I am thrilled to share a piece written by Pat Erickson. She is pictured on the top upper left, right next to me. This was a piece she worked on after attending Julie Maloney’s friday workshop when the question was based on Alice Walker’s quote “To know ourselves, we must know our mother’s name…”
“To know ourselves, we must know our mother’s name…”
She was Edith and I am Edith. We were connected by a name and a tenderness shared only by the luckiest among us. I remember the day we sat for a photograph on a balmy, spring New England day. The sepia image, which resembles a watercolor portrait, is a muted study of the bond between mother and daughter.
My mother and I wore similar gray and white dresses, with splashes of red accessories charging across the page. The photographer added more drama to the brownish pigment by painting our lips and cheeks crimson.
Her arm circled my waist and my chubby, dimpled hand patted hers. She smelled of Tussy deodorant, Avon lipstick and rouge, Pond’s cold cream, and Coty powder—a heady concoction to a little girl. My starched pinafore folded into her like a loving embrace rather than an imperfection that went undetected by the photographer. The velvet grosgrain ribbon secured my curls which she had wrapped in rags the night before. The twin sets of brown eyes, the innocent smiles and the rounded bodies whispered to the camera “we are each other’s other”.
According to my sister, my mother insisted that I take her name. No one knows why she was so resolute about this, but maybe I know. I think she wanted me to carry a part of her with me always. Because I was the baby of the family, she may have felt that I would be the more sentimental one, the one who would cherish her memory and the one to tell her story.
She was not just my mother; she was a woman with her own identity. Although she was submissive to her husband and to society, she sometimes rebelled. She was the first person I ever saw who exhibited road rage. She was strong and creative. She had to be; she was a Depression-era survivor. She was outspoken especially about injustices, although she could melt into a puddle of tears if provoked. She was a vocal supporter of her union at the shoe factory, an original Norma Rae. She was a prolific writer although her formal educated was limited. Her long and rambling letters were proof of her love for words.
I am like her in many ways. I am clear on who I am, sometimes vulnerable, but strong enough to hold my own. I found my voice several years ago and guard it carefully. I love language and its lilting persuasion. I think of my mother every day and still smell her intoxicating scent. When I look in the mirror, her face looks back at me. Her wisdom guides me. I carry her with me always.
My middle name, Edith, is cushioned between my first and last names like a soft comfort and an enduring reminder that I was loved well.