Hello good readers! This post is something special. My grandma wrote a short manuscript, created from scraps of things she jotted down over a series of years. She didn’t think it was particularly good, and tucked it away long ago. My mom and Aunt Marsha recently convinced her otherwise, and she’s graciously allowed me to publish it here. I couldn’t be more proud to come from such a line of impressive ladies. If I do have any real writing talent, I clearly come by it honestly.
I love how this gives me a peek into what life was like for my mom’s family when she was growing up. Family history like this is so very precious to me. And even if you don’t happen to be related to me, there’s real wisdom and heart here. (Which, if you know my grandma, you know is completely appropriate.)
Now please enjoy. I know I did.
by Flossie Peterson
This is a bad dream—a nightmare. “Wake-up,” I tell myself. But no. I’m trapped in a fantastic prison. Somehow I see my face contorted with panic as sadistic guards rattle the cage. “Why prolong this?” I scream. “Just take me out of here and get it over!”
Slowly I surface to the edge of consciousness, reach to the pillow beside me, and remember that my husband is away on a business trip. Now that my eyes are open, Brad, who is 1 year old, offers an excited lingo to accompany the shaking and rattling of his crib.
Although it is only 6 a.m., past experiences assure me it is useless to wish for more sleep. I push back the blankets, fumble for slippers and find only one. So I go barefooted. Brad demands immediate attention, which he gets.
As soon as we enter the kitchen, Marsha, our sometimes delightful three-year- old, comes running from her bedroom and reports, “Mommy, I saw my three ghosts last night.”
She watches me closely for a reaction. I say, “How nice, Marshie! You were smart to catch them again before they disappeared.”
Marsha, seriously: “Do you really think they are my guardian angels?”
Having assured her of this before, I answer, “I do really think so. But if they’re not angels, they are really nice ghosts, I’m sure.”
“But Momma, they’re not dressed like angels. They have suits on and tall hats. One even has a mustache!” She was near tears now. Many nights I had been urgently summoned to Marsha’s room to allay her fears of the three ghosts. Secretly, I had been somewhat mystified about the whole thing. But since she continued to see them, I tried to convince her that they were angels who were there to protect her.
Renae, age five, calls out from her bedroom, “But Momma, why does she get to have three guardian angels?”
“Because she needs them, just like her brother and sister. In fact, we could employ a whole heavenly host,” I mutter darkly.
“Huh Mommie? Why does she have three guardian angels?” Renae has now joined us for breakfast.
“Well, you see, I explained to God that my children really need more protection than they’ve been getting. Marsha just happens to see her angels once in awhile.” This answer was not very satisfactory, I could tell by the small, quizzical frown on her face. Renae was one who liked to keep things equal and fair in the family. “I’ll tell you what we will do. We’ll give one angel to you and one to Brad. Marsha will still see them, but she can have only one. OK?” This idea, although not totally acceptable, brought a smile to her face.
“Come on, come on. Finish your breakfast,” I urge as I glumly watch these three clearly banged up children. Brad had been an innocent victim sitting on the floor while Renae had engineered a “stairway” with dresser drawers. Naturally the “stairs” tipped over as she and Marsha tried to climb them, resulting in 5 stitches in Brad’s forehead.
Marsha was having some difficulty manipulating her spoon because of a large bandage on her finger. She had been climbing on the swing set in an unconventional manner and had managed to smash the end of one finger so badly I was afraid she would be mutilated for life.
Renae already had a scar on her forehead as a result of being clobbered by a swing. And now she is sitting there with an assortment of bandages on arms and legs.
I breathe a silent prayer: “Oh God, you know how much I love them. There is a long bumpy road ahead. Please take care of them.”
Night wisdom differs from morning wisdom. Night wisdom directs the placement of the alarm clock twelve steps away from the bed so in the morning I’ll be forced out of bed to dash across the room to choke off the grotesque abomination.
This particular morning I am, as usual, smoldering with resentment while staggering to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. Six thirty. “Renae, Marsha, Brad, breakfast is ready,” I call with forced cheerfulness. Silence. I walk down the hall to the bedrooms. “Bradie Boy, it’s time to get up. Renae, Marsha,–you must come now,” I say gently. I go back to the kitchen, pour a cup of steaming hot coffee, open the newspaper, sit down, and read a few paragraphs.
Brad, three years old, comes smiling into the kitchen, climbs on his chair, scrambles off again, announcing that he is making his own toast. Renae, seven years old, slouches grumpily in and flops into her chair. She wants her toast made for her. A few minutes pass. I walk down the hall and find a headless lump in Marsha’s bed. I throw the covers back and admonish, “Marsha, you’ll smother under there. Now get up!” Our five year old grudgingly clambers out of bed and staggers to the kitchen. She is unpredictable.
