Sunday Morning ~ The Way of the Butterfly
“Ndaonera momwemo” mamba wa gulugufe. ~ That is how I have seen it. It is the way of speaking of the butterfly.
~ Chewa proverb
April 9. 2021
The violets have strewn themselves all over the front and side of my house. I don’t remember them in such mass before, but I love them and am grateful for their appearance on this Mother’s Day. They brought me back to little patent leather shoes with slippery soles, special and shiny, worn only for church, weddings, and wakes. I wore them with white ankle socks and chilly legs under my puffy ribbon-waisted dress. Someone had to tie the bow for me in the back. Those shoes would be surrounded by little purple flowers as I picked violets for my mother before we left for Sunday mass. It was always sunny on Mother’s Day but I may be remembering only one or two of those years. I’d carefully hold the little bunch, and place little green leaves around the perimeter, framing the bouquet. What was I, six? Seven maybe?
The Mother’s Day ritual began with bringing her breakfast in bed on a Japanese motif bamboo tray. The tray was small, only enough room for a cup of instant coffee, glass of orange juice, toast of Pepperidge Farm bread slathered with grape jelly from an oversized jar, and an overcooked scrambled egg. My brother did the cooking. I did the arranging and he carried the tray. I carried the cards my father bought and had us sign, crowded around the kitchen counter. One card read, “Do you remember when I was a wee wee tot, and you took me out of my warm warm cot, and made me sit on a cold cold pot, and made me wee wee, whether I could or not? Happy Mother’s Day” We thought this was the funniest thing we’d ever read. We laughed hysterically in the kitchen as we signed our names in big letters. It was conspiratorial and exciting. My mother obligingly set herself up in bed, propped the pillows behind her and squealed her delighted expressions of surprise and joy at the (nearly inedible) feast before her. The window shades were tugged just so and they’d rise and coil around the wooden rod so the room would fill with morning light. We had to be careful not to pull too hard or the shade would fall flaccid and just hang there. Then my mother would have to get out a fork and wind the spring to tighten it–– miraculously it worked again. I never understood why we needed those shades. For some reason we had to cover our windows at night. It felt like we were hiding. What were we hiding from anyway? Who looked in our windows? And if anyone did, so what?
The violets came after breakfast. The tray was too small for any vase, even a tiny one. So after the merry making and jolliness of the (rather insulting as I look back on it) cards, we’d be urged to hurry up and get ready for church and into the party dress and straw hat. While I waited for the family station wagon to fill up, I’d scout for violets, my offering to a woman who got very few thanks in relationship to how much she gave.
In later years we’d make her cards. I think this was initiated in art class, our required half hour per week of cutting up construction paper and using the crayons unavailable the rest of the week. We’d fold a piece of spring-colored paper in half and decorate it somehow, usually just a crayon drawing with a offset message inside. Did we get graded on this? I remember getting an A in art but I wonder what metrics they used? The art teacher came into our classroom with a tray full of supplies. I wonder if she hated her job? Was she an artist? If she was, the creativity was quite repressed, though granted, she didn’t have much to work with. We’d take these creations home, hide them until the anointed Sunday and they gradually started replacing the store-bought ones my father provided. Eventually, the breakfasts in bed stopped, too.
When my mother was dying, we sat with her in those last days, surrounding her bed, talking to her quietly, and reminiscing amongst ourselves when she slept. I’d brought her here when she said she was ready, and by then she had only a few days left. I’d packed up her possessions, which by then, were few. While we sat with her, I pulled out some boxes I’d packed from her apartment.They were full of bits of her past: her father’s birth certificate, her marriage license, a hotel receipt from their wedding night, and bundles of our Mother’s Day cards. We each took a few and read them aloud, barely able to breathe we were laughing so hard. One I’d made said, “It’s Your Day! You won’t have to wash floors! (A stick person bent in half with a rectangle meant to be a sponge in her hand was next to this declaration.) Wash dishes! (Same stick person holding a circle) Do laundry! (Same stick figure with arms up apparently putting rectangles on a clothes line). And then the large “Happy Mother’s Day!” and the exclamation point had a purple flower at the top, which I’m sure, was meant to be a violet. I’d sobbed realizing these cards were among the few documents she chose to keep.
I’m not sure when I stopped picking the violet bouquets for her. Probably when I stopped wearing the patent leather shoes. This morning when I went out to feed the chickens and saw the violets, I thought of how much I miss my mother. I imagined recounting past Mother’s Days with her. She’d laugh and we’d sip cheap wine and reflect on how it doesn’t seem that long ago. She seemed so content with her meager breakfast and her violets. Like a butterfly satisfied with enough from each flower.
Happy Mother’s Day to all who have cared for another in a mothering way. It means a lot.
Love to all,