Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Time Passes


(Continued from last Tuesday . . . )
Grandpa Ready was a Kansas City fireman, nearing retirement, when he died from smoke inhalation in March 1943. My brother was nearly four and I would soon be seven.
            My aunt Dorothy, Dad’s older sister, called to tell Mom what had happened. She told us the sad news only when Dad arrived home from work and had settled in the easy chair. He rose, opened the front door and went out onto the porch. The door slammed behind him as he stepped into the front yard and began to pace.
            Mom picked up my little brother and sat down in the vacated easy chair. “What does it mean, Mommy?” he asked. “Death? What does it mean?”
            “It means that Grandpa’s gone away. We’ll never see him again.”
            “Where’s he going, Momma?” he sobbed. “Can’t I go with him? Won’t he take me with him?”
            “No. He has to go alone.”
            “But I could help him hammer. I could hold the nails.”
            Mom began to explain why my brother couldn’t follow Grandpa on the trip he was now taking. She spoke softly to him as I got up on the straight back chair that stood wedged between the buffet and the corner of the living room.
            Earlier on that rainy day, Mom had done the laundry and a clothesline now stretched across the length of that narrow room. She and my little brother sat on one side of the dangling white panties, towels and washcloths, Dad’s brown work pants, my white anklets, Mom’s cotton blouse, and my pale blue school dress with the appliqu├ęd white doves, wings spread in flight, on the bodice.


            On the other side of this wall of clothes, I sat huddled on the corner chair, hidden from sight.  I’d pulled up my feet and sat on my folded legs. I could hear Mom singing to my brother. She’d sing, he’d ask questions, she’d answer, and then she’d sing some more. Their voices lulled me into reverie. I knew that Mom was comforting my brother; I understood that she’d forgotten me.
            After all, I hadn’t gone each day with Grandpa to his farm just down the road apiece to work on the one-story house he was building for himself and Grandma Ready. He wasn’t my best buddy. I hadn’t handed him tools and ate bologna sandwiches with him and drank sweet lemonade while sitting under the pear tree. My brother had.
            I knew, too, that Mom loved my brother best. After all she’d taken him with her to Parsons when she didn’t take me. They’d come back, but if she saw me crying, maybe they’d walk out of the house, leave me again, and this time not come back.
            So I didn’t cry that night and I didn’t say anything. I simply hid behind the clothesline and its load of wash. I tried to make myself very small in that cramped space, intent on becoming invisible. The loud ticking of the clock that hung above me on the corner wall entered my still point. I craned my neck back and looked up. The movement of its longer hand transfixed me.


            I did not know how to tell time. I knew about springtime and wintertime. About school time and vacation time. About bedtime and getting-up time. But I couldn’t tell time. I knew about something called hours and minutes. Each weekday, I’d heard Mom say, “Dad will be home in about fifteen minutes.”
            Each Sunday morning, I’d heard Dad say, “What’s the rush? Mass doesn’t start for half an hour.”
            I knew about waiting for something to happen and time having to pass before it did. But that night—the night after the day that Grandpa died—I learned to tell time. I can’t explain the phenomenon. I only know that I stared and stared at that ticking clock and suddenly I knew that its long hand was ticking away minutes. It moved regularly. Tick. Tick. Tick. After sixty ticks, it moved to another little line on the circle of the clock.
            And I suddenly realized—truly I do not know how—that the long hand moved five times to get to the number 1. Then it moved five times again to get to the number 2. And I knew, surely and with great certainty, that five minutes had passed and then ten.
            With growing awe I watched the hand move around one side of the circle. I knew that I’d discovered time at 6:05 and that it was 6:25 when Dad reentered the house.
            “Shh,” Mom said. “He’s asleep. He’s cried his heart out.” I could hear her get up out of the chair and carry my little brother into the bedroom.
            Then through the barrier of the drying laundry, I heard Dad pass me and go into the kitchen. Next, I saw one of Mom’s hands gently move aside a dishtowel. “Dodo,” she said, “it’s time to come out from there and have some supper.”
            “Mommy, I know what time is!”
            “What is it?”
            “What the clock tells. It’s 6:30 now.”
            Then I explained to her what had happened. She helped me down from the chair and hugged me against her so that my face pressed into her stomach. And she patted my back and said, “Oh, Dodo, you never cease to amaze me.”
            I looked up and saw tears in her eyes. “Mommy, don’t cry,” I said. Then I told her that my brother was okay. That she didn’t need to cry for him.
            “But are you okay?” she asked. “Do you understand?”
            “I do.”
                                                      (Continued next Tuesday . . . )


