Not a Mother's Day essay

AS mothers, it is important we give our children beautiful memories,'' the speaker said, addressing the Young Mothers' Club. I agreed; yet my thoughts turned to my own childhood and to three women, none of them my mother. Possibly whenever Rachel Hadley opened her front door and saw me standing there she thought, ``Not again!'' Her smile belied it. ``Come in!'' Then, opening the double doors to Rachel's parlor and closing them after me, I would enter an enchanted world. Upon lifting the lid of the Victrola, my means of transportation into that world, I invariably found a fresh supply of needles in the little metal cup. I was careful to handle the records gently and not to wind the spring too tight.

I did not touch the china Cupid on the parlor table, nor the glass paperweight with a colored picture of Niagara Falls inside it. I only listened to the music -- symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and magnificent voices singing in exotic languages that soared far above pedestrian English, the only language I knew except pig Latin. When I was completely and blissfully saturated I returned the records to their slots, lowered the lid of the Victrola, opened the double doors of the parlor, closed them after me, and went home.

If Rachel ever engaged me in conversation I have forgotten it. Her gift to a little girl in whose home music was a stranger I shall remember all my life.

It was to Martha Maxon that I went for conversation. Throughout the summers of my childhood I frequently climbed ``Bungalow'' hill to ring her doorbell, confident of being let in. In her cool living room we would sit and talk. She would tell me of people she had met -- of Indian craftsmen who fashioned turquoise and silver jewelry, of their hogans in the treeless desert with its cactuses, brilliant flowers, and colored rocks where lizards like toy alligators drowsed in the sun. Real alligators did not live in deserts, she said; they liked better the shadowy mangrove swamps of Florida. The Florida Indians called the mangrove with its grotesque roots ``the old one who walks in the sea.'' And it was in Florida near her and Mr. Maxon's winter home that, long ago, the Spaniard Ponce de Le'on discovered what he thought was a fountain of eternal youth.

I would listen raptly, entranced by the inflections of Martha Maxon's voice, the composure of her hands, the sparkling blueness of her eyes. Sometimes she brought lemonade and cookies from the kitchen on fragile plates, with small linen napkins. I would note and remember how she held the plate, lifted the glass, what she did with the napkin: To a little girl with no one to tell her how to be a lady, Martha Maxon gave more than she knew.

Birdie Moore gave something else. No matter what time of day I might appear on her kitchen doorstep Birdie made me feel that I was coming home. To Birdie I could recite the poems I made up in arithmetic class, express my yearning for faraway places where romantic people did romantic things. Birdie always listened, always let me take the shoe box from the closet shelf. I never tired of carefully lifting out of it and as carefully returning to it the faded flower, the menu in French, the stubs of opera tickets, folded theater programs, and the minute bottle smelling faintly of a perfume that seemed the very essence of my unobtainable dreams.

Sometimes at my wishful sighs Birdie would say, ``Remember Pat,'' and I would look up at the watercolor on the wall by the telephone. Pat was station agent at the depot. He had studied art by mail, and now he sold his paintings for $10 or even $25. Or Birdie might take the clay Indian head from the clock shelf and place it in front of me on the table. ``Remember Lee Kovitch.'' Lee Kovitch was two grades ahead of me in school. I knew Lee had never seen an Indian -- his parents were much too poor to take trips to the desert or Florida. Yet Lee Kovitch had made the Indian head. Birdie said he made it of clay from the bank of Wapsinonoc Creek and baked it in the oven. Wapsinonoc was the name of the creek I crossed every day on the way to school. Birdie said it was an Indian name, and that was why Lee Kovitch had made the Indian head.

To a little girl with dreams it was comforting to know dreams can come true -- not always in faraway places, not always with splendor -- but they can come true.

``Give your children beautiful memories,'' the speaker said. Sometimes, I thought, it is also important to give other people's children the memories they may desperately need.

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