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  • Writer's pictureLeanne W. Smith

Memories good and bad & the voice inside my head

Blogging about unexpected roads traveled.

Seeking to keep my chin up, and to help lift yours.

Memories good

Last Sunday, filled with sheltering-at-home restlessness, I took Stan for a drive down one of the streets of my childhood. My earliest—and many of my fondest—memories were born in a little yellow house on Oakmont Circle with the oak tree pictured below growing in Sondra’s yard across the street.

Sondra was the youngest of four daughters who belonged to the widow Delilah. (I marveled as a child to know a woman named Delilah.) Sondra was my first best playmate. She and I rode bikes with streamers on the handles and straws clicking along the spokes of our wheels. We ate Saltine crackers under that big oak tree on drizzling days in summer. We explored Richland Creek, trick-or-treated in Cinderella masks, and once made elaborate plans to sneak away in the night to live under the honeysuckle vines at Martha Vaught Elementary, but overslept.

Memories bad

Sometimes it falls just right, the dates. In 1992, May 10 was also on a Sunday. I was pregnant for the second time…but two days later had a miscarriage. I don’t think about it as much as I used to, but do when the dates fall just right.

Something—the pandemic, my Florence semester cut short, a drive down memory lane, a new book or the dates falling right—has me pondering moms and daughters. Not all memories are the stuff of postcards, but all have shaped us and brought us to where we are. Like the long-standing oak in Sondra's yard, may we all weather the storms and hold our arms out strong.

The voice inside my head

There’s a scene in the movie Two Weeks’ Notice where Sandra Bullock’s character is talking about her mother and says, “Hers is the voice inside my head.”

The scene stuck and I’ve thought of it often. Mothers fill a powerful role, their words echoing both encouragement and criticism into the remaining days of our lives. Mother-Daughter relationships are varied and complex, as I was reminded in reading Faithful Daughter recently released by DaySpring, a book of stories curated by Ami McConnell, and to which it was my good fortune to make a contribution.

Today I feel thankful for women everywhere: all who are mothers, all who had and have mothers—all who live with memories and voices—good, bad, complex and beautiful.

A condensed version of my contribution to Faithful Daughter: Styx & Englebert Humperdinck

Our youngest was getting married. She asked my mother, whose yard would make for a nice piece in Southern Living, if we could have the wedding there. In the days leading up to the ceremony, some of my friends came over to help string lights under the reception tent. When Wendy made the tour through the house and sunroom to reach the back yard, her eyes swept over the bookcases, the plants, flowers, fake bird nests and watering cans and said, looking at me, “This explains everything.”

I may have scrunched my face. After all, I have spent a lifetime stroking the differences between my mother and me. I didn’t like to think I could be summed up from a quick tour through my mother’s home.

Even as a child people said I looked like her, but I didn’t believe them. She had dark hair; mine was blonde. She had brown eyes; mine were blue.

As a teen I was clearly more avant-garde. I had a Styx album, listened to it on my personal stereo, recorded it onto a cassette, saw them in concert, and bought the t-shirt. She had one 8-track tape that would only play on the clunky console in the living room: Englebert Humperdinck.

The differences were so apparent.

The biggest difference—the one I felt most—was that I was emotional and she was stoic. I had rarely seen her cry. My children, by contrast, have seen me produce tears to fill dry creek beds.

Joan Wood was a terrific mother—a snapshot of the sixties—a poster for the nation. She baked cookies and made Kool-Aid, which we sometimes froze into popsicles…the ones from Tupperware. She sewed badges on my Girl Scout banner. She took my brothers and me to the Richland and Green Hills Libraries on hot days in summer where we sat on cool benches and took hours to run our hands and eyes over the glistening choices. Sometimes we were so enamored with our selections we brought them to the supper table. And she let us.

My mother was sensible, even keeled and wise—a real Rock of Gibraltar. Me? I prefer beauty to practicality, my moods spiral hopelessly up and down, and while I wish I could claim wisdom, can’t. As a mother of the nineties, I was dazed and confused. A cloud of guilt followed me everywhere.

One day I wailed to my mother, while crying of course, that work was causing me to be a less than stellar mother. It seemed only a matter of time until my daughters were on Oprah blaming me for something, possibly for everything.

My mother said, “Oh, Leanne. Good mothers are good mothers whether they work or not.” She, the retired first grade school teacher, should know.

These days her hair is gray and I’m trying to hang on to blonde. Her eyes are still brown and mine are still blue like my daddy’s. And while she mostly remains stoic and tries never to cry in public, I continue to be something of an emotional mess.

But we’re meeting in the middle.

I know now this woman who held the earth so steady for all of us can cry. Not to fill creek beds, like me, but she’s more than capable. And I don’t like to show my true emotional hand in public, either.

It used to bother me that a friend like Wendy could make the tour through the house and sunroom, her eyes sweeping over evidences of the things that fill my mother’s soul, recognizing how similar they were to the things that fill my own, and declare, “This explains everything.”

But she’s right. I’m honored that she noticed.

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