Clock photograph from Wikipedia.
Clothespin photograph by Carlos Porto from freephotos.com.
                                                                        

47 comments:

  1. My heart aches at the burdens your young self had to carry about not being a favored one. I love the way this post ended, with your mom's love and reassurance. It's a wonderful reminder that kids process so much more than what we think, and I will be mindful of that as we start our new school year on Monday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Shelly, I think you are so right about children processing "so much more than what we think." They make connections--sometimes totally inaccurately--that can affect much of the rest of their lives. Peace.

      Delete
  2. Dee,
    You've always been so wise. To comfort your mother when you were hurting . . . to sit those long hours while others dealt with their own grief instead of holding you and helping you with yours too. Your true self shines through this post--you are amazing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Elisa, I truly only sat there for probably less than an hour. Maybe less than a half hour. But I felt totally isolated, and so lost track of time until I suddenly discovered how to tell time. Which seems like a minor miracle to me now. Peace.

      Delete
  3. Ahhh...this one made me tear up. It was so touching, I felt like I could see every moment you described. You move me, Sweet Dee, and I thank you for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Stephanie, I thank you for stopping by my blog and reading this story that took place so long ago--in 1943, nearly seventy years ago! Peace.

      Delete
  4. How wonderful that you so clearly understood the situation in your family at such a young age and I'm sorry that you lived with the fear of being abandoned again. I'm in awe of your gifts as a writer, I see the room, the washing, the clock and you on that chair with your legs up under you. I really need to see and read a whole lot of books by you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Inger, that fear of abandonment stayed with me much of my life. Even after I realized that Mom and Dad were keeping me with them, I continued to fear that if I said something wrong and hurt a friend's feelings, that person would drop me from her or his life. And I think that so many children in our world today live this way.

      Oh, I so hope that one day there will be "a whole lot of books" by Dee Ready that you can read! It's a wonderful thought. Peace.

      Delete
  5. So beautifully written, Dee, and so heartbreaking.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Janie, thank you for your kind words. Peace to you now and always.

      Delete
  6. A beautiful and heartbreaking story, Dee! I felt your grief and fear and aloneness throughout. It's such a testimony to what children know and feel and internalize very early in life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Kathy, I am gratified that you see this story as "a testimony to what children know and feel and internalize very early in life." That's what I'm hoping for with this on-line memoir--that it will touch the lives of others and help us all to realize within ourselves the wholeness of humanity. Peace.

      Delete
  7. That was a touching yet beautiful story! I sometimes realize that as children we don't understand what grownups are thinking or feeling and that as adults we often don't realize what our children are thinking or feeling!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Nancy, yes, I couldn't agree more. As a child I truly didn't understand what my mom or dad were thinking and I'm sure that Mom never realized how their going to Parsons, Kansas, and leaving me behind would affect much of my life. Had she known, I'm sure--positive--that they never would have left Kansas City. Peace.

      Delete
  8. Oh, that wish that so many children have to become small. Invisible. That feeling of abandonment that follows through the years and remains as painful in adulthood as it does in childhood, even when we know it isn't so. Your words here touched me, Dee, brought a few tears to my eyes. Your sensitivity to others is apparent, even as such a young child and no matter how much you yourself are hurting.

    I am also amazed at your determination, Dee, and fortitude. How you learned about time. Amazing. I will look to next Tuesday's part of your story. Bless you, Dee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Penny, thank you for saying that I have fortitude. That is a virtue I so admire in others. I have a friend whom I greatly admire because of the fortitude he has shown since the death of his wife a few years ago. They lived together for over fifty years and to have her presence gone from their home had to be almost overwhelming. But he took up the reins of living alone and learned to cook and shop and to live in solitude. Great fortitude. Peace.

