Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Grasp for Love

Patricia E. Patterson


“Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” Anon.

Missy heaved the last bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter. Five full bags to unload. She muttered to herself, “You pick items off the shelf, put them in a cart, unload the cart, scan the items, throw them back into bags, drive home, lug the bags inside, take the items out, and then load them into cabinets. It’s a vicious circle.”

“Well, if you had a garden and used cloth towels instead of those whimsy paper things, there wouldn’t be so much work,” her mom said as she limped into the kitchen.

“Mom, we’ve gone over this before. Things are different now.”

“No, you just don’t want to take an old lady’s advice,” her mother said and turned around, shuffling back to her room.

Missy hurled frozen items into the freezer and slammed can goods on the counter. She stopped and looked out the kitchen window. Why? Why can’t we get along?

Her mom had never worked outside the home. Breakfast was at seven a.m. sharp, lunch straight up noon, dinner at six p.m., and no one dared to be late.

“You must be on time. It’s a sign of respect,” her mom would repeat at each meal.

Missy laughed at that memory. Her dad never made it to any meals on time. Her mom would sit there lips squeezed tight, eyebrows pinched in a frown, and stare at her husband.

Missy remembered the day she came down the stairs with a red bow in her hair. She had put her long brown hair in a ponytail, tied the ribbon into a bow, and slipped it on.

“Take that thing out of your hair; it doesn’t match your dress. Besides, it’s crooked. You can’t go out of the house like that. What would everyone think?”

“Doesn’t matter Mama; I want to be red today.”

“No, Missy, your colors must always match. Now, do as I say,” her mom said in that firm voice.

With each year, these incidents increased. Their differences turned to war: a battle of power. Missy’s thoughts jumped to junior high school. She wanted to belong to the crowd, fit in someplace.

One morning she rushed to breakfast in a sloppy red shirt, torn jeans. She looked at her dirty sneakers. Now she would fit in with what the other kids wore.

Her mom shrieked. “No daughter of mine leaves this house looking like that. Upstairs, young lady, change, or you’re grounded.”

“Mom, all the kids dress like this. It’s the fad.”

“No fad in this house. Now, change.”

Missy heard the firmness in her voice that meant either – or.

Other kids never had these problems. Missy watched her best friend and her mother laugh together as they went shopping or to the movies. They included her whenever she could get permission to go with them. She wondered why her mom couldn’t laugh and talk to her.

Graduation arrived and she got accepted to a college out of state. “At last I can get away,” she told herself. Even away from home, her mom managed to pull her strings. Missy called home each week, but the messages were all the same:

“You never come home. Here, I’m all alone. Your dad doesn’t help.” On and on and on. “Why can’t you write your poor mother? Other kids write to theirs.”

Missy wanted to hang up. A couple times she did. Then she received a call from her dad telling her not to hang up again, as it made life hell.

She graduated from college and got her first job as a lawyer. The struggles and sacrifices gave her the chance to live her dream. During her second year at the law firm, she met her future husband.

Missy provided him with the background between mother and daughter on the drive to her hometown. He laughed, “You’re a lawyer now. When the prosecution gets heavy, put up a good defense.”

She reflected on her marriage. At least her mom kept any opinions about her husband to herself. Infact, her mom tolerated him with silence. However, for Missy, her house was never straight enough, and she never cooked real meals, always using those frozen things. When the two grandchildren came along, nothing was right.

She looked back at one particular incident. She’d breast-fed both her girls. One time her mom remarked, “Bottles were good enough for you, why do you have to show your breasts to everyone?” Missy saw the cold stare before her mom stomped into another room.

“Mom, this is the natural way. Bottles are either conveniences or for the non-confident woman,” she replied. She never knew if her mom had heard or ignored her reply.

As the grandchildren grew, her mom wouldn’t play with them, read to them, or show any interest more than enough to endure them.

A shake of her head brought Missy to the present. Dad had died two years ago and her mom’s health would not permit her to live alone. So, she moved in with Missy, and the power game continued.

Missy thought about this last conversation with her mom and realized that the tables had been turned—mom is now the child. Then an insight hit. She would start playing the part of mother, not only to her daughters, but to her mom, and include her in their playtime and bedtime ritual.

The knot tightened in her stomach at the thought that her mom didn’t know how to play, how to show emotion, or how to love. Missy had learned about love through friends, but most of all from her husband. Maybe she could give her mom what she could never give—love.

She stopped. She looked at the grocery bags left to unload. It would be hard for both of them, but … “Hey, Mom,” Missy hollered. “I need some help with the groceries.”

***

Patricia E. Patterson has been writing since the middle 1980’s. Her poetry has been published in Wildacres 2002, Lessons Learned Anthology I and II, and the Atlanta Senior Newspaper. In 2002, she published an essay online at Insolent Rudder, and Story House, LLC published a flash fiction piece in 2004. Muscadine Lines, A Southern Journal, published her short story, "Meadow Run," in 2005 and "The Journal" in 2006. She has won awards in short story and poetry through the Atlanta Writers Club. She is a member of The Atlanta Writers Club and Georgia Writers Association. She has participated in creative writing classes at Callonwolde, Evening at Emory, Winter Poetry & Prose Get away, Wildacres, Georgia Perimeter College, and The Paris Writers Workshop in 2005. She has attended The Harriett Austin Writers Conference in Athens, Georgia. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia where she has finished a novel and is working on her second.

© Patricia E. Patterson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012