I remember one hectic school morning when – in between the spillage of an enormous bag of puffed rice cereal and the usual bickering over toast – she must have reached her breaking point. I can see her lifting a stack of plates up in the air and, fury and exasperation written all over her face, dropping them from a height to the floor, the drama of it all, the stunned looks on our faces, and the shattering of porcelain etching themselves indelibly in my memory. I can still see her grimly but determinedly sweeping up the debris with her cornstalk broom. From then on, my mother took her breakfast up to her room, carrying her tray in those same strong hands just as determinedly, and I not only forgave, but I understood the decision.
One of my favorite images is of her hand holding an arrowhead, beside her friend Gus’s hand, also holding an arrowhead. I took the picture, so I can testify to the veracity of the tale. My mother had an uncanny knack for– and was pretty much the acknowledged champion of – finding arrowheads on the beach at our cottage, her keen eagle eye spotting the shiny black chert or other quartz stones in the sand, especially following a big reckless storm the night before when they lay exposed and waiting for her on the glistening shore. Gus had paddled over one morning to show mum his recent – and perhaps, if I recall properly, his only – find, very proud of it and anxious to gain her admiration, which she graciously bestowed. As they sat together on a log at the water’s edge, my mother kicking her feet about in the sand, didn’t she suddenly unearth a bigger and better arrowhead! I know!! You can imagine Gus’s astonishment, and Cammie’s glee, I suppose.
As for those feet, those perfect, sample-sized feet of hers, well that’s another story. Suffice to say for now that I literally could never then, and metaphorically likely never will now, begin to fill her shoes. But I can tell the stories of the footsteps I have followed, and the hands I have held, so lovingly. And maybe I’ll miss her a little less if I do so. I will certainly feel my good fortune every time I write of my mother.