I can still see her–standing at the sink, snipping the unwieldy stalks into line, singing a song, softly, as though only to the flowers, maybe promising them that once snipped and arranged, they will bring joy to all who behold.
And they did.
I can hear her at the piano, Chopin’s passion mingling with the smell of dinner cooking. It remains a mystery as deep as cosmic swirling how she concocted wonderful meals and dresses for me and my sister, kept our household going and our little genius brother occupied, and worked on improving education, the environment, and ethics laws in Alabama without seeming to lift a finger.
But I think maybe she danced to the music.
Once, Tchaikovsky flooded the house, and I discovered her lying prone on the back porch. She looked up at me and said, “I tried a little pirouette .” —Groan. “I was the Sugar Plum fairy in the Nutcracker when I was sixteen, you know.”
“Oh, Mom, you’re not sixteen anymore.”
She sighed, “I know; I know.” Then she fixed me with her hazel eyes, “Don’t tell your father.”
Father was always fussing because Mother danced through life to music only she heard. She was oblivious to the open kitchen cabinet doors and the proximity of their points to her head as she moved about preparing a meal, not to mention the annoying cars and other road accessories that dinged her car because her attention was . . . elsewhere. With the music maybe. But she always returned right back down to earth when her children needed her to Band-Aid the hurt or feed them or give wise advice.
Only later, when she was gone, did I understand the challenges life dealt her or tried to. She never showed her hurts to me.
Once, during Thanksgiving I skipped down to the basement to retrieve the chocolate pies for our twenty-plus guests. My hands full on the return trip, I tried to switch off the light and ended up juggling both pies for a dicey moment before, like Mother’s pirouette, they performed a graceful flip in midair, landing with a smack, face-down on the cement floor. In tears, I reported I had ruined Thanksgiving.
“Of course, you didn’t,” Mother replied, snatching up a spatula as if it were a spear. “Follow me.”
And, of course, I did, trying to hear, between sniffles, the marching band in her mind.
With surgical skill, she slid the spatula between the floor and a layer of splattered chocolate and rescued the majority that had not actually contacted the floor onto a plate. “We’ll clean this up later,” she said, closing the basement door. I thought I heard snatches of the band as I trailed her back upstairs, but the glorious, perfect round pies were history, replaced with a chocolate mass, starred with Picassoesque bits of graham crust. In the kitchen, Mother sculpted the chocolate onto individual plates and smothered them with Cool Whip. With a smile, she handed me two to serve to the waiting guests and said, comfortingly, “Nobody will ever know.”
And they didn’t.
Mother even danced down grocery store aisles. Canned music was music, still. At an age where such behavior horrified, I lagged behind, lest someone connect me with that woman who randomly kicked a leg sideways and sang out loud as she pushed the cart. Though my feet dragged with a young girl’s reluctance to be singled out as different, my heart glimpsed secrets:
• One could dare to be.
• A disaster is only one if you allow it.
• A wildflower has the potential for just as much beauty as a rose.
You just have to hear the music.
Jane Lobman Katz (1931 – 1986) – Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.