THE VESSEL

By Anne B. Howard

What I yearned to find, stumbling about that musty antique shop on a hot August afternoon, was relief by distraction. Shelter from a hornet’s nest of memories that conjured bitterness where a daughter’s compassion should lie. My ninety-year-old mom had developed dementia and needed my help, but the jagged edges of our bitter past had resurfaced and cut me to the bone.  The burden of her vicious calls, her cruel assertions, and the delusion that I was plotting against her weakened my defenses and left me vulnerable.

I wandered from room to room, pausing to admire some old crockery bowls, a depression-glass cookie jar, and thumb through the tattered pages of a leather-bound copy of The Scarlet Letter. Eventually, in an obscure corner of an adjacent booth, the beguiling image of a flawless Ironstone Pitcher, cradled in its basin, caught my eye.

Drawn to the graceful porcelain lines, and subtle age-checked finish, I lifted the vessel from its nest to look for chips or cracks. Resting my palm against its rounded belly, I studied the piece from top to bottom, realizing that I’d known one like it a long time ago.

“Hello, doll…,” she whispered.

I pulled the pitcher to my heart. My eyes filled with tears. In a two-room house divided by a curtain, with no indoor toilet or hot water, I once had a mother with an Ironstone pitcher. My other mother. Mama Judy. The memory of her silken white curls, her crooked little fingers, and the doughy-softness of her embrace warmed my soul and filled my heart to the brim.

Those gentle hands squeezed the soft rag as warm soapy bubbles from her basin slid down my tummy and legs. The basin was lowered, so I could step in, and tenderly, she washed each little foot. From the womb of her lovely Ironstone pitcher, she poured and rinsed my body clean, cocooning me in love.

This was my “mother” for the first seven years of my life—not babysitter, as mom and dad called her—and I loved her so. My Mama Judy. In her tiny little house, with no television or modern conveniences, I felt safe and cherished.

In Mom and Dad’s newly built house, with the perfect lawn, fancy furnishings, air-conditioning, and two-car garage, life was scary, dangerous and sad. “I wish you’d never been born,” she’d say, and turn away.

Still, as I stood hugging that smooth white pitcher, in the empty back-room of a shop filled with objects from another time and place, I realized that mom’s cruelty no longer mattered. I was free to choose healing over blame. Mama Judy was with me, she was in me, and she made clear what I had to do.

She said to be gentle. To be loving. To forgive my mother, and to help her any way I could. “Do this,” she whispered, “and you honor my memory.”

Peace was the treasure I left with that day, from having made the decision to forgive what could not be undone. To forgive, and, from the reservoir of love I’d received as a child, to pour love into others, so they, too, might find healing and comfort.

Flash Memoir, for those not familiar, is a means of recording memories in small, snippet-sized pieces. Significant moments are captured, distilled, and packaged into stories that can be read quickly—often five to six hundred words—perfect for the digital age and hand-held devices. Just as important, for the memoirist, is that despite the therapeutic benefits of writing truth, it can be anxiety-invoking. Facing the blank page with one small, poignant piece of your story, and the goal of truly capturing a moment, is far less intimidating than attempting to compress and record large chunks of a difficult time.   

 

 

 

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