Originally posted on The Word Wranglers Writing Group 2002

(Excerpted from The Family Legacy or How I Survived the “Mother’s Curse” and Lived to Pass It On)

     Raising creative and independent children is a little like navigating shark-infested waters in a leaky boat with a broken paddle. There are times when I have thought that I should have stayed single and raised tropical fish, or prize geraniums – some form of life that doesn’t talk or invent scathingly brilliant ideas calculated to turn a mother’s hair prematurely gray. My own parents, bless them, were potential candidates for sainthood in the departments of patience and endurance, although I didn’t begin to fully appreciate this until I had children of my own. I remember, in particular, a time when Jeff was about six and Jon not quite four.

     Driving home from work, I reflected that the day had gone better than most. I was at that time in the middle of a divorce, from an abusive man whose always-fragile mental health had slipped over the edge. I was always tense, looking over my shoulder and wondering what he might do next. But he would be at work now, so I could relax a little.

     As I turned onto the winding road that ran up the little canyon where we lived, I rolled down the window and breathed deeply of the country potpourri of roses and lilacs mingled with the stronger scent of cedar trees. The breeze gently ruffled my hair. The roadside was a riot of color; everything seemed to be in bloom. I felt the tension draining away.

     Mentally I began to count my blessings. My meager salary had stretched, like the loaves and fishes, to cover the basics of mortgage, insurance, and utilities. The boys and I were in good health. The garden, which provided most of our food, was doing well. I had scraped up a few dollars for a bit of hamburger, eggs, and milk; we would eat well tonight. Biscuits and a stew sounded good, and then maybe I would find the energy to can some more tomatoes. Just last week I had managed to buy a huge box of detergent, so laundry was covered for a while.

     The boys were nominally under the care of my neighbor, which meant that they were probably out playing on their own, but she did check on them occasionally. As I pulled into the driveway, Jeff came tearing around the house to meet me, dancing with excitement. “Mama, mama, come see! Something wonderful has happened. It’s a miracle. Hurry, come and look.”

     What have they thought up now? I wondered. Leaving the groceries in the car, I let myself be pulled around our little yellow house to the back yard. The yard, such as it was, was mostly a narrow strip just wide enough for the clothesline. From there it plummeted in a steep bank covered with blackberries and poison oak. A narrow path zigzagged down to where it leveled out again.

     “Isn’t it wonderful, Mama? It snowed.” Jeff looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to join in the celebration.

     “Snow!” yelled Jon. “It’s Christmas. Merry Christmas, Mama.”

     I looked at their beaming faces, then down at the bank. The greenery was dusted with sparkling white, all the way down. If my nerves hadn’t been stretched tighter than a kite string in a hurricane, if I hadn’t been so worried about making ends meet, I might have been able to share their joy in this wonderful display they had created. I would have at least wondered how they had managed to drag the heavy detergent box out of the laundry shed, and how they were able to spread it so evenly over such a huge area. They must have worked very hard at their surprise. But all I could think was, how am I going to wash the clothes this month? There’s no more money. What am I going to do? I sat down on the ground and cried.

     Poor Jeff. He had been so concerned about me, not quite understanding why I was so sad, and trying to think of something that would make me smile. He was sure that snow would do it. Now that he has his bachelor’s degree in fine arts, we look back and laugh about his “first installation piece.” But it took me a while to recover my equilibrium at the time.

     Fortunately, I had learned a few tricks from my frugal and resourceful mother. Leftover bits of soap, instead of being thrown out, were saved up in a paper bag for emergency use. We ran them through the meat grinder, and I had enough soap powder to do laundry until I could afford more detergent.