I am a curse.
At least that’s what my mother told me pretty much from the day I could chew solid food and my face lost that baby look – I started to look like a person.
“Ack!” I remember my mother shrieking, “You are my mother’s curse!”
To my mother’s defense, she probably assumed I did not hear her for these two reasons:
1- She was 90% deaf, so she might not have noticed her volume and piercing fierce tone.
2- I always looked like I wasn’t listening. My eyes wondered up to the clouds, the ceiling, and that alternate reality only cats and me can see.
Once when I grew old enough to ask, I asked, “Why?”
The volatile explanations never conjured up any sense for me. Answers popped out of her angry mouth like overblown balloons, too big until they burst, and then they were gone.
“You look just like my mother!”
“You wear hats!”
“Scarves! Ack! Just like my mother!”
“You act just like my mother!”
“You sound just like my mother!”
“Stop chewing and swallow. You’re counting aren’t you? Just like my mother!”
“I knew it! I knew my witchy mother would find a way to get at me.”
For the record, I never counted my chews. It never occurred to me, but I didn’t think dining was something to rush. I simply dreamed a lot. I dreamed while I ate especiallly, and I cannot explain why.
I also never understood what was so wrong or bad or cursed to be anything like my lovely grandmother. I especially didn’t think I was anything like her, despite what my mother said.
My grandmother showed up once a year calling into the house, “Yooo Hooo!?” like a sweet bird calling her family to the tree.
She hugged with love and smelled like roses. Within minutes of visiting, she would unlock the combination of her multi-level cosmetic traveling case, and select mini Avon lipsticks for my sister and me, every time. It became as ritual as hugging her in the hallway. Sometimes we even got little sample perfumes to stuff in our little Levi jean pockets and covet for months.
The next gift she routinely plucked from the heavy purse she carried on her forearm – mini rolls of Lifesavers! The best!
All day she would ask us questions and chuckle with her entire body. She brushed our hair carefully and told us how beautiful we were. She read princess stories to us at bedtime. She kissed our foreheads good night and we could dream to the sweet floral scent of our soft cheeked grandmother all night long.
Granmother was wonderful and sweet, but my mother acted like the wicked witch was moving in to steal her daughters away and take over her house.
And I was nothing like my grandmother, exept for the natural fact I did have brown hair and brown eyes, and I was female. Other than that, I couldn’t understand how I could be anywhere as lovely, kind, and fancy as my grandmother.
She wore a mesmerizing charm bracelet she adorned with more treasures each year from her worldly travels. My sister and I would sit in her lap and ask her about each one. The charms jingled and clinked like fairy bells, and each one had a story, a symbol of some unique exotic experience. And every time we marveled and sighed, my grandmother would chuckle so lovingly we bounced in her lap and giggled along with her. I can still hear her and smell her.
Sometimes she brought her magic dark salty gingerbread cookies we loved so much. According to family folk lore, my grandmother drove three hours one way into Amish country to get the right sorghum she preferred for the cookies, all just for her grandchildren.
How could I ever measure up?
I was the girl who came home from playing in the woods with new cuts, scrapes, and bruises. My pockets were stuffed with rocks, moss, and sometimes some baby living thing I discovered and assumed I could mother into a pet. I watched many things die. Baby snakes, frogs, worms, baby mice, spiders, baby birds…
My long hair was never brushed until I spent a week with a babysitter, or until my grandmother would visit. Although, later on, a couple years before I hit puberty, I remember my babysitter having a special talk with my mother about our hair, and from then on, my sister and I took turns getting our hair nearly yanked out of head each night as my mom prepared our hair in braids for bed. It wasn’t until my father asked the nurses at work how they dealt with tangles that we learned of hair conditioner. And we didn’t get to use it unless Dad bought it. Strange things we remember- a mother’s loud protest against hair conditioner of all things.
My nails were not in the best of shape, and I tended to get into things that caused nasty skin reactions. The bath water always looked like a mud puddle when I was through with my tub. And a lot of my childhood clothes were hand-me-downs from my older brothers, who were nine and eleven years older than me. Oh, not all of my clothes, but the ones I preferred to wear usuallly were.
Yet, all these years, no matter which stage my body took shape, no matter what I did or did not do, no matter how apparent it seemed to me I resembled nothing but a mess, my mother still considered me her mother’s curse or feminine, ditsy, nuisance.
And now I feel a bit guilty, feeling this dementia my mother lives with these days is the best thing that has happened to our relationship. She loves me now and embraces me like she has never loved me before. We can truly appreciate each other and exchange compliments with our hearts.
I could be so bold as to say the curse must be lifted, but of course, I don’t want to jinx it.