      Delete
  9. How many of us remember when we first learned to tell time? This is a poignant and sensitively told story, Dee. Thank you for its gentle rendering of many kinds of love...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear DJan, for me, that learning to tell time is a never-to-be-forgotten happening in my life. During the time I was crouched in that chair, with the wall both on my left side and behind me and the buffet to my right and the dangling clothes in front of me, I was caught up in a stillness that I can still remember. At first I could hear the words of my mother and brother, but after a while all I knew was silence. And then, suddenly, came the understanding of how to tell time. A great gift. And when Mom drew the clothes aside, I felt only joy that I had this sudden new ability. It was a special time for me, despite the loneliness I felt. May you know peace today and always, DJan.

      Delete
  10. Each sentence draws us in, makes us see each difficult scene. You are amazing Dee!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Arleen, thank you for the kind words about my writing. Blogging is helping me hone the craft and I'm so appreciative of readers noticing that I'm writing better!
      Peace.

      Delete
  11. What a beautifully written story of pain and understanding. I felt so for your brother's bewilderment but even more so for your solitary pain and feelings of being second best.
    Your mother went to the child who obviously showed signs of pain which would be normal yet she showed her love for you in the end. As Djan said, there are many kinds of love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Arkansas Patti, some fifty or more years after this happened, I was visiting a psychic and she felt the presence of my mother. What the psychic--who knew nothing about me--said convinced me that Mom was there. And the psychic related Mom's words to me which were "Dolores, I knew what strength you had within you. That's why I was able to let you go at times."

      And whether Mom truly spoke through the psychic or not, those words ring true for me. I think my Mom did consider me to have a strength that saw me through some difficult times. But oh, I have to admit, that I wish sometimes she would have simply hugged me and told me this. Peace.

      Delete
  12. I echo DJan's comments in that I marvel at your memory! You wove such a telling tale around not just the death of a beloved grandpa, but the excitement of discovering the mystery of time. Wow! I am so impressed with this story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Sandi, I've always had a wonderful memory. That's been both a blessing and a curse in that often I've remembered only the negative things that happened. But now, in remembering them as I do this on-line memoir I'm coming to great peace about everyone who's touched my life and whose life I've touched. This blog is being such a blessing in my life. Peace.

      Delete
  13. A very cool story. Enjoying (believe it or not) reading about people processing the death of a loved one, as my beloved husband just died a week ago. How wonderful that you taught yourself to tell time. And yes, as a bereaved person, i find it fascinating how many people expect me to comfort THEM. And I do.


    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mimi, I knew that your husband was ill, but not dying. I have no words that can truly comfort you except to hope that the memories of your life together will bring you comfort in this dark time. Peace.

      Delete
  14. I originally felt bad that I have waited so long to read this most recent post. (I wait to read yours until I have enough time to truly focus on them and compose a coherent response because your writing is so deep and layered.) But I know now that I was meant to read this today, after receiving the most recent issue of The Sun magazine where there is an interview with Gabor Mate about childhood and its importance to us as we age. Your childhood recollections are so vivid and timely and timeless that they speak to your readers more than you know. I love that you came to the realization of how time works as you sat there behind the clothesline and there is an impressive lesson here that blows me away. Thank you for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Kari, thank you for your kind words. Both my brother and I seem to be able to remember with vivid detail many things that we've experienced. And I think that probably as a child I was wounded by the seeming abandonment and so was extra sensitive to what was happening to me at all times. For me, I think there was a great need to hoard my memories so as to examine them. Only as time has passed and I've learned about the exigencies of life have I come to understand much of this from my parents point of view. Peace.

      Delete
  15. Oh, Dee. It is amazing the way certain details come sharply into focus at such an intense time. Only you can give this particular moment its fullness of impressions, as they came to you. Amazing about learning to tell time right then. Thank you for creating the scene for your readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Deanna, thank you for stopping now that the wedding has been celebrated. So good to hear from you! Yes, I do remember much of the detail of that happening. Peace.

