Candles have memories. Impressionable wax remembers the round boundary of its first fire and refuses to burn beyond that maiden imprint. Clay harbors memory, as well. The sculptor who kneads and rolls clay knows that the doughy earth stubbornly attempts to return to its original form. Dogs seem to have memories of squirrels. With panting expectancy and a primal urge to pursue, our dogs remember trees long after a sighting, staring hopefully up into empty branches as they recall the tease of the plumed tail.
Like candles melted and cooled, like clay molded, like dreaming dogs with paws pedaling the air, I cleave to family memories, desperate to preserve them so they won’t scatter like dust blown off the dry spines of old books in our attic.
I once surprised myself when somebody asked me whether I grew weary with six kids and then their kids, whether I had enough love to go around; and I blurted, “Love is not divided, but multiplied.”
Still, it was always something. Just when I thought we’d get ahead a bit financially, one of the kids would need to go to the doctor. And for years I thought we’d never, ever get through a meal without somebody spilling a glass of milk.
Sometimes, I admit, I used to contemplate ordering the composite child, a hybrid with the best features of my kids. But I took them as they came. Shea and I tried the rhythm method, but the times when we weren’t supposed to have relations were the times we wanted most to love one another. Our family grew, baby after baby. After a while, a mother learns she has only a limited influence. Offspring are their own people. And that’s what a mother ultimately hopes. I look at our refrigerator cluttered with photos of the kids and grandkids, invitations, school drawings, coupons, recipes, emergency telephone numbers.
I don’t love one more than the other, but I love each differently. With some sort of intuitive motherhood scanning device, I can zero in on them. I can read the expressions on their faces as easily as I can read Good Housekeeping.
Sometimes I even think I can read their minds. And why not? I know what they like on their sandwiches, which colors they prefer, the sizes of their shoes and gloves. I know which cake to bake for their birthday, the way they like their steaks cooked, how they take their tea. I’ve received their letters to Santa, their report cards. I taught them to drive. I knew how to comfort them when they took ill. I’ve made it my business to know. I am their mother.
With my coffee, I sit at the kitchen table to update my grocery list. I wanted the kids to have good table manners and to eat what was put in front of them and to say “Thank you” when a bowl of mashed potatoes was handed their way and “Please pass the pepper.” I was happy when I worked two waffle irons to keep pace with the kids eating Sunday brunch.
I felt tremendous gratification when all the kids were dressed nicely and sitting in church, their heads stair-stepping across a pew. Or when we all played a board game at the dining room table. I wished we could all stay together. Forever. Of course, life and death don’t allow.
Sometimes I wished I could freeze the kids at early ages, keeping them cute as puppies. But like the sweet corn I’d planted from seed in my garden, they grew so tall I had to look up to them. As they became less innocent and more independent, they grew even more interesting. We don’t talk any more about Old MacDonald or the wheels on the bus going round and round. I enjoy my kids as adults. Granted, sometimes it’s painful to see them find their own way, but now they seem more like friends.
But all the things I’ve worried about over all the years pale in comparison to my illness. I knew I was sick well before the doctors diagnosed me. I kept hoping symptoms would pass, kept trusting that my health might return if I refused to admit I did not feel well—the way I did when the kids were little and I had no time to be sick. But eventually I knew I had to face the bitter music because I’m fighting for my life—not so much my life, but the life of my family. I do not want to leave them. I want to go on making waffles and memories.
Author’s Note: This is the prologue to my second novel, ONLY WILD PLUMS.