May 20, 2021

For Anna Belle


On the day before Mother's Day this year I took a (Zoom) writing workshop with Laura Lentz. The best $39 I have ever spent on a writing course. (Note: I started a free six session course with another writer also this Spring but the less said the better about that one. I only made it through three sessions.)

In this Laura Lentz course we were encouraged to write for 13 minutes "About Your Mother" but I found myself very stuck and, while I produced a stilted story, I was dissatisfied and the next day I sat down to write for 13 minutes about the woman who was not my mother but who (as one of the commenters later said) "mothered" me.

For Anna Belle on Mother's Day

I can still smell the odor of your Yardley’s Lavender powder and the Nivea cream you used on your age-crippled hands.
When we slept in the same room, in the blackness of night and the naivety of my age, I thought you sang in your sleep. Now I know that that high pitched sound was the animal cry of keening for your two daughters, dead very young from diphtheria, deaths you blamed yourself for because you had nursed other children in the neighbor in the throes of the same deadly disease. You believed you had brought it home.
So, late in your life, past the age when you had finished mothering your surviving boys, you found a difficult young girl to love and you threw yourself into the job as much as your Edwardian upbringing would allow.
You knew I needed the calm, quiet and understanding that was unfound by me in my stern and unavailable mother, wrapped up as she was in her own blaming life.
You never scolded but you painted my world with a soft glow of evening lamplight, of peace and love and permission to be me, not the Spock-perfect child that my mother wanted.
Even now the sight of house dresses and black brogues or starched white nurses uniforms and thick stockings bring me comfort. And my own hands becoming crippled with arthritis make me remember how much you were able to do with yours.
You died only two years after my mother in a far away town.
Your patient work was over.
I hope that in me you found a place to love that you were denied by the deaths of Anna and Elizabeth.
Know, that even if I can’t tell you, I loved you so much.
(Pictured: Anna Belle in 1960 at the age I am now.)