By Mary Anne Brannon
Months following her mother's death, Marianne is sorting through her mother's things. Mama's house is still intact, very much like it was the day she died. Mama had lived alone for the last 17 years, since daddy's death. She didn't discard very much. There is a pair of slippers from the first year of mama's marriage (1939), many photographs of unidentified people, as well as pictures of Marianne, the only child. Vintage clothing, lingerie never worn, greeting cards received, greeting cards addressed but not mailed, the list goes on and on. Marianne's task is to get the house ready for a tenant, something she's dreaded. She's alone in the house, miles from her own home.
(It is Fall (autumn) - morning. Marianne enters. She wears work clothes, but has a small suit case with her. She plans to spend the night. Mama wears regular clothes. Mama never wore her pajamas or gown during the day. She always dressed, stockings and all. Marianne enters through the kitchen door, the only door Mama had not nailed closed. Mama had a great fear of intruders.)
Marianne: (unlocks the kitchen door and walks in. She looks around, shakes her head and takes a deep breath) Well, mama, looks like I have a lot to do. Need to call home first. (walks to phone, dials the number [mama still has the rotary dial phone], and waits for an answer.) I'm here. (pause) I don't know. I think I'll just see how far I get and then decide. (pause) I know.
Mama: (appears from the side) I would like for you to spend the night. You don't need to be driving after dark.
Marianne: Okay. Love you. Oh, tell Kelli to call the bakery and confirm the appointment for the wedding cake. (Hangs up phone and looks around again, realizes light is off and switches it on) That's better. Mama liked the dark. I don't know why.
Mama: I've told you over and over that at my age I look better in the dark. Besides that, who's paying the power bill? Oops! I guess you are now! Go ahead and turn on the lights, all of 'em.
Marianne: (shivers) Gracious, it's cold in here. (walks to the thermostat to adjust the heat) At least mama didn't keep the heat turned down. She was always so cold-natured. Gotta get busy. Oh, great! Now I'm talking to myself. (she walks from room to room, stops at the photo gallery on the wall, smiles at the pictures of her own children, then goes into the spare bedroom. Touches the picture of her daddy.
Mama: (follows Marianne) Why don't you start in the den? There are probably things in there you have never seen. Try that cabinet next to the television. And don't forget that the remote is peculiar. You have to know just how to hold it.
Marianne: I can't bear the thoughts of going through this closet. I think I'll go to the den. At least, I'll have the company of the television. If the remote works - it never worked for anyone but mama. (goes into the den -, switches on light,and looks around.) That lady could pack more stuff into one room than anyone else I know. Okay, where shall I start?
Mama: I've already told you that. I swear, the older you get, the more stubborn you become. I don't know where you got it. I noticed my granddaughter is the same way. She's determined what to do and knows all the answers.
Marianne: (finds remote and presses buttons - nothing happens) All right, come on. (gives up and opens cabinet doors to reveal a "mountain" of material/books/hats/etc.) Good gracious, when was the last time you cleaned this out? Never mind. I know the answer.
Mama: (turns toward audience) See what I mean?
Marianne goes through a few things, places them on the floor, and then comes across a high school yearbook.).
Mama: Oh, my. I had forgotten where I put that. Let me see. (walks toward Marianne and then remembers she can't take the book from her daughter and stops abruptly) So, let's look at it, sweetheart.
Marianne: (opens book, turns a page, reads the title page, mama is standing behind her ) "The Echo" Volume III, 1927. (turns a few more pages) Look at that. Lucy Gentry in all her glory! Look at that hairdo. Look at that dress!
Mama: (hands on hips) I'll have you know that was "the" style and that was the first store bought dress I had. All the others were made from cotton-lined feed sacks. Look how slender I was! 90 pounds, soaking wet. That hat was the prettiest hat I ever saw. (accusingly) You're turning the pages too fast!
Marianne: (turning a few more pages, then stopping on one page) Oh, mama. I didn't know you were the class poet. Why didn't you tell me. (she continues to look at the pages)
Mama: I had forgotten about it, plus I didn't think it was important. Most children don't want to hear what their parents did when they were young. But then, you never were most children. You always wanted to know about Granny and Aunt Mary, and about all the things I did when I was younger. I guess that's one of the reasons you're such a special person. And I'm not partial.
Marianne: (reads part of the poem, begins to cry, sniffles, and looks for a kleenex)
"Through our years of joy and sorrow, We've tried to find the key-note to success; So we'll make our debut on tomorrow, Prepared to brave life's sternest tests."*
Pauses, then reads "And in the loving arms of Jesus, We hope some day - if we to God be true - To come where joys untold await us, And find ourselves safe beyond the blue."*
Mama: And that's where I am. "safe beyond the blue." (Notices that her daughter is really crying.) Marianne, don't cry. It's fine. I'm fine. Daddy's fine. This is a fine place. You'll see.
Marianne: (still crying) Mama, if I could just turn back time. I missed chances to say the right thing and do the right thing. There are things I said and did that I'm ashamed of. I didn't visit you as often as I should have. I spoke crossly to you when you asked questions. Questions out of love and concern, but I didn't see it that way. Oh, if only I could just tell you how sorry I am, and how much I love you.
Mama: (puts hand out as if to touch her daughter) You have. Every day when you smile about something we did together. Even when you say, "Mama, wouldn't have done it that way" that makes me smile. I know you love me, I know you care. Sometimes, children just get caught up in their world. I did the same thing with Granny. She always sent post cards asking when I would be down to visit. She asked a lot of questions, too. Every child, every parent has something they wished they had said or done when they had the chance.
Marianne: (still crying) Oh, Mama. I miss you so much. I feel as if I'll lose you when this house is empty. I feel the urgent need to find one of your thimbles, a lace handkerchief, frame a picture, do something that will keep you with me. Every night at 7:00, I still wait for the phone to ring. It doesn't.
Mama: (lightly places hands on Marianne's shoulders) I am with you. You know that. From the day you were born and God gave us the opportunity to be your parents, I have been with you. I am with you still. Your daddy is with you. We know that you love us. Don't despair. When God entrusted you to us, we promised to love you. We did and we still do. Please use that strength.
Marianne: (looks up and around, as if someone has entered the room, dries the tears) Mama? Are you there? (Rises from chair, looks toward open door and pauses a few seconds. Looks back into the den, and smiles) I think I'm losing it. Mama? (looks around) I know you're here. And you have a better idea, right?
Mama: Of course I do. I don't want to disappoint you. Come on, finish this cabinet, then we'll go to the dining room. The bottom draw of the china is full of great stuff. You'll love it. Letters from World War II, the Korean War, post cards from all over the world, more pictures, even a copy of the speeding ticket your daddy got in 1953.
Marianne: Mama? (looks around again) I love you.
(Mama kisses her)
© Mary Anne Brannon
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