"McAllister House Interior" by Norman Sams, 1965. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District. Image Number: 101-4758.

“McAllister House Interior” by Norman Sams, 1965. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District. Image Number: 101-4758.

The Middle Distance 1.11.13: All The Light We Used to Have

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Nearly every wall of my mother’s house is lined with tables, bookcases, or a chest with drawers. And every time I come for a stay, I go through all of those drawers, one at a time.

Before the sun is up, Mama picks up the morning newspaper from the front porch, then pads down the carpeted hallway and pulls my bedroom door closed so I can sleep a little longer and she can fix her breakfast in peace. She feeds the dog a fried egg and makes a half pot of weak coffee, then reads the Galveston Daily News from front to back, clipping a recipe or a coupon if there’s a good one.

Eventually I join her for coffee and read the paper, then we talk about the weird news of the day. Yesterday it was a story about a mysterious glowing fireball in the sky, hovering offshore then heading north, spotted and photographed by at least two islanders though no photo appeared with the story.

My mother works around the house or in the yard and I go to yoga or do computer work somewhere in town, then we reconvene at 11 for The Young and The Restless, the soap opera we’ve watched together for forty-something years. This week Jack is withdrawing from his pain pill addiction and a man everyone believes is dead is packing his bags for Genoa City. We nibble on grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, then my mother goes down for her afternoon nap.

My mother’s house has metal storm blinds on the outsides of all the windows, so even on the sunniest afternoon it is dark and quiet inside. This week the windows have been rattled by thunder and lashed with rain, typical Gulf coast winter weather. While Mama sleeps, I rummage through the drawers.

In the end table drawer next to the couch, a painted wooden box from Mexico with a hinged lid. Inside is Baby Harold, a two-inch long, hard plastic, flesh-colored baby doll holding his arms up. My daughter, who’s now 36, got him out of a gumball machine when she was five and made him blankets and clothes out of Kleenex. In the same drawer, score cards from Magic Carpet miniature golf, an ongoing competition between one of my sons and my nephew, proof of who’s the current winner.

In the drawer of an old piece of furniture my mother calls her wash stand, I find a cousin’s laminated obituary and a folded program from a funeral at the Glendale Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, my grandmother Louise’s. I’ve seen it a hundred times since her 1963 funeral when I was nine years old, but this year I notice the birth date, 1905, and do the math. The year Mammaw died she was the age I am now, and I had thought her impossibly old for as long as I’d known her. In brittle white envelopes, next to a chubby pair of bronzed baby shoes, two familiar soft pelts that always give me the creeps: my little sister’s braid and my ponytail, shorn and handed over by the hair stylist to my mother with great ceremony when we were school girls. I touch the ponytail, still curled into a neat corkscrew, and am surprised by its silky texture.

A drawer filled with old black and white photos: Jaunty snapshots of handsome boys in the mid-1940s, my mother’s friends, Blackie, Jaybird and Preacher. Shots of Mama and her girlfriends with finger waves and plucked eyebrows and rouged lips, all dressed up and posing for their pictures.

In another living room drawer, two recently signed and witnessed documents — a Do Not Resuscitate order and a Medical Power of Attorney.

The rain finally eases up. When the grass dries a bit I’ll chop back the hibiscus in the front yard that has grown as tall as a small tree this past year, its long limbs gone limp and heavy in all this rain. Earlier today a violent flash of lightning knocked out the power temporarily. My mother calmly lighted the oil lamp with the glass chimney that she always keeps ready on the wash stand. She adjusted the wick.

“I can’t believe this is all the light we used to have,” Mama said, retreating to her childhood for a minute. “Just one of these in every room, and the light from the fireplace. That’s all we had.”

When she gets up from her nap, we’ll have a cup of tea and a cookie. Then we’ll pass the rest of the afternoon, waiting for sunset.

 

7 Responses to The Middle Distance 1/11/13: All The Light We Used to Have

  1. Verl says:

    Kathryn, have I told you lately how lovely your words are?
    Blessings,
    v

  2. Linda Page says:

    Beautiful, Kathryn. I feel like I’m there.

  3. rose enyeart says:

    I noticed my breathing slowed down and so did my brain while I went through the drawers with you. Thanks for the break.

  4. Paula says:

    Ah, good ole Southern Pimiento and Cheese,,, my fav.. THNX

  5. Politecnico di Torino says:

    I feel like I’ve been kobe’d by Eeyore.

    • Liz Arnold says:

      Too bad you have not ever enjoyed the poignancy of a rainy afternoon with a loved one – sifting through old memories. Nothing “Eeyore” about that! That is real life!

News

Courtesy of Mark Hoddle/Department of Entomology, University of California Riverside
June 22, 2017 | NPR · Thanks to globalization and climate change, the pest has spread to 60 countries, attacking coconut, date and oil palm plantations, and costing millions of dollars in damages.
 

AP
June 22, 2017 | NPR · States on the Gulf Coast are being hit with severe weather and floods as Tropical Storm Cindy moved inland Thursday morning in Louisiana.
 

Bram Sable-Smith/Side Effects Public Media
June 22, 2017 | KBIA-FM · Hundreds of rural hospitals are on the brink of closing. The House Republican health plan drastically reduces one of their key sources of funding and the Senate bill is expected to do the same.
 

Arts & Life

June 22, 2017 | NPR · In Chain Letter, cartoonist Farel Dalrymple returns to The City, the mysterious metropolis at the heart of his early 2000s series Pop Gun War. It’s a weird, complicated and charming place.
 

Boom Studios
June 22, 2017 | NPR · The classic tale of the Monster resurrected from the dead gets a new treatment in Victor LaValle’s new limited-series comic.
 

Courtesy of Netflix
June 21, 2017 | NPR · In the docuseries The Keepers, Jean Wehner shares her story of being abused by her high school chaplain. She says the teacher she confided in may have been killed for knowing too much.
 

Music

Courtesy of the artist
June 22, 2017 | NPR · The West Coast legend teams up with East Coast boom-bap icon, DJ Premier, for their long-awaited OG’s manifesto.
 

Courtesy of artist
June 22, 2017 | NPR · The dream-pop duo’s career-spanning odds-and-ends collection hangs together as a cohesive set of songs, even as it explores the margins and dark corners of Beach House’s catalog.
 

Courtesy of artist
June 22, 2017 | NPR · The acoustic guitar hotshot’s solo debut taps into ’70s Britfolk while adding a poetic modernity.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab