Because I had many mothers…
Last week’s calendar contained both Cinco De Mayo and Mother’s Day, which got me thinking about the many women in my life who mothered me in addition to my own Mama. Because Cinco De Mayo/May 5 was also Aunt Martha’s birthday, I naturally had her on my mind. She would have been 87 years old.
In describing Mama I have always said that if she were a color, it would be red because of her fiery and passionate nature. I also noted that all of Mama’s sisters, in my mind, have a color of their own. Aunt Martha, to me, is purple…regal, unconventional, stand-out-in-a-crowd purple. Like Mama and the rest of The Big Five, Aunt Martha was a true original, and in many ways unlike her sisters. But she and Mama were very much alike in their big-hearted, laugh-till-they-peed-their-pants humor and personalities.
Aunt Martha never had human children, choosing instead to be a dog mom. I have followed in this path, and I think that being around her and her little canine companions so much as a child shaped the love of dogs I developed over the years. The first of Aunt Martha’s dogs (or anyone else’s dogs for that matter) in my memory is Susie, a Chihuahua, the breed that Aunt Martha and Uncle John always favored. She was a tiny little thing, even though she was overfed, and because her bones were fragile, Aunt Martha was forever reminding Reed and me, “Don’t run the dog,” meaning not to chase her.
When Sweet Pea and I were finally able to adopt a dog, we chose a Beagle/Basset mix from the shelter. Ernie The Wonder Beagle was not a huge dog, but he was larger than Aunt Martha was accustomed to. She asked me once, “Ain’t his teeth awful big?”, to which I responded, “Well, they fit in his mouth so they must be the right size.” She and Ernie would see each other at Dad’s occasionally and she was always sweet to him, and he loved her as well. Big teeth and all.
Some of my musical genes came from Aunt Martha as well. She had a lovely soprano voice that I loved listening to when we would gather around the piano after Christmas Eve supper, harmonizing out of the ancient hymnbooks that lived in Mama’s piano bench. Her voice singing songs like “Ivory Palaces” and “Sunrise Tomorrow” echoes through my memory. She wanted to take voice lessons but Granddad would not allow her to, so to spite him, she quit high school before graduating. When I graduated from college with a degree in voice, she wrote in the card she sent me that she was proud of me and doubly proud of my majoring in music. Maybe she lived out a piece of her dream through me. I hope so.
She and I always seemed to be kindred spirits and we spent a lot of time together throughout my life. I spent many nights at her house as a child and teenager. There were the Friday night TV shows we both loved watching and the trips to the Pixie Drive-In for onion rings and milkshakes. There was the favorite housecoat I wore when I was there and the stash of “feminine supplies” she kept on hand for when I visited. (She was always very compassionate about cramps.)
She was a meticulous quilter, her stitches so tiny, close together and uniformly spaced that even a machine couldn’t have done better work. It seemed like there was always a quilt up on frames in her basement. Countless nights I would go with Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred to Aunt Martha’s house. They would work on whatever quilt was in the frames until they couldn’t see straight anymore, drinking tea and Cokes, telling stories and laughing. ALWAYS laughing. And even though I wasn’t helping them, they included me. I didn’t sew then and I don’t really sew now. But when I concentrate, I can do decent hand work. I wish now that I had pulled up a chair with them around the frames. I suspect that I would have learned much more than how to stitch.
Christmas Eve 1994, I presented her with a special little gift. I had found a picture of her and me together with Susie, the one from earlier in this post. I set about shopping for the right frame for it and ended up choosing a beautiful silver frame with a heart-shaped opening that fit the photo perfectly. It was like it had been made to hold that very photograph. I placed the picture inside and gave it to her that Christmas. The picture below is of her opening that gift as I looked on. Her expression is priceless.
I think my penchant for collecting things comes from her as well. She collected all sorts of things. Cartoon character glasses and figurines from fast-food places, Beanie Babies, state quarters and California Raisins. Little things like that gave her huge pleasure. She also really enjoyed jewelry and sparkly things, another trait I inherited. She was gone before I bought the Original Kissy Shirt, but I know she would have loved it, because it is funny and splashy…much like she was. She would approve of the new smaller Kissy Shirt as well, although the weight loss surgery I had and the shrinking process that made the smaller shirt necessary would have worried her to death.
I miss her all the time, just like I miss the rest of them. I imagine that her house in Heaven has quilting frames and that she and Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred are reunited there from time to time, working on a quilt for the next family member who arrives there, a warm covering for the bed in their mansion. When I go to meet them, I will have sense enough to pull up a chair and join them around the frames.