School started early in the deep South. Many were not as lucky as we were. We were permitted to start on time and not stay out to help with the crops. After school we did have to go to the fields to help. I was a sickly child to do much except carry the water to those who were actually doing the work.
Reality struck today as I walked the aisles of Target. Arriving in a bright shiny car, as opposed to the maybe getting to go to town with someone who had a car or truck; a store with groceries, clothes, jewelry, electronics, cards, lawn and garden as well as home goods and a pharmacy. All of these things were separate back then and some did not even exist. We were happy to have a battery operated radio.
The day before school started usually meant getting our hair washed and set and taking a real good bath the night before. The school bus would arrive by 7 a.m. but this is not about all of that. It is about walking all the aisles of the store today and seeing my daughter and son in every bright shiny face and remembering those days so long ago when I was a child so excited to be going back to school. All summer my mom would have worked at making our clothes and for me it usually meant having new clothes handed down from my sister. Mother was a great seamstress and our clothes always were better made than the ones purchased at the store. She kept abreast of the fashion by looking at the Sears Catalog. I never appreciated the hours she spent in making sure we were always clean and dressed well. We might have been poor but we never knew that we were poor because we always had enough.
We carried our lunch to school in a brown paper bag. The lunch I remember is having a sausage and biscuit long before there was a McDonald’s. I also remember that there were days I felt ashamed that I did get to eat in the lunch room and would hide behind a tree to eat my lunch. How lucky I was that my mother had made the best biscuits in the world and made enough so that I might have a good lunch and how stupid I was not to have appreciated all of that in the moment. If I could go back, I would choose an ordinary day; a day watching my mom sew or just doing all the things I never learned to do. All I was told to do was to practice the piano or to make sure I had finished my homework for the next day.
If I could go back to a more recent time, I would also choose an ordinary day with my children and put a note in their lunch bags to tell them how much I loved them and how sorry I was that I could not cook and sew. They were always clean and had a few new clothes but we were also poor, living in a nice neighborhood and not having what the neighbors had. Not just a “keep up with the Jones” sort of thing but in the fact that we did not get to take vacations and no longer had extravagant Christmas parties and presents. I often wonder if they were ashamed that their father had left and we were no longer middle class. All I know that if I could go back I would hug them more; praise them more; and try to be a better mom like my mom was to me.
I cannot go back and as my sister would say “that ship has sailed”. Soul wise it is stranded in the middle of here to there not knowing which way to sail or how to forget; the ship lost the way years ago and left the shore without a road map for guidance.
As students stream into Grissom tomorrow, my children will not be there even though I will still look out the kitchen window as the cars take other children to school and remember that I missed so many chances to be different; to make a difference; to have lived a different life. I will remember in the morning, as I gaze out the kitchen window, the two extraordinary children who chose me, for whatever reason, to be their mom.