Though I was 19 before I knew that I wasn’t, in fact, her firstborn–something she confided in the small kitchen of her new home (after she left our father’s), a confession which was meant to be a cautionary tale of fertility (her own at the same age, but alas 3 years too late for me)–it was too late. I had already assumed her burdens, spoken and mostly unspoken, embodied, and here was yet another—a heartache she carried alone for so long—her firstborn daughter, delivered at a Home for Unwed Mothers, less than a year before she married my father, pregnant with me.
“He wouldn’t let me talk about her,” she said. “I just wanted to know that she was as okay.”
Do all firstborn daughters & onlies and even sons carry the weight of their mother’s grief?
Which is not to say, there weren’t other inheritances.
The light of my mother’s consciousness.
Her dedication to study.
Her devotion to home.
Her innate gentleness and good nature.
Her capacity to see a whole person even in those who had harmed her/us–at times to a fault.
Her loneliness. Her isolation. Her martyrdom.
I wake to the sounds of turkey, like the ones clucking across the ceramic spice containers that sit in my kitchen window. (Maybe those are roosters not turkeys? I always thought they were turkeys.)
The Salt is my favorite because there is a crack running through it. My mother was dedicated to reparation (and salt.) Countless testimonies withstand of her willingness to put things back together. There is the statue of Mary. The teapot. The picture frame. Her sobriety. Her life.
She often dismissed my need for precision in the kitchen.”I don’t know, Kelly, just put some in,” she’d say, about the salt or the celery, the butter or the onion. (A stuffed turkey, her favorite, was the first thing I learned to prepare, each her Christmas for her birthday.)
Never able to reach perfection herself, and having almost drowned in the attempt, my mother taught me to rely on softer measures of knowing… taste, smell, the signs and the synchronicities.
My mother’s spice set is stained with age. The square edges are chipped. They remain empty, but they are filled with the comfort of her imperfection.