A Batch of Broken China

my mother, Noreen Clemens

my mother, Noreen Clemens

Over the past years my mother has been following me around, showing up in my stomach, my bones, and my dreams. She used to be a dull ache inside me, but not so much anymore. She wasn’t cruel or abusive—there was no sliver to take out, no bullet to remove, no thorn to pluck. In the five years I lived with her, I wasn’t raised by co-mission, I was raised by omission, by neglect, but neglect doesn’t leave a scar, it leaves a hole. Some say holes are harder to heal.

I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to fill this hole: with sex and recreational drugs (God bless the 70s!), with work, and now with writing. Much like my mother, I’ve been looking for answers. She went the conventional way of the 1950s, going to doctors up and down the state trying to find out what was wrong with her, getting prescriptions for depression, weight, sleep, and for whatever else possessed her. I’ve gone from A to Z in search of understanding, attempting to heal the ache in my stomach, release the pain in my shoulders and jaw, and let go of the resentment I hold in my body. Time and understanding have reshaped me, transforming this hole into a kind of wholeness, and out of this wholeness, a kind of holiness has emerged.

So after all my seeking and searching, hoping for some comprehension, I’ve come full circle back to my mother. “Why?” doesn’t matter nearly as much as I thought it did. Mom didn’t think about the ripples caused by the rocks she cast in the waters. She wasn’t out to purposely make my life unhappy or irritating, didn’t have me in mind when she made her choices. It wasn’t about me. Somehow I knew that even as a kid.

I imagine my mother would have preferred it to turn out some other way, to not have stumbled and tripped through her life leaving a batch of chipped and broken china in her path, waltzing a mindless waltz in endless circles. Don’t you think she would have liked to have held the hemmed edge of her billowing skirt and elegantly danced? I do. Like her, I too can be a little clumsy, but unlike her, I learned to dance: to twirl and tango and two-step. I love when I float across a shiny wood floor, gliding and swirling and turning like a warm breeze on tiptoe; I never dreamed I could be a dancer.

Many of mother’s belongings have found their way back to me. Her heavy pinking shears are now in my sewing box. Her black cast-iron griddle cooks my grilled cheese sandwiches. Her delicate gold watch with the narrow black cloth wristband, her Liberty half-dollar necklace from the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair, and her silver charm bracelet crowded with mementos from her life all keep my jewelry company. Her pictures are on my wall and in my photo albums. Her mother Nellie’s round English deco mirror hangs in my bedroom, reflecting all three of our images in my face. I also have her metal meat grinder (the one she ran my right index finger through when I was not yet two), stored in an old workman’s aluminum lunch pail, way up high on a shelf in my garage where it can’t get me. My sisters and brother must have thought these things important to me, that I should have them. They are. I’m pleased when I use or look at or wear them. They remind me of Mother, remind me of some good parts of her. And they remind me of what I missed.

For years I didn’t think about her at all. For a while I thought about her more than I needed to. Now, when I think of her, it’s easier, and it feels like we can dance.

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  1. Dearest Catherine:
    From the first words I felt a connection with your seeking and the attempt to fill the hole. I too dabbled and have the soul experience twirling around the dance floor! I look forward to reading your books. With love and gratitude.
    Your fellow dance friend, Bonita

  2. I can so, so relate – apart from the fact that I can’t dance but it is on my bucket list.
    Thanks for reaching out. It must have been something about the bread line this morning.
    You are a wonderful writer.

  3. I can relate. You’re a good writer, Catherine. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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