When Melvin and I moved from Atlanta to Alleghany County, my plan was to retire from work and spend my time writing. Melvin had shifted into retirement mode the day he said goodbye to Kirk-Rudy in 2007. He ditched the suits, stocked up on Carhartts, and started car-building and ham radio projects. By the time we moved to Alleghany, he was a full time retiree. I was a harder sell on the idea of “just writing” in my retirement. I kept seeing things to do, ways I could contribute to the community.
I had decided that after one last project, (the Working Writers Workshops in May) I would put aside the organized, multi-tasking event organizer side of life and opt for days nestled on the porch reading, writing, and getting lost in thought. Fortunately I was poised in that direction when March and April turned life upside down, and May brought a tsunami that would change the future.
In the last four months I’ve had some serious stomach issues, (ulcers) which brought about a personal reality check and refocus, which brought about my retirement from active involvement in community service projects, followed by a renewed dedication to my writing and the support of our growing literary community. After nudges from my writer friends and mentors, there it was…a revival…a coming home to the things that bring joy into my life.
The new plan was just getting underway when I picked up the phone on a Wednesday night in mid-May and heard my daughter say, “The test came back. I have cancer.” It was one of those life-as-you-know-it will-never-be-the-same moments, right up there with the day she was born…a defining moment in the mother/daughter relationship.
Life now revolves around trips to Los Angeles for support, writing about the experience, and supporting local writers and community projects of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group.
In the spirit of mother/daughter relationships, here’s a memoir, Snoop.
The minute I pulled opened the dresser drawer I knew someone had been snooping. Sweaters that were folded with the precision I learned from three high school summers of retail had been jostled from their right angle positions in an attempt to reach the blue pocket folder holding all my money and personal papers. There were only two other people in the house, one of them a four year old with neither the strength to pull the heavy drawer, nor the shrewdness to cover her tracks. The other person was my mother.
My first inclination was to storm into the kitchen and deal with it face to face. I was half way there when reality set in. This was her house. I was living rent free, and she watched my daughter while I took part-time work and looked for a full-time job. She had me by the short and curlies. If I won the battle, I’d be on the fast track to losing the war.
When I accepted the offer to move back home, I knew to expect the same schedule I lived with for nineteen years.
“Laundry on Monday, groceries on Saturday, dinner at six o’clock sharp,” she said, laying down the ground rules. “Just like when your father was alive.”
I also knew that crow would be served up daily as part of that six o’clock menu, along with a million ”I told you so’s” regarding my failed attempt at marriage and the broken family I had created by walking out on my husband. I hadn’t thought about the privacy issue.
I did an about face in the hallway and went back to my room. Why bother with confrontation. She’d never admit to snooping. I had to find another way to make my personal belongings off limits.
The wicked side of me envisioned a series of mousetraps, alarms, hidden cameras and other techniques that were either painful, outside my budget, or as damaging as the face to face option. I didn’t want to hurt her. I just wanted to create a situation that would catch her in the act and allow retreat with guilt and shame as the only punishment.
First I put the blue folder with all my personal papers and spare cash in the trunk of my car. I bought two more blue folders and stuffed them with papers to achieve the same thickness. I put the first folder in the original spot under the sweaters in the bottom dresser drawer. Inside was a note that read, “Mother – Why are you snooping in my drawer? You should be ashamed!”
I slid the other fake folder in a manila envelope and tucked it under the sunglasses, pens, and other miscellaneous stuff in my nightstand. The manila envelope had a message on the front in black magic marker that read, “Personal – Please Do Not Disturb.” Inside the blue folder was a note that read, “Did you not see the words on the front of this envelope? Shame on you!”
Then I waited. I was eager for retribution but sad that I felt the need to keep my life so close to the vest from the one person I should be able to trust. For as long as I could remember our mother/daughter relationship revolved around her need to control and my unwillingness to confide for fear of betrayal.
One week later I came home from a job interview and found Mother skulking around the house with a hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar look on her face.
“I had a great interview,” I said. “What did you girls do this afternoon?”
It was a question that usually opened the door to a detailed description of the day’s activities. Instead it was answered with a single word, thrown not spoken.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Mommy, come look.” Laura was surrounded by a pile of Lincoln Logs on the living room floor. She had constructed three walls of what I suspected to be a house. One of her dolls sat in the corner, eyes staring into space like a homeowner who had just received the contractor’s latest bill. I knelt down beside her and slipped off my sensible career girl pumps. Laura handed me some lengths of log and we worked together on the last wall. Mother watched us. Her eyes were like dry ice, and I felt the freezer burn through the wool of my suit jacket.
“Sweetie, you don’t have a door,” I said. “You have a tiny window, but you need to give the house a door.”
“It’s her secret place and it has a secret door” Laura said. “Nobody can come in.”
“Only if they promise to play nice, and she likes them a lot.” Laura answered with a seriousness that showed she had given the subject a lot of thought. “Then she tells them how to find the secret door. If they’re mean and make me cry they have to stay outside until they promise to play nice.”
“Good idea,” I said.
The last log locked into place and Laura starting decorating with miniature chairs and tables. I grabbed my shoes and started down the hall. As I walked past Mother I felt a chill in the space around her. I wondered if I would ever feel safe enough to invite her inside through my secret door.