too late." I'd squat to lift rags to wring them in a bucket.
My mother looked wistful and began rocking her body by leaning on the mop handle. "I miss him." She said those words almost in a whisper.
"Mom." I squeezed water from my hem. "Let's you and I paint this room aqua. How about it? These concrete blocks are just too grey."
"Concrete is porous." My mother began to instruct, her pattern during my childhood, but caught herself. "It soaks up paint so you have to go over and over the same area."
"So what? We'll have a project together and some private time. Like we used to have in the car where we had personal talks." I felt my mother really could use a distraction and a 'project'. So it'll take forever, and be more dirty-work than creative, I began to notice quiet signals of need my widow-mother tried so hard not to show. "Maybe I can get after-school club credit like I used to get good-deed points when I was in the Brownies." I forced my voice to sound cheery.
"Do you remember those talks in the car?" My mother's hazel eyes focused on my face. "How special those moments were when we talked about the very private things you were feeling. Imagine," she shook her head gently, "you and I simply left the house and just went into the garage and sat in the car."
"It was secluded, Mom." I liked that she always made time for me, away from the house, phone, my sisters, even though 'away' was as far as the attached garage. "You always kept my secrets, and you never made me feel silly talking about pre-teen anxieties or even my dreams about my future."
"Why shouldn't I keep secrets!" My mother began mopping again. "And you never said anything silly. Young, maybe, but that's what being a young girl is all about. You can make mountains out of molehills and not get ridiculed."
I suddenly needed to say 'thanks' but the words didn't come out. Why is it so hard to actually say, as if I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of hearing it? "You really gave me a great childhood," I blurted out remembering the bales of hay I brought downstairs for a western-theme party, and she never complained about either the mess or the smell.
I realized that I could now give her 'using time' so she might possibly talk about personal feelings with me doing the listening.
My mother reached out and stroked my soft cheek. She smiled causing crinkles to form on the outer parts of her eyes, and I knew the smile was real. Just as she understood pre-teen silliness, I knew she was aware I loved her even though I didn't vocalize it. "Lois. I'd like to paint the walls aqua with you. But," she then seemed less weary, "let's get this flood mopped up first."
©1995 The Christian Science Monitor
reprinted December 31, 2010 The Jewish Press