      Delete
  16. Beautiful, touching, poignant memory, Dee, expressed in fine detail. You learned at such a young age that life can change in a moment, so you learned to pay great attention to it. Strange and wondrous how we are each formed by happenstance and events, whim and whimsy, pain and delights. Loved this! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Rita, you have put into words but I wasn't able to explain: why I have such detailed and vivid memories of those times. Thank you. Peace.

      Delete
  17. A profound piece, Dee. And so sad. But so clever of your to discover time.

    I wonder if you could settle something for me: it is about the love between mothers and sons. I have, as you know, one of each. Is it possible that your mother's love was not less, but different?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Kate, I'm not at all sure about the answer to your question. But I think that perhaps "different" is correct. Mom had certainly showed great devotion to me during the first five years of my life when my asthma was so bad. And I've written in a September 2011 blog why I think she moved with Dad to Parsons.

      So perhaps "different" is right. Many years later, many, many, I learned that she believed I had great strength and that I could get by without my family for a year and that she didn't need to show me as much affection as she showed my brother because of my great strength. I'm not at all sure she was right about that. But that's what she said. Peace.

      Delete
  18. Oh. Oh, so beautifully heart-wrenching. There's so much tenderness in your descriptions, and pain. I could feel you trying to make yourself smaller and smaller, all while your heart and mind were so large and lovely and expanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Emily, yes, smaller and smaller. I just really wanted to disappear. I can remember that so well and it's been seventy years! Peace.

      Delete
  19. Fortunately as a child I didn't have to deal with the deaths of many who were close to me. I never could totally comprehend the sadness and the concept of death in those younger days, but as life went on those things became a part of life.

    Well told memories.


    Lee
    Wrote By Rote

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Lee, thank you for your kind words. And yes, as we grow older death becomes a part of life. Almost a friend. Peace.

      Delete
  20. Dear Dee, You write with such feeling about "Midwest Nice." Too bad those times have disappeared in all but secluded pockets around the globe. I have returned to my own pocket of "nice" and when I get all settled in I will return to posting and the exchanging of communications with those new friends I now love.
    Until that time, I'll be peeping in, from time to time.
    Love from Manzi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Manzi, so good to hear from you. I've been going to your blog on a regular basis to see if you've posted anything new and I've wondered if you'd settled in your new place and had decided that you were no longer going to blog. I hope all is well. Take care of yourself and the land. Peace.

      Delete
  21. There is indeed something special in you! I think your mother correctly identified your great strength and understood that you had resilience and abilities that weren't common, but she erred in not still seeing the little child in you. You were perhaps a bit of a challenge to her own abilities...you were "adult" in so many ways, but you weren't a little adult, just a little girl. The memory of your grandfather's death is touching and painful. I find the story of "the clock" just amazing, but I don't ever forget the power of the mind, and your concentration on that, rather than being fully present in the pain of being overlooked, undoubtedly created a powerful impact. I think at that time you probably also began to realize that your ability to learn was going to open doors for you...and you're still learning all the time! You learn, and you teach! I so admire your perspectives, Dee! Blessings, Debra

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Debra, thank you for all these gracious thoughts abut that little girl. I find myself embracing her when I think back on those years. And I admire her tenacity. She had a real sense of survival. At least that's what the three psychiatrists I've gone throughout a number of years have told me. Peace.

      Delete
  22. Dear Debra, I think you're right about how hard I was concentrating on the clock so as to avoid being present to the pain of Grandpa's death. I tell you, Debra, I can still truly remember the moment of realizing I knew what time it was. I felt like the world opened up before me! Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  23. There's something symbolic about learning to tell time, isn't there? It just seems to be so much more than "just" understanding what a clock represents. And to come to such an understanding at a time when one is also confronted with reality of limited time on this earth is profound!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Dear Kim, thank you for pointing at that I came to understand time when "confronted with reality of limited time on earth." Never before have I thought of that, or realized it. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  25. You describe so well your childhood and your own version of how it seemed. You were too young to realize you were the first born and that puts you in a place in the family. And you were a girl. The baby was the boy. But I do not think you were less loved just differently. you also sought to verify your version of how it was for you be finding the clues to ensure to yourself that it was so.
    Adults often fail to notice how children find their way and form their conclusions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Heudrun, I do think you are right in your assessment. I was love, not less, but differently. Peace.

      Delete