This morning she decides to make her own toast—after I have it already made.
I dump my cold coffee down the drain, pour another hot cup, and munch on the extra piece of toast. Things are progressing smoothly until Brad’s orange juice just tips over all by itself. Marsha sneers, “You baby!”
Brad: “Momma, she called me a baby!”
Renae: “You are a baby. You are the baby of the family. Ha Ha!”
Brad’s blue eyes now swim with indignant tears. “All right, that’s enough,” I say. “Now Brad, you are not a baby. You are a big boy. And you girls be quiet. Brad, if you had kept your juice set back like I told you, you wouldn’t have knocked it over.”
Renae, under her breath, “He is a baby.”
Brad: “You shut-up, you!”
Me: “Q U I E T!”
A very gentle “meow” directs my subconscious from the outer limits to a more rational awakening. Tab is perched outside the window sill above my head and will not be satisfied until he gets some action. I squeeze my eyes tight and ignore him. But he has cunningly noticed a change. His gentle meow changes into an indignant yowl which he accompanies with insistent raucous clawing on the screen. I give up. The clock reveals that it is ten minutes before alarm time. I angrily make my way to the door and call, “Kitty-kitty—Tab—hurry up you.” Only a cat can be so deliberately nonchalant. He comes strolling leisurely through the door, purposefully walks to his empty dish and stares reproachfully at me. I open the refrigerator door and give him the food he demands.
Automatically I put breakfast on the table, then call, “All right kids, time to get up. You’d better hurry because you have to look your best today.” This happens to be a school picture day. Our three, now ages eight, ten and twelve, arrive to eat some semblance of breakfast.
Renae: “Mom, is there any way to hide freckles?”
Me: “Listen, freckles are cute. Doris Day has millions of them. You shouldn’t try to hide them. They look great, especially on a 12 year old. You—“
Renae: “Mother! Freckles are ugly and I hate them!”
Me: “Oh. Well, you can use some of my makeup which will help some, if you think it’s that important.”
Marsha: “Renae has more freckles than I have.”
Renae: “Hah! Listen to her. Her freckles are uglier than mine!”
Marsha: “Oh yeah? Yours are so ugly it’s a wonder the mirror doesn’t break when you look in it.”
Renae: “Listen to the ugly creep that’s talking. That poor camera won’t have a chance when she walks in.”
Me: “That’s enough! Honestly, why can’t you two be decent to each other?”
Brad: “Because they’re indecent, that’s why. Stupid girls.”
Me: “No. Don’t say it. Quiet. Not another word from anyone.”
While the girls are getting ready, I notice Brad standing in front of a mirror making grotesque faces. He turns to me with an air of accomplishment. “Mom, I’ve discovered how to smile without my dimples showing!”
I happen to be one of those individuals who appreciates peace and quiet in the morning, at least until I’ve had some coffee…No talking—no radio—no TV—no unnecessary noise…Oh no. There goes my dear husband again. Loring is despicably cheerful when he gets up. His loud, untuneful, unmelodious voice sets off sound vibrations reminiscent of a fingernail screeching on a chalkboard. I’m debating whether to complain or suffer in silence since neither reaction seems effective. The children suddenly resolve the problem for me by:
1. A thunderous “Q U I E T!”
2. A muttered “I’ll kill ‘em.”
3. A slammed door.
At least they are now awake. Brad 13, Marsha 15, Renae 17. At various times they each show up in the kitchen to make a token effort at eating.
Apprehensively I watch the hands on the clock move inevitably toward bus time. I survey the living room, pick up a lone shoe, deliver it to Marsha just in time to ward off the frantic “Mother, I can’t find my shoe!”
Renae’s voice is urgently heard, “Mother, what am I going to do? My skirt is all wrinkled and I’m not ready yet!”
“Simmer down,” I calmly say while plugging in the iron. “I’ll fix it.” I am on the verge of saying something to the effect that if she had hung up that skirt, it wouldn’t need pressing now. Of course those words have been flung through the air before, with zero results. So I clamp my mouth shut.
In a few minutes the bus is in sight and my three are grabbing books, lunches, and musical instruments. They dash out the door with a cheerful, “Bye, Mom.” Whoops. Here’s a stray lunch. I grab it, dash out the door and push it in Brad’s arms. Whew! What a whirlwind every morning. And yet, passing a mirror on the way back to the kitchen, I notice an involuntary smile, which stems from a curious warm glow deep inside.
