Becoming My Mother’s Daughter

 Slow rain, long rain, steady rain, all night rain.  Rain the way it used to rain, so very long ago, when Georgia was a place considered lush, and dense with dampness.  A place where the late-spring leaves on the trees were always achingly green. Where those leaves turned belly-up, silvered as fish, to the wind.

Backdrop — such an overused word, we forget its genesis in stagecraft, in velvet curtains dropped and raised, the creak of rigging kin to ships’.  But always, back in those long ago days before the drought, the sky turned the color of lead every afternoon, the wind picked up, and branches began to flail, to rail, against it. A backdrop.  

For now, for this particular spring, the drought is over, and in the early mornings the bewetted peonies in the neighborhood nod nod nod their big round blossoms like drowsy children. They seem constrained behind the borders of their flower beds, the way blowsy women were once constrained by corsets.  They are Rubenesque and overblown, the painted majas of the garden, leaning over balconies and blowing kisses and  — I want one.  For Mother’s Day,  A desire stoked or perhaps instilled within me simply because peonies in pots are currently positioned outside the entrance to Whole Foods. I am nothing if not a good American and, susceptible to marketing, I long to … buy. 

For now, of course, I can’t.  And so instead I admire those that populate the neighborhood.  I admire the way they die back every winter and arise phoenix-like from the dead stalks of last years’ foliage; I love their tightly-packed round buds, perfect Earths made miniature; and the way the ants that trail up and down their stems perform some mysterious necessary function and should not be dissuaded from their work. 

My mother told me about peonies, long long ago, when I was six or seven, probably, along with the names of  all sorts of other things that grew:  forsythia, flowering quince, columbine.

She told me things like that, and then I grew up, and older, and my relationship with her grew quite fraught, as relationships between mothers and daughters often do.  It was years before I gave peonies another thought.  Just as it was years before I gave my own mother a thought, in terms of her being anything other than my mother — for instance, a fully-fledged person in her own right. 

A person whose thumb is exceedingly green, who with extraordinary patience coaxed a garden from a large shady lot of pecan trees and overgrown ivy.  A person who when I was a child clipped St. Augustine grass runners away from where they spilled over the neighhor’s  curbs — so embarrassing  to her offspring! — and planted them in a grassless yard that now, lo these many years later,  is a beautiful green expanse, one her grandchildren take for granted, and walk upon barefoot.  A person who when she walked her children to get ice cream heckled cars that sped down her street because she wanted children to be able to play outside safely.  A person who protests wars and the demolition of historic houses and for most of my childhood dragged me along as she did so. Good God, a person who was enthusiastically talking up Obama while I was still sitting in the election bleachers!   

 My mother makes me count her silver knives and forks after every holiday dinner I share with her, a task I spent decades of my life certain she’d thought up only to annoy me.  But now I know; she does it because her mother once did the same thing, and maybe someday — who knows — I will tell Elder Girleen she must count silver, too. 

Because I already tell my daughter some things.  Iris, I say.  Winter sweet. That there, with the pink flowers, that’s Oxalis.   

It’s such a gossamer filament, the cord that links parent to child.  It binds so tightly sometimes, but then again, it is the thing that keeps us stitched in place, between who we were, and where we need to go.


  1. Mmmmm. Beautiful weavings Katherine – of the words that tell of the weavings of our mother/daughter/mother/daughter relations.

    Hats off to you Mama. For appreciating all the peonies.

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