I tell a little story about my son as a small child. My friend Sally asks, Have you ever written about that? and I say, “Oh, sure, probably, my son says everything I write is about him in one way or another.” Then we fall silent.
Later I see something on social media about pumpkin carving well after Halloween and I remember an Easter card that I helped my mother make years ago.
We sorted through a box of photographs developed at the drug store. She couldn’t find just what she wanted. She rejected snap after snap — blooming tulips, lush trees, the grassy stretch of ground at the side of the yard where the forsythia grew. I thought they were lovely photos, each of them.
I found a few taken on Easter in the prior year. We kids at church, the girls wearing new dresses and hats; the boys in white-collared shirts and short ties. Mother shook her head. I rummaged a bit more and found a group shot of the four younger kids proudly holding their Easter baskets on the front lawn. Me in my cat glasses and Mark with his coke-bottle lenses perhaps looking a bit goofy, but all of us with wide smiles. Steve had chocolate smeared on his shirt. Frank showed a gap-tooth grin.
Maybe, was all my mother said. We kept looking.
She unearthed what she wanted from the bottom of the third dusty box. She held it carefully, by the edge. Find the negative, would you please, Mary? she instructed. I studied her pick and began opening the little envelopes until I had the right strip. She wore her own smile now, sweet, satisfied. She told me that she’d be back, she had to run the photo to the store for duplicating.
A week or so later, we sat together again at the table in the breakfast room. We folded thick paper in half, glued a copy of the photo to the front, and wrote the message inside. Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Happy Everything! I signed it, “Richard and Lucille Corley, and children”. We hand-addressed each envelope from her spiral-bound book. I carefully copied every name, every address, and on the back wrote, “The Corleys, 8416 McLaran Avenue, Jennings, Missouri 63136”.
My mother said, Do you like the picture? I studied the photo of my two little brothers with their hands in a pumpkin, pulling the guts out of it, waving them around, surrounded by the newsprint which my mother had laid to protect the table. It’s perfect, Mom, I told her.
In the maze of terribleness which flowed like lava through that two-bedroom house in St. Louis County, the joy so often got lost. I wonder now, as a few of these sweet memories rise to the surface of my aging brain, whether my son feels the same way about his childhood. I recall one of my favorite lines from “A Thousand Clowns”. The main character, a bachelor who has inherited his nephew to raise, sighs and remarks to a visiting social worker that he doesn’t know whether he’s doing a good job or not. My only hope, he admits, is that he will speak well of me in therapy some day.
It’s the eighteenth day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.