Suddenly I’m wide awake. The alarm will go off in about three minutes. Quickly pushing the lever, I head toward the kitchen to start the coffee. I pause a moment beside Renae’s empty bedroom. She has gone to college now. We won’t see her until Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas vacation. I look with nostalgic admiration at the delicate lavender and white décor. I remember with mingled pain and pleasure the surprisingly good job of painting she did—transforming old, beat up furniture into attractive white pieces. If the lavender walls aren’t inspected too closely, they look quite beautiful. I dismiss the negative remembrance of messy paint all over the basement, which subsequently seemed to appear mysteriously in other places in the house. And what a job it was to remove from her hair! This neat, pretty room had been a disaster area only a few short days ago, with boxes, suitcases and an accumulation of things that a girl simply couldn’t do without in college.
As Marsha and Brad get ready for school, I notice that they are both doing some last minute school work. “Listen you two,” I woefully begin. “Last night when the TV went on, you both insisted you didn’t have any school work to do. So what are you doing now?”
“Oh Mom,” Marsha says. “I just had a little bit to do. We’re having a test in one class and it doesn’t do any good to study. That teacher never tests us on what we’ve studied anyway.”
Brad chimes in with, “I’ve got a study hall first thing, so I don’t have to get it done now.”
“But why did you bring those books home if you didn’t think there was need for study?” It’s a perfectly logical question, I think. But they are tuned out now. I might as well turn off my anxiety and save my breath.
“Morning” is the name of the song that is running through my head. It is a song I learned in a voice class years ago by Oley Speaks with lyrics by Frank L. Stanton. Some of the first words are a lament that fits my mood this morning. Let’s see, how did that go? There was something about winter winds wailing by and not a violet was in bloom. Why do I feel this chill? Actually it is a beautiful morning; however, the house is becoming so empty.
Marsha has left for college. Renae, still in college, is now married. Brad is a senior in high school and very busy with school activities and a part time job.
Breakfast is a quiet time. I break the silence with: “Brad, did you finish your assignment—that poem you were to write?” He mumbles something that sounds like “um-uh.”
I take a chance that I heard positively and say, “Is it all right if I read it?”
He takes a last bite of toast and tosses off a nonchalant, “I don’t care,” as he bounds upstairs in three leaps. I open his notebook and find the following:
The Supreme Sacrifice
Yesterday I gazed across the waters of the sea
not knowing what the future held in store for me.
I heard the distant rumble
of the bombs so close to shore,
And wondered if there’d ever be
an end to this cruel war.
Today I speak from far beneath
the waters of the deep,
And join the countless number
of the sailors who now sleep.
The blazing blue of silver skies
I never more shall see.
I’ll miss the happy holidays
and the brightly tinseled trees.
Some must live and some must die,
but all will pay the price.
And some will see the horror of
the final sacrifice.
I add my voice to those who wonder
why it must by so,
That some of us should stay behind
and some of us should go.
By Brad Peterson
My eyes are suddenly swimming with tears as I breathe a prayer, “Oh God, what kind of a world is this? What are we doing to our kids? Please protect our children!”
The alarm clock is by my head. I seldom need it. It is 7 a.m. and I have been awake since 6:30, at which time my husband cheerfully bounced out of bed. (I still feel that there must be something indecent about getting up so early when it isn’t necessary.) I enjoy these few minutes of stretching and relaxing in this luxurious warmth.
Finally I roll slowly out of bed and walk into a neat, clean bathroom. There is no clutter of girl things dangling around—no crumpled wet towels and no spotted mirror.
On my way to the kitchen I notice that the living room is in pretty good order—no books, shoes, or ball gloves laying around. No empty glasses or peach pits anywhere.
I put the coffee pot on and walk back down the hall. I glance in Renae’s pretty lavender and white room, then survey Marsha’s bold red and black room. With amusement, I remember the turmoil of her transforming the scarred varnished furniture into good-looking red and black antiqued pieces. The black milk can and black drapes with red fringe look striking with the red carpet, bedspread and fishnet hanging against the grey wall.
I glance in Brad’s room and take note of the unglamorous and unaccustomed neat look. Nothing is out of place. There is an artfully designed disarray of trophies and letters. A few days ago he left for college.
I lean against the door jam as a panorama of memories flood in. Some are painful ones of the children’s heartaches and disappointments, but others are gratifying memories of successes and accomplishments. Success and failure are a part of growing up—are a part of all of life for that matter. “Oh God, have we taught the children to swing humbly with the triumphs and to gracefully accept failure as a challenge?”
I relax at the table now with a cup of steaming hot coffee. The house is quiet as I stare out the kitchen window. The birds are singing. There are two rabbits hopping playfully on the lawn. It’s morning. A new day has begun.