As I get older, I wonder about my grandmothers and who they were as women before they became wives and mothers. Did they ever yearn for more or question their choices? Did they have choices? I never asked way back when. I can't ask now.
This story is a testament to those women who endured hardships so that the lives of their children and grandchildren could be easier. Oh how I wish I could thank them.
3 generations making our beloved great grandmother's homemade ravioli. We've had them every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.
On The Red Porch with the White Striped Awning
On the red porch with the white striped awning, she sat in her wooden folding chair, watching the city morning come to life. Business men in their suits rushed past her, anxious to meet their day’s sales, to land the hot deal, to pocket that crispy dollar. She smiled at the contrast of their frantic bustle to her quiet sigh inside the noise.
The huckster stopped his truck in front of her porch.
“Morning, Mary.” He nodded up to her, the rim of a baseball cap shadowing his smile.
“Hi Sam.” She stood from her chair. “You wanna cup of coffee?”
“No thanks, Mary. Gotta keep moving this morning.” He grabbed two boxes of fruits and vegetables from the back of the truck and hurried to a house across the street to make his delivery.
“Have a good day, Sam.” She sat back down and crossed her hands in her lap, her thumbs worrying the deep wrinkles on her knuckles and the sides of her fingers.
Time had taken its toll on her body, leaving lines whose origins could be traced back as far as her childhood. As a dirty-cheeked pre-adolescent, she’d worked the land on Sicilian hilltops, plucking figs and prickly pears from scorched September trees. The wrinkles on her face spoke of summers that were anything but kind. Only the coolness of the Ionian sea, its gentle fingers lapping over her skin, had allowed tranquility to flow over her during those intense harvest seasons. She’d left her childhood there, inside a pebbled footprint along the shore. Traded it in for more lines.
The more recent lines had been painted by a fabulous artist, a man whose passion wasn’t always tender. At first, his hands had left her speechless and immobile, so full of what she’d once called love. Later, they became brutal like the Sicilian summer sun, leaving her with bruises as purple as a starless sky. She’d had to bear many a shameful morning on account of his relentlessly passionate hands. Her husband may have become quite famous, could have been named the most prolific linear artists known to man, had he not met his fate by the bottle.
The day he’d died was the beginning of her “year of the black dress.” On day three hundred sixty-six, she’d donned a gorgeous shade of blue with shoes to match. She’d paid her wifely dues of tradition and had at last felt owed her due of serenity. The blue dress spoke peace to her. It was the color of the sea where she’d left her childhood. It was the color of her firstborn’s eyes.
She’d nearly lost him. They’d tried to take him from her arms just as she was introducing him to his world. Those women of black and white silence who couldn’t even see past their rigid traditions to find the shades of gray that made up life’s most important choices. How could they have comprehended the color of unfettered innocence, the love in its most basic incarnation, that exists between a mother and her child? They’d reached for him, to remove him from her breast, to insert him into their colorless world. The glare her eyes shot forth drew lines upon her forehead so deep they could never be erased. And, at that moment, those cursed black and whites saw red and understood. The lines she acquired that day… they may have saved her life.
Later came more babies, some with blue eyes, others with black, those who slept soundly and the ones who wept and shrieked from the moment the moon met the night until the sun kissed the sky. Seven became a lucky number for her, and each child left lines of laughter, lines of tears, smiling lines and lines that told the story of a worried brow.
There was never much money to be spoken of. No frantic business man bustling into town to find his fortune. Oh her breadwinner was excitable, though! Fridays, he was as frantic as a blinded soldier, running in circles in search of the fastest route to the local tavern where he could drink up all of the bread.
Charity always managed to rescue them though. Each of her little angels learned through toil and, perhaps some lines of their own, to make smart choices. None had chosen passionate linear artists who specialized in black and blue to accompany them on life’s journey. Not one of her babies had taken up the bottle. And, each knew the value of their creases – the ones on the faces of themselves and their mother as well as the green ones in their pockets.
Now, she ran her hand along the thin lines in her cheek and leaned over, resting her chin upon her fist, squinting from the sun’s glare. If every line had been for naught she wouldn’t be able to sit here on the red porch with the white striped awning, awed by the beauty of normalcy and quite happy with the nothing and everything that was hers.
“Why the grin, neighbor?” Eva poked her gray-haired head out of the door of the row house that was attached to Mary. These connected homes had made it easy for her daughters to sneak out of the attic window at night and hop across rooftops to visit the boys down the street. They thought she didn’t know, but she had the lines to prove she’d known all along.
Mary smiled up at her neighbor. “Eva, good morning. You wanna cup of coffee?”
“I have a doctor’s appointment this morning, Mary.”
“You all right?” Mary asked.
“Just a check on my sugar. I’ll see you tonight then.” Eva slipped inside and closed the door.
Each night, about a half hour before dusk, the neighborhood ladies would congregate on Mary’s porch. They shared stories, bragged about their grandchildren and sometimes played Pokeno, an Italian bingo game. All of these women had wrinkles on their faces and hands, much like those Mary’s life had left to her. The wrinkles spoke of sorrowful legend, amazing bravery, and hideous tragedy. They told tales of joy and of fear, and, although they’d changed faces from young to old, from vibrant to withered, not one of these women would make the choice to erase a single line.
Mary wouldn’t trade one of hers for all of that young businessman’s money, not for a thousand more days at the sea. She licked her finger and rubbed it across a dirty mark on her blue shoe. For all the years she’d suffered through their making, she’d survived on the hope that someday her blacks and blues would give birth to gold.
“Hi Nana!” The little brown-eyed girl burst outside through the front screen door and into Mary’s arms, sticky balls of sleep still stuck in her eyes.
“Good morning, bella.”
The smiling little girl cupped her grandmother’s face in her tiny hands and planted a kiss on the bridge of her long nose.
“Why are you so wrinkly, Nana?” The little girl laughed, and Mary’s heart leapt at the lovely honesty of an innocent child.
“Because I love you, little one.” It was the only answer she had.
The little girl tilted her head to the side and seemed to search her grandmother’s water blue eyes. “Will I have lines like this someday?”
“Not as many as I have.” Mary brushed a sweaty lock of hair from the child’s forehead.
“Why not?” the child asked, almost defiantly.
Again, Mary smiled and answered simply. “Because I love you, that’s why.”
For a moment, the granddaughter’s eyes quizzed Mary’s, seeming tempted to ask further but finally deciding not to. “I love you too, Nana.” With that, she hopped off of her grandmother’s lap. Can we have pancakes for breakfast?”
Mary touched the soft cheek of this angel child. “We can have anything we want, bella.”
The two left the red porch just as the sunlight was starting to reach its fingers beyond the white striped awning, violating its shade. As the screen door slammed shut behind them, Mary thought once more on her lines and her lineage. Nothing was for naught, she thought, and squeezed her granddaughter’s hand.
These lines are lifelines.