"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

AP
October 22, 2014 | NPR · State and local health officials will begin monitoring all passengers entering the U.S. from countries hard hit from Ebola. The monitoring will last for 21 days.
 

AP
October 22, 2014 | NPR · A month after a man armed with a knife leapt the White House fence and got deep into the first floor of the building, another man made a run across the north lawn Wednesday night.
 

AP
October 22, 2014 | NPR · The St. Louis Post-Disptatch has obtained an autopsy report on the shooting of Michael Brown. It leaves a lot of questions about the shooting of the 18-year-old by Officer Darren Wilson.
 

Arts & Life

Luma Bites
October 22, 2014 | NPR · Two entrepreneurs have developed new tricks to make food that’s literally illuminating, using ingredients that are as natural and unprocessed as possible. It’s just basic food chemistry, folks.
 

October 22, 2014 | NPR · When Gerard Russell was a diplomat in the Middle East, he met followers of ancient religions facing extinction. His new book includes the origins of the Yazidis, who are fleeing the Islamic State.
 

October 22, 2014 | NPR · Atavist Books launched with aims of upending the print-first publishing model. Now it’s announcing its plans to close. Meanwhile, partnerships between public libraries and airports are taking off.
 

Music

October 22, 2014 | NPR · Steven Ellison has built an impressive reputation among critics and fans in the know for mixing hip hop, jazz and electronica into something original. But even for the aforementioned followers, the new album from Ellison — better-known as Flying Lotus — is a surprise. It’s all about death, not as something to be mourned but as a journey to be anticipated.
 

Mountain Stage
October 22, 2014 | NPR · The West Virginia natives, both widely respected in the world of string-band music, perform live.
 

Courtesy of the artist
October 22, 2014 | WXPN · The rootsy folk-rock band formed after its singer heard a harpist through his apartment